The new parent relationship habit that is killing your marriage
"Sometimes we don’t mean to do it, but it’s so easy to fall into the trap."
A ‘tit for tat’ mentality, even when we do it unconsciously, can easily unravel a relationship. Sometimes we don’t mean to do it, but it’s so easy to fall into the trap.
Particularly as parents.
Especially new parents. It’s the mental tally of what you did, what I did. We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s simple things like who unloaded the dishwasher last, who did the last nappy change. And sometimes it’s bigger things, like who had a late night out and now I deserve one too.
Relationship expert and podcast host of ‘Real Talk,’ Megan Luscombe says the one-for-one tally can quickly turn into a you versus me mentality in our relationships and prevent us from working as a cohesive team.
“So often I see clients, particularly those who are parents, that begin to look at the division of labour as a scorecard,” she says. “And it’s important to remember that ultimately you’re a parental team, not two individuals.” She says petty things like keeping track of who took the trash out last can add up when expectations aren’t set.
“It can be a real danger treating your relationship like a transactional account,” she says. Luscombe calls the concept of ‘scorekeeping’ the first steps to much larger problems in relationships like resentment, anger, withdrawing from your partner as well as stonewalling (otherwise known as the silent treatment or locking your partner out of what’s happening).
“I see it a lot with new parents. Particularly when certain tasks like breastfeeding fall onto one partner. It’s so important for couples to check in and talk about how they’re feeling. Often people contribute to a relationship differently, so while one might feel like they’re carrying the burden in terms of household chores, another might feel they are carrying the burden emotionally or financially.
“It’s a completely normal thought pattern,” she adds. “We often can't help but notice when it seems like we’re giving more than we’re getting. In turn, it leaves us wondering if we care more or they care less and easily make us feel unappreciated and sometimes resentful. Sometimes we even score keep with family and friends.”
She says eventually we stop doing things out of generosity or the overall good of our family and in the end, it feels like a debt or like you have to give.
The solution, she says, comes down to communication. “Ironically, I hear couples say they expected their partners to respond in kind by doing something without the couple ever communicating about it. So that when a partner doesn’t reciprocate, it inserts a wedge between them, moving them apart.
“People can’t mind read. And this can so easily be resolved, but often couples don’t speak up because they feel it’s petty or they don’t want to rock the boat or cause an argument. Ironically, when these little things add up over time, it can become what wears down a good relationship.”
She adds that sometimes being in a relationship is about doing the things we don’t want to do for the greater harmony of the home. “Nobody loves taking out the trash or getting up in the wee hours of the morning to calm a crying child.
But we do it because it serves a greater good. Sure, it feels bad when you feel like you’re always the one doing one thing or another, but speak up. You might find your partner is taking on a heavy burden in another area and you can compromise. Parenting is a team effort.”
If you find yourself keeping score, she says, the best way to remedy it is to think about what exactly it is that’s hurting your feelings. Do you feel like you care more? Do you feel like your partner isn’t pulling their weight?
“Get a clear idea of what the real problem is and talk to your partner in a solution-orientated approach,” she says. “Accusing your partner and using words like 'always' or 'never' is a quick way to fuel an argument. It’s also important to think ‘we’ not ‘I’.”
She says that while it might feel like your partner has devised a plot to get you to always do the dishes while they kick back and watch evening television, chances are, it’s probably not even on their radar.
“So rather than accusing your partner of being lazy and lumping you with the dirty work, maybe express how nice it would be for the family to spend time together and suggest the two of you together clean up together so that the entire family can enjoy that quality time earlier.
“I’ve had husbands believe they were doing the right thing by clearing the kids out of the kitchen to give his wife space and quiet to tidy. Meanwhile she’s in the kitchen hurt, angry and feeling unappreciated. The moment the husband realised his partner was feeling lonely and unvalued, he was happy to pitch in.”
Luscombe says getting the whole family to talk about the division of labour can also set a great example. She suggests rather than keeping tabs on what’s even and fair, get everyone together to discuss what chores each member is happy to do and talk about how to best divide the rest.
“It sets a great example of positive communication for our children as well,” she says. “It also helps to think about scorekeeping within yourself. Think about what you do for your family or your partner and why you do it.
Are you being generous because you genuinely want to or are you expecting something in return? Giving because it shows you care and because you want to is always better than keeping tally.”
This article was republished with permission from KidSpot.