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Yes, children change things.

When the kids come along, especially as they move into toddlerhood, it becomes difficult for couples to engage in decent conversation. The arrival of a newborn with her needs and demands changed Carol and John's communication patterns, even as it does for most couples. The ongoing development of their baby into toddlerhood, with her increasing verbal and physical expression of needs and wants, further altered their interactions. This was true while the little one was awake, but also continued after she was asleep.

Carol and John met up with one another and their daughter about 6 p.m. after leaving work and stopping by their place of day care. One parent often chased after or entertained their child while the other prepared supper. The little one was then buckled into the high chair, a blessing was said, and the meal was begun. Over the course of the meal there might be some exchange between John and Carol about the day, but conversation usually focused on their child and meeting her hunger and attentional needs. As the meal ended, her face and hands were washed amidst cries of protest. Conversation between the couple was limited to brief comments about their daughter. After a further time of play, it was off to bathtime and bed.

Between television viewing and tackling the needed household and other personal tasks, on good nights, Carol and John were finished with things by about 11 p.m.

Preparing for bedtime and then falling into bed, Carol and John turned off the lights. They were both exhausted. That is, however, often the time Carol wanted to talk, there was no television or child to compete with, while John wanted to go to sleep in order to face the next day. Who is listening to Carol, and when is real conversation ever going to take place again in their marriage?

No matter how unfair or unplanned, this is a pattern many couples find themselves living in, until they can't take it anymore. Then, one will blurt out a need to communicate more intimately.

There is a need to change the way Carol and John are communicating. Life has been changing, and the days are long gone when they can spontaneously sit and talk without interruption. They can no longer place their daughter in the bouncer or use other distractions to keep her busy while they converse. She has arrived at the demanding twos.

A technique for communication some couples have found helpful is to stop working at 9:30 p.m. on their unending list of tasks or their viewing of television and meet on the couch for a date, at least three evenings a week. They ask one another about their day and give each other undivided attention. They listen without interruption. Knowing that they have this time of connection in their schedule, gives couples freedom to focus on their children when they are up and active before bedtime.

It is also important for couples to schedule dates away from home and kids on a regular basis, but the regularly scheduled times at home are the most critical for ongoing connection and communication as a couple.

If you want this technique to work, you must find a time in the evening when you and your spouse will sit down after the kids have gone to bed or while they're working on homework or playing with the Wii. You will need to create a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere in which you want to share with each other. This may involve brewing coffee or tea and turning on quiet music in the background. This might involve regularly asking each other what the best part of the day was. Time limits need to be set, with equal time to share maintained for both partners so that one does not monopolize. At first, as this new routine is established, it may not go too smoothly, but with repeated effort, an enjoyable relationship-building habit can be established.

Dr. Phil House is a clinical psychologist and clinical director at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. He can be reached at house@ybgr.org.

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