Did you know that children can be a marriage killer?
According to the Wall Street Journal article, “Here Comes the Baby, There Goes the Marriage” approximately two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship plummet within three years of the birth of a child. Within five years after the birth of a first child, over 40 percent percent of couples will go their separate way
These numbers do not surprise me because parenting is the hardest job in the world. Parenting an LGBTQ child comes with even more unique challenges. You are giving a lot of your energy to your child and that doesn’t leave a lot left over for your marriage.
This is a common pattern that I have seen with my LGBTQ parent clients. They are so focused on helping their LGBTQ child that the by-product can be a marriage that starts to suffer.
So what can do you do to protect your marriage?
When my son was first having emotional issues and then later came out as gay, the one emotion that I remember feeling was exhaustion.
Our family was experiencing so many overwhelming emotions. Everyday there was a new dynamic or situation that needed urgent discussion with my husband. It felt like my husband’s and I interactions focused 100% around my son and everything felt hard.
At the time, I thought we were just doing what was necessary to cope and survive and I didn’t see another way to handle it. This led to a constant feeling of heaviness in our relationship that actually made this time with my son harder to deal with.
I knew we needed to take a step back and figure out how to lighten the load and to start protecting our marriage. I started to examine our patterns and how we could do it better.
What I found was when I become more intentional in protecting our marriage that it actually created a stronger place of strength to help my son with his challenges.
Focus on Strengths not Weaknesses
Parenting is a team sport not an individual sport. It’s not a competition with who is the better parent.
There are some situations that John just has better skills in handling. I love that he is so calm in a crisis and I know that he loves that I am good at deescalating an argument.
You both don’t have to be good at everything. In fact, having different strengths actually makes you a more powerful parenting team.
The key is to not beat each other up on what you are not good at. Be very intentional to focus on each other’s strengths and not each other’s weaknesses.
How you do this is to think daily thoughts of how your spouse is doing it right. Whatever we are thinking our brains will find evidence for. Think the thought, find evidence for the thought, and then share with your spouse how they are doing it right. This 3-step process will make a huge difference in your relationship.
Create a Safe Place
You need to be each other’s safe place. What this looks like is you can say what is bothering you, no matter how petty it is, and the other person will not judge you for your thoughts.
In order for this to be safe place – you let each other see your “ugly” in a judgment free zone. You can be honest and vulnerable with each other and know that your spouse still loves and respects you.
We are all human beings with complicated emotions. Having a space to process all your hurts, inadequacies and ugly thoughts is as necessary to your mental health as exercising is for your physical health.
There are going to be days you don’t like your child. When you will say something stupid or your neighbor says something stupid. Life is messy. You need a place to process these hurts so you be emotionally healthy.
Everybody needs “that” person to process the ugly part of ourselves and lives – be “that” person for each other in your lives and your marriage will become stronger.
There are going to be days that you will be completely done. You will be done with the talking. You will be done with the worry. You will not feel up to being the parent.
Know your limits. If you are not feeling emotionally equipped to handle the day’s crisis, then it is time to tag out.
John and I assume we are both doing our best at all times. We also know that we will have hard days. Luckily our hard days usually haven’t occurred at the same time.
When one of us is having a hard day we have made tagging out part of our marriage culture. We respect each other’s limits. We don’t belittle each other for being honest about our capability. We pick up the parenting slack for each other as needed.
The ability to be honest with each other when we need additional help has created more love and understanding in our marriage.
Stop thinking they are doing it wrong
One time I was cooking with my sister and I was cutting an onion. She came over and instructed me how I was cutting the onion wrong. Her critique made the cooking experience a lot less fun. This is a funny example but we all sometimes make the mistake thinking our way is the best way and we forget that there is more than one way to cut an onion!
One of the biggest mistakes we make in marriage is to judge our spouse with how they are parenting. There are many ways to handle parenting – just like there are many ways to cut an onion.
Look for common ground. You don’t have to parent the same. You just have to agree to respect each other’s parenting styles.
When I have thoughts that my husband is not handling a situation right I immediately create disconnection with him. We all have opinions of how things should be done but if we want to protect our marriage you need to manage those thoughts.
When I see my thoughts go to “he is doing it wrong”– I have learned to add to those thoughts – Who says? Why do I think I know what is the best way for him to react or act? I remind myself that I am not the expert – that there are many ways to cut an onion!
I have trained my brain to go to– “he is doing the best he can” and “I am doing the best I can.” These thoughts keep me feeling connected to him especially when we are experiencing a situation with high emotions.
Create Space for Your Marriage
Creating space for your marriage needs to be a time priority. Parenting a LGBTQ child can make you feel on high alert constantly. There is not a lot of coasting when it comes to your parenting. It’s exhausting. It’s hard to feel connected and sexy when you are exhausted, worried and feeling a lot of fear for your child.
We found that regardless of how hard the week was we needed to carve out couple time. You might be thinking date night can’t solve everything, but it solves a lot. Some weeks I would live for that couple hours away with John, where I could be the girlfriend and not the mom. Having that balance in our lives help sustain us in the harder moments.
If you feel like you don’t know how to change your current patterns get help. If you are emotionally distancing yourself from each other and living parallel lives get help. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the stress of raising an LGBTQ child get help.
I repeat the “get help” because it is important. Your relationship with your spouse is your most important relationship. Treat it like it is. Respect your relationship enough to get it the right resources.
When you’re faced with a situation that feels out of control, professional help can be a godsend. A neutral third party can assess and offer perspective, and even help you develop a game plan for how to handle your specific hard.
I feel passionate about marriage. A strong marriage not only makes life a lot more fun but it makes your kids stronger. I have seen many of my clients completely change the culture of their marriage when they are equipped with the right tools. If you would like to find out about those tools please schedule a free consult call.