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Is anyone else having issues with their kids and getting them on schedule or getting them to do the things around the house the first time you ask? I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would change our lives for a few weeks, but  I never considered that it would stretch into the summer. As a result of the “new normal,” I have noticed changes in the behavior of my children as well. Some of those changes include:

Backtalk From My Kids

Arguments About Bedtimes, Chores, Hygiene 

Too Much Screen Time (Games, Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

What is really going on? How am I contributing via my stress, anxiety, or mood? In essence, how do I stop fighting with my kids? What are the things that I can do?

1. Remember That You Are The Parent

I recognize that my responsibility to my children is to be their parent. Even though I want to develop a close relationship with my child, being the parent means that I will have to do things that are not popular. In fact, because I love my child and want a close relationship with them, as a parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. The first time that my youngest son said to me, “Mommy, you are not my friend,” I took a deep breath and replied, “You are right. I am not your friend, I AM your MOM.” I want my kids to know that they are loved, accepted, and can always come to me, but I can’t always be their “buddy.” I can’t make decisions based on a popularity contest—I have to do what’s best for them knowing that they won’t always understand that this is real love.

In that particular situation, I chose to respond versus react. Reactions are automatic, without thought and usually driven by emotions. When I respond, according to the author and licensed marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, “I take a pause before I do something.” In other words, I think, control my emotions, and move forward as the parent.

2. Become A Student Of Your Child

Learn what your child likes and what interests them. Talk with and listen to them, find out what shows they watch, what music they like, what are they feeling (e.g., fear, concern, anger, sadness). Creating a healthy relationship with them gives you insight into their world. Remember that the pandemic and all that is going on has had an impact on your child as well. Take your child’s emotional temperature by asking questions to find out how are they are feeling and what is on their minds. They may be acting out because they feel insecure, afraid, or anxious. They may be trying to get your attention

3. Create Structure And Boundaries And Consistently Enforce Them

It is important that our children feel a sense of routine, structure, and boundaries in the midst of all the chaos and confusion going on in the world. Structure and boundaries provide safety for children. They see and hear news about COVID-19 and racial unrest. They may feel afraid and concerned as a result. You can create structure and boundaries by: Making one-on-one time with each child to talk, Having dinner together as a family, or Family Game Night. These family interactions can develop connectedness between the members which hopefully can decrease the argumentative interactions.

Your children should have routines in the morning and evening and bedtime that place structure around their day. Give them a daily to-do list like: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Read For 20 Minutes, Exercise/Play For 1 Hour, Eat Dinner, Screen Time (as prescribed by parents), Bedtime Routine, Lights Out. Put the schedule somewhere at their eye-level. Even kids that can’t read yet can follow a list using pictures to know how to get ready for bed. These routines provide expectations for what the day will look like and there will be less to fight with your kids about.

Power struggles and arguments seem like they will always be a normal part of parenting. However, you don’t have to normalize fighting with your kids. When you recognize your role and responsibilities as a parent, it gives you a focus point. Creating a healthy parent-child relationship helps your children learn and respect boundaries. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be your best self and respond, not react. One of the best lessons that I have learned on my parenting journey is, “Rules (structure) without relationship leads to rebellion.

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?” Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting. Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

Marriage can be difficult under the best circumstances. Two people doing life together will always have some differing perspectives, needs, priorities, habits, and let’s say—idiosyncrasies—that make them unique. This means continual, ongoing work on communication skills, learning how to handle disagreements and conflict, and doing the intentional stuff that keeps you connected and your relationship healthy.

Then you throw in a Global Pandemic and being quarantined with your partner 24/7, and marriage gets really interesting. Sprinkle in anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness, along with uncertainty about the future and finances. As a result, marriage can go from difficult to disastrous. Real quick. Everything gets magnified and intensified. This is a hard time, especially if you can’t stop fighting.

Many people are looking across the living room at their spouse and saying, “Who is this person?

Under normal conditions, when my wife gets on my nerves, (totally a rare occurrence, right?) I’m in the habit of asking myself, “Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved?” Then I try to proceed accordingly. Being in quarantine for about a month has definitely moved some things from the “Tension” category over to the “Problem To Be Solved” category. So now we have more (and some new) problems to be solved and neither of us is really the best version of ourselves at the moment. You know the deal.

Tensions, disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting should be expected under these circumstances. They should be expected in marriage, period, but they can be framed in a way that drives you toward each other—not apart. 

Stop Fights Before They Start

If the best fight is the one that actually draws you together and strengthens your relationship, then the second-best fight is the one that never happens.

