Avoiding Arguments with Your Spouse

In his book, When Parents Disagree and What You Can Do About It, Ron Taffel, Ph.D., reveals strategies to reduce your disagreements and keep your relationship on the right track.


What is the most common trigger for quarrels?

Moms do too much. Period. In most families, Mom still orchestrates family life and Dad helps out. Even though today's fathers are much more involved with their kids and the housework than their own fathers were, mothers carry around an endless to-do list -- from buying birthday presents to making playdates to signing permission slips. Most dads have no idea how many details their wives deal with. In my work as a psychologist, I suggest that couples make a list of everything they each do on an average day and show their lists to each other. This is usually incredibly eye-opening for both.

Unfortunately, when a man does share more of the responsibility, it's often hard for his wife to let him take charge. The biggest gripe most dads have is that their wives criticize them, pointing out that a task is not done quickly enough or is done too quickly, or that the kids weren't fed right or dressed appropriately. But it's tough for a mother to stop being controlling because our society still blames her if her child is late for school or dressed improperly.

The result of this situation, however, is that Mom feels frustrated because she's swamped and Dad is angry because his wife makes him feel like he's never doing a good enough job. That leads to resentment, a lack of intimacy, and disagreements over minor issues.

Doesn't one parent have to be more in charge of the kid stuff?

Usually -- but that doesn't mean the balance of responsibility can't be more equitable. Even when moms are home full-time, they're likely to take on additional responsibilities -- with school committees, sports, or church -- and be just as frazzled as moms who work outside the home. A father shouldn't become more of an equal partner just so his wife won't be overburdened, but also because it'll improve his relationship with both his wife and his kids, and spice up the couple's sex life.

What does sex have to do with it?

If Dad is more of a team player, his wife will feel as if she's being comforted and taken care of -- and that will make her more relaxed, affectionate, and interested sexually.

Why will lightening her load make Dad feel closer to his kids?

One of the main reasons why dads still tend to be less involved with child care -- and one they rarely own up to -- is that they think it's boring. Of course, most moms would be quick to admit that there are plenty of times when they'd rather be reading a book than driving their kids to soccer or putting them to bed. But it's during such "boring" moments that kids are likely to talk about what's happening in their lives. That's what keeps moms motivated -- they know in their gut that they're getting something back from their kids. When dads are part of the daily routines, their kids will look to them as well as Mom when they need comfort or advice.

Parents often disagree about discipline. Why is it such a big issue?

People tend to think that dads are stricter and moms are more softhearted and willing to give in. There's some truth to that, but more often, fathers tend to be theoretical disciplinarians and sticklers for rules, while mothers are more flexible and pragmatic. For example, Dad might think it's wrong to give a child a snack before bed, but Mom has learned that it makes bedtime smoother and even cuts down on crankiness the next morning. Parents should try switching roles for a few days -- let Dad be responsible for getting the kids out of the house in the morning, for instance. He'll quickly become more empathetic about what his wife goes through every day and less judgmental about her decisions.

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