Greatly Improve Your Marriage
The situation is not hopeless. "If both partners are willing to put the effort into working on their differences and disagreements, most marriages can be greatly improved," says Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., a marriage therapist in San Francisco and author of The Marriage Makeover. Here are his and others' suggestions for dealing with mad-mom syndrome.
- Don't let it build. Unless you make a conscious effort to resolve them, bad feelings about a partner will begin to feed on themselves. Once you start looking at someone through a negative lens, everything he does will be wrong. To change your perspective, it's important to step back every once in a while and remind yourself why you married your husband in the first place. Make a mental list of those qualities you most appreciate in your spouse, and try to focus on them. And catch yourself when you're thinking in absolute terms. Avoid saying things like, "He always does this" or "He never does that." Such sweeping statements are probably not accurate -- and can fuel anger.
- Identify the triggers. Become aware of the times you get the most angry. Do you get irritated when you haven't had a chance to exercise? Is it when you're especially tired? If that's the case, you need to figure out a way to fit in a trip to the gym or an afternoon nap. "It's important for young moms to schedule time to nourish themselves," Dr. Stevens says. Getting reenergized probably won't change your husband's annoying conduct, but it will affect the way you react to it.
The next step is to identify which one of your spouse's behaviors aggravates you the most. Then, figure out whether you play a role in it. "It's easy to assume that the problem is all your partner's," Dr. Coleman says. But both people in a relationship contribute to a bad dynamic. If you're a control freak, for example, can you really expect your husband to take the initiative to make decisions?
You should also talk to your spouse about what's making you mad -- before you explode. "Never let a contentious issue hang in the air without discussing it," Dr. Brenner says. But don't try to work things out when you're feeling angry and upset either. Instead, schedule a time to talk after you've calmed down and can have a clearheaded conversation.
- Find practical solutions. Are you -- like many busy moms -- mad that your husband doesn't help around the house? If you want help, you'll probably have to spell it out. "Make a list of your most-dreaded tasks, and ask your husband to take on some of them," suggests Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., a relationship expert in Lexington, Massachusetts. If you want him to do a particular chore, like laundry or meal preparation, and you're not sure he knows how, offer to teach him.
- Keep the tone civil. How you say it is just as important as what you say, so plan your words in advance. Instead of screaming, "Stop lying on the couch like a beached whale and help out for once!" try saying, "I need your help -- would you mind unloading the dishwasher tonight so I can read Tommy a bedtime story?" And remember: When your husband does pitch in and doesn't do things exactly the way you would have done them yourself, bite your tongue. Don't criticize an honest effort, or he may not be as willing to help out the next time.
- Make time for each other. Most marriage counselors recommend that couples try to schedule time alone together at least once a week. Ideally, you should plan a "date" to get away from the demands of home life. But if you can't manage that, at least set aside a regular time-- say, after the kids have gone to bed in the evening or on a weekend afternoon when they're with Grandm -- when you can sit together over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. And instead of talking about your children, try this exercise: Start off by telling your spouse something you really like or admire about him. Then, ask him to say something positive about you in return. This might feel corny and unnatural at first, but experiment. You may find that it prompts a deeper conversation. If nothing else, it may get you laughing -- and that's always a good way to reconnect.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the October 2004 issue ofParents magazine.
Finally, it's helpful for young parents to remind themselves that this is a particularly stressful period in any marriage. It's natural to argue and fight with each other occasionally, and most good relationships can survive that. In fact, learning to work through your differences and disagreements will help you build a stronger relationship -- one that will survive long beyond these demanding years of raising young kids.