Attachment Parenting Marriages Can Be Hard: 4 Signs of Distress and Some Straightforward Help

couple

Thank you to Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, Attachment Parenting International co-founders, for this guest post.

“Couples who are having difficulties in their relationship will find parenting to be an added stressor, not necessarily the blessing that solves all their problems.” ~ Attached at the Heart by Lysa Parker & Barbara Nicholson

In Attached at the Heart, we talk about Jay Belsky’s research on the transition to parenthood and how incredibly difficult it can be for couples, even couples who are strong in their relationships.

The transition to parenting is stressful in itself as new parents adjust to a new baby, and only intensifies issues in weak relationships.

Belsky’s research has found common areas of conflict in marriages, most notably money, household chores, work, social life and the couple relationship. Add to that: childhood wounds that emerge under stress.

Regardless of parenting choices, marriages or committed relationships can be put to severe tests if both parents cannot agree. We would add that additional stress on marriages can also come from parents and in-laws who may be critical of your choices.

We know all too well that to choose Attachment Parenting (AP) is not the easy road in our society. It’s not easy, because it goes against a tidal wave of generations of cultural beliefs and myths. It’s not easy, because it causes many of us to face certain realities of our own childhood experiences in order to help us become better parents.

At the same time, this experience can be freeing and empowering to be awakened and to make a conscious decision about changing family legacies and making a difference in the world.

For parents who have themselves experienced abuse, it can be very difficult to feel confident about doing things differently than their parents because they didn’t have positive role models. That’s why our local API Support Groups are so important — to provide not only education and support but modeling by more experienced AP parents.

It’s no one’s business why any person decides to get divorced. In any divorce situation, what must be the highest priority is the physical and emotional welfare of the children. All children deserve both parents involved in their lives, and it takes conscious effort and commitment.

Marriage, like child rearing, takes effort to educate oneself, to seek out resources and to find professional help if needed. There are so many great resources available now for couples and we have included some that we know and trust:

Warning Signs of a Struggling Marriage

A good reminder for couples is to be aware of Dr. John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that have been found to lead to divorce. If you recognize yourself, then it’s time to get professional help:

  1. Criticizing each other
  2. Contempt (feeling disgusted or fed up)
  3. Defensiveness (making excuses)
  4. Stonewalling (when one spouse shuts down emotionally).

Strong Family Characteristics

In 1985, Stinnett & DeFrain published the results of an extensive research project designed to learn more about the characteristics that were associated with strong families (Secrets of Strong Families, NY: Berkley Books). They identified 3,000 strong families throughout the United States and conducted extensive interviews with family members. The families represented a true cross-section of the population on many dimensions. After careful analysis, they determined there were six primary features that strong families have in common:

1. Commitment – Family members were committed to their relationships and to helping each member grow as an individual.

2. Appreciation – Family members frequently told and showed each other that they appreciated each other, and they were able to be specific about the things they expressed.

3. Communication – These families used good communication skills, and they communicated frequently with each other.

4. Fun Time Together – Strong families made time together a priority, and some of that time was spent doing enjoyable, fun things.

5. Spiritual Wellness – Whether it was involvement in their own respective religious groups or involvement in inspirational activities such as deep appreciation of nature or music, strong families reported that their spirituality helped them keep perspective on the day-to-day stresses.

6. Coping Ability – When these families encountered tough times, they found a way to pull together and support each other rather than being fragmented by crises.

Relationship Therapy

Counseling for your relationship can make a world of difference, in times of trouble and for prevention, too. There are three schools of marriage counseling therapy compatible with Attachment Parenting, so you’ll want to make sure your counselor is accredited with one of these programs: Gottman Method Couples Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy and Emotionally Focused Therapy. The API Marriage Resources page offers more information on these programs and what type of questions to ask before engaging a therapist.

