"How can a [parent] raise a happy, well-adjusted [child] in today's increasingly toxic world? . . . The most important thing [parents] can do for [their children] is to love [each other]." Source
While most married couples know that they're in love, knowing how to show that love to their children isn't that easy. So, beyond saying it, kissing, and continual dating, what can parents do to show their children that they not only love, but respect each other?
Dan Pearce is a man who has been married and divorced twice. Over the years, he's done a lot of thinking along the lines of "What would I have done differently if I could have a do-over?" He ended up compiling a list called "16 Ways I Blew My Marriage." Four of those things (that apply to this topic) are as follows. And, of course, they apply to both spouses:
1. "Don't stop wooing her."
"When I first dated the woman I ended up marrying, I always held her hand. In the car. While walking. At meals. At movies. It didn't matter where. . . . I would do myself up as attractively as I possibly could every time I saw her. I kept perfectly groomed. I always smelled good. I held in my [gas] until she wasn't around.
"Over time, I stopped. I made up excuses like my hand was too hot or it made me sweat or I wasn't comfortable with it in public. Truth was, I stopped holding hands because I stopped wanting to put in the effort to be close to my wife. . . . I would get all properly groomed, smelling good, and dressed up any time we went out somewhere or I went out by myself, but I rarely, if ever, cared about making myself attractive just for her."
Many times, we forget that while we should be able to be ourselves around our family members, we shouldn't feel it okay to be inappropriately casual in our dress, behavior/manners, and language. Why would we be at our best around everyone other than those we care about the most?
2. "Don't always point out her weaknesses."
"For some reason, somewhere along the way, I always ended up feeling like it was my place to tell her where she was weak and where she could do better. . . . she sometimes couldn't even cook eggs without me telling her how she might be able to improve. . . . I've learned since my marriage ended that there is more than one right way to do most things. . ."
There's nothing wrong with helping each other improve, but picking your battles is also important. Do you want your children to only see you nit-picking at your spouse, or do you want them to remember more praise and support than anything else?
3. "Don't pressure each other."
"Pressuring each other about anything is always a recipe for resentment. I always felt so pressured to make more money. I always felt so pressured to not slip in my religion. I always felt so pressured to feel certain ways about things when I felt the opposite. And I usually carried a lot of resentment. Looking back, I can think of just as many times that I pressured her, so I know it was a two-way street."
Children may not know about one or the other parent being pressured, but there will be a negative vibe between the two of you, and they will be able to sense that.
4. "Don't skip out on things that are important to her."
"It was so easy in marriage to veto so many of the things she enjoyed doing. My reasoning, 'we can find things we both enjoy.' That's lame. There will always be things she enjoys that I will never enjoy, and that's no reason not to support her in them. Sometimes the only thing she needs is to know that I'm there."
Children (especially these days) need to learn the importance of compromise--you know, the ole' give-n-take in a relationship. If one of you is constantly vetoing what the other wants, how are you showing that you love and respect each other...especially each other's differences?
In addition, here are a few of my own "love and respect" ideas:
1. Don't have unrealistic expectations of each other.
In various lectures given by Joe Kelly, co-founder of the group Dads and Daughters, he asks the women in his audience, "How many years' experience do you have as a baby sitter?" They'll usually answer something along the lines of two to five years. When he asks the same question of the men, the answer is almost always "none." He asks if anyone has ever had a teenage boy (not related to them) baby-sit. Of course, no one has. "It doesn't happen," he says. "But then we get annoyed and frustrated when men don't know how to calm a colicky baby? What did you expect?" Source
Children can learn much from your love and patience with each others' "lack of ability." Your example also helps them understand that you don't have to be perfect to be loved.
2. Consider what the media in your home teaches your children about how parents should treat each other.
While I love sit-coms, they are among the worst at exemplifying what spousal love and respect should be. Just stop and think about what some of the characters in your favorite sit-coms do to/with each other in the name of humor (I have some in mind right now), and you'll see what I mean.
Don't get me wrong here. People in sit-coms mess up all the time and the point is to find the humor in it. But since I've been married, some of the things that I used to laugh at aren't really that funny anymore. I thought, "While this may be 'just a TV show,' the things that I watch and my reactions to them will affect my children. What do I want them to learn by example about love and respect in marriage?
3. Watch your language.
We usually think about swearing when someone says this, but in a marriage and a growing family, it means so much more than that. On his "16 Ways" list, Mr. Pearce had some experiences with language: "I may not have called her stupid, or idiot, or any of the other names she'd sometimes call me, but I would tell her she was stubborn, or that she was impossible, or that she was so hard to deal with. Names are names. . ."
Another thing to watch out for is sarcasm. It was in class about 10 years ago that I was introduced to the idea of the backlashes of sarcasm, but there has been some additional discussion on it lately.
I've noted that those who use it tend to underestimate its negative effects because they assume that what they say is humorous instead of hurtful. People who use sarcasm often think [that others] are too sensitive when feelings get hurt. . . . the one who made the verbal jab will often respond with something like, "I was only teasing! Lighten up."
Mothers and fathers sometimes use sarcasm with each other when trying to deal with confrontation, but . . . when used to correct others, sarcasm is often interpreted as more offensive, mocking, and aggressive than direct criticism. SourceAlthough we've all slipped on more than one occasion, any type of negative language really is disrespectful to your spouse. Even if he/she isn't around to hear you say it, names are names and jabs are jabs. What does your language teach your children (and those around you) about how you feel about the one you love?
4. Don't just listen. Hear your loved one.
Yes, there are many times when you know your loved one is completely zoned out ("What did I just say?" "Um...something about _____?" "Yeah...I said that five minutes ago. You weren't listening."). But what about those times when you listened to every word he/she said, and you're still being accused of not listening? Chances are your spouse actually means "you're not hearing what I'm really trying to tell you."
Hearing is more than listening because it implies understanding the meaning behind what is being said. For example, my husband may come home frustrated over a customer service call at work that usually wouldn't bother him. I need to listen to his words, but also keep an ear out for something else on his mind that may have caused the call to put him over the edge. Once I find that, I can focus on it instead of the call.
What other things have you done for your spouse to show your love? What have you seen others do that demonstrate the same thing? Is there anything you wish you could have done differently if you had the chance?