For example, if you are struggling in your relationship, you can find out if there is an Imago therapist in your area. Imago focuses on couple communication using a specific dialogue technique and addresses possible adult attachment issues that often interfere with intimacy and expression of feelings, a perfect complement to the Attachment Parenting approach. This program has helped many couples preserve their marriage when they felt on the edge of divorce.

An easy — and inexpensive — way to get started is for both parents to read the book Getting the Love You Want by Imago’s founders Dr. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, and discuss each chapter as you go along. That alone can awaken awareness.

Be sure to see what’s available and what serves your family best.

Strengthening Communication Skills

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is another great way to help couples develop better communication and understanding of individual needs and feelings. After attending many workshops and being involved on a personal level with NVC, we have learned just how illiterate most of us are when it comes to knowing what our needs are, let alone identifying them with the correct words.

Striving for Balance

Remember API’s Eight Principles of Parenting includes Striving for Personal and Family Balance. It is critical not only for preserving relationships, but for our own personal health and well-being.

Our couple relationship is extremely important, and it’s important to not neglect it. Mothers especially can easily become consumed with caring for the children to the exclusion of themselves and their partners — we’ve been there — and it’s not healthy for anyone. A strong AP support network will make it easier to share caregiving, if needed, so you can focus on your relationship.

Divorce is an extremely difficult decision for any family. While our culture remains content on labeling, judging and criticizing, let’s stay focused on what’s important in strengthening our marriages and family relationships to create a culture of empathy, support and peace for our children.


In our Mothering Forums, we regularly find mamas who share their concerns about their marriages and relationships with significant others, particularly when the significant other differs in parenting style. What do you do when you are an attachment parent and your partner/co-parent is not?

As we’ve already laid out, it’s a tough road sometimes to be a true attachment parent, though we believe the tide is turning as more mothers want to protect their children from the ills the world will bring all too soon, and are finding natural lifestyles and attachment parenting styles are arming a new generation with compassion and concern.

We’re often judged for the way we parent (or don’t, as others seem to assume) and that often comes from our closest friends and family members.

But what about when it’s from our romantic partner? What can we do when our partners don’t believe in the same parenting styles we do? I remember my husband took my three-year-old on his very first ‘big kid’ fishing trip several years ago. As he did with his dad, my husband wanted to stop by the convenience store, grab some Hostess Lemon Pies and Gatorade for the boat and recreate memories with his little boy.

I begged him to avoid both of those—my son is MTHFR Hetero Compound and he also has issues with red dye. Neither the lemon pie nor the Gatorade was good for him, and even my son knew how his body felt after he had red dye. So, imagine my surprise when my son was discussing the trip, telling me how daddy had bought Gatorade, “But I didn’t drink it, Mama, becasue I know it’s not good for me. Daddy told me not to tell, but we don’t keep secrets, do we?”

I don’t share that story to throw my husband under the bus; I share it because I know I’m probably not alone and because it’s important that we address situations like that instead of bury them and let them fester. My husband admitted it was not one of his finest parenting moments, particularly wincing when I recanted how my little guy had said, “Daddy told me not to tell, but we don’t keep secrets, do we?” and I shared with him how much it disturbed me for my son and for myself.

And, while my husband still believes a lemon pie or Gatorade now and then won’t make a difference (blech), it’s not about whether or not I change his beliefs. It’s all about how we act together and toward our son, for our son.

Keys to different parenting styles rely on base-line respect for the other person. You may not agree, but you love and respect the other person enough to know that they truly are acting out of what they believe is best too. And, we make changes to show that respect. Now, when I know they’re going on fishing trips, I make sure there are treats that remind my husband of days with his dad that are also better alternatives like organic Gatorade and Smashmallow Churro Treats.  He, in turn, keeps his mouth shut on a lot of things, and makes a point to thank me for the efforts I make to keep our family healthier.

The key to that all is communication, though, so don’t be afraid to communicate. You may never change the other person’s mind on how they feel, but you may deepen your relationship by building greater respect for the other person, and letting that respect frame your love.

 

Image: Valerie Everett


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