  • Understand Your Current Situation. You or your spouse may be experiencing high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress. This produces what marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to as “Flooding” which is when the brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains responsible for complex problem solving, to function. When you or your spouse are in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mode, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. This isn’t a fault in you or your spouse—this is your body’s nervous system. Hopefully, just knowing this promotes grace, empathy, and patience.
  • Practice Self-Care. Just because you are quarantined with each other doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time together. You each still need your space and need to take care of yourselves and find healthy ways to manage and process the stress you are feeling. Stay connected to your friends and the people that encourage you. It’s okay for you to sit in another room and watch television alone. It’s okay for your spouse to go for a walk without you. If you are both working on being the best versions of yourselves, you’ll both be in a better place when you are together.
  • Set Up Schedules and Routines. This will make expectations clear and give your day predictability and give you stability. Are one or both of you working from home? When and where in your house or apartment will work be done? Do you have children? Designate when you will take turns watching them so the other can work or get some alone time. Who is doing what chores around the house?
  • Choose A Specific Time Each Day To “Check-In” With Each Other. This isn’t fight time. This is when you ask each other how you are feeling physically and emotionally. This is a time to share needs and ask how you can be helping each other. Take turns speaking and listening. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal time, just consistent.

Fight Nice

It may sound strange, but when you aren’t fighting, take some time to discuss and establish some “ground rules” for how you will handle tensions, disagreements, and problems. No bringing up the past. No interrupting. And no raising your voices. How will you call a “time-out?” What is the time limit? How will you signal that the “fight” is over? Use this blog to guide you.

  • Schedule Your “Fights.” Set a time once or twice a week (max) when each of you gets to air out one (and only one) criticism while the other is only allowed to listen. Avoid words like, “always” or “never” and try to frame it as an “I” statement. “I get frustrated when it feels like you are being distant,” or “I need more help with putting the kids to bed,” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t raise your voice at me.”
  • Respond, Don’t React. You are both going to hear some hard things, especially if you can’t stop fighting. It is important not to escalate the conversation with the volume or tone of your voice, your body language, or your words themselves. Don’t react by letting emotions take control. As you actively listen, respond calmly, compassionately, and empathetically.

Kiss and Make Up

It’s not all about not fighting. Make sure you are doing things that help you connect, have fun together, deepen intimacy, create some romance, and deepen your relationship.

  • Plan Some Fun! Be intentional and schedule some fun things you can do together. Have a formal in-home, in quarantine date night. Dress up and make a special dinner. Build a blanket fort and watch a movie. Go for a walk together. Have a game night. Don’t try to do any heavy relationship work during this time, just enjoy each other’s company. Generally, men bond shoulder to shoulder, doing things together, and women bond face to face, through conversation. So, make sure you are doing a little of both. Don’t forget why you married your spouse in the first place.
  • Figure Out What Says, “I Love You” To Your Spouse. Not everyone communicates “I love you” the same way and not everyone hears “I love you” the same way. Some people need quality time together. Some people need words that affirm them. Dr. Gary Chapman dives into this in his book titled, The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts, but you can also go to his website and take a free quiz and find resources that will help you communicate love more effectively to each other. 
  • What About Sex? What about it?! You are quarantined together, and this is one of the most powerful ways to stay connected! Understand the dynamics of sex—generally, women need to feel connected to have sex and men need to have sex to feel connected. Not a problem! This is the perfect example of how two people have to work to make the marriage work.

When you are fighting all the time, it is easy to begin to see your spouse as an adversary and your relationship becomes a contest of winning and losing. Ultimately, we need to remember that our spouse isn’t the enemy, the problem or the disagreement is. Then we can fight for our spouse and for our marriage.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

One-bedroom apartment.

Two newlyweds working from home now.

Multiple video conference calls (sometimes simultaneously).

Only two options for “getting space”: Bathroom or the balcony.

Lots of uncertainty and anxiety in the air amidst a pandemic.

Time to work on those healthy communication skills.

I’m sitting on the couch with my husband when the phone rings. We pause our movie, he answers and all I hear is “Mhmm, yeah…okay, yeah.”

His family friend has a nice car and is offering it to us before anyone else and for a good price. Hmm…

Mind you, we have been saving for about 10 months now to replace my husband’s car. It’s been on our to-do list before all of these COVID-19 precautions. We both were antsy to check it off.

Now normally, I love a good deal, but I had to ask myself (and him), “Is this good timing?”

To be honest, a lot feels unknown. We don’t know the ramifications COVID-19 will have on the economy and making a big purchase scares me a little bit…a detour from our original plan feels necessary. To him, we’ve had a goal in mind, we’ve worked hard and this is a great opportunity. 

This could be a hard conversation. During this pandemic, I’m sure you can relate to having your fair share of challenging conversations, too. There are lots of new, important things to talk about. Money is a touchy subject as it is, and during a time when no one wants to handle money and is quarantined, the irony felt all too coincidental. For us, this was a potential relationship landmine. 

The last thing we need to take up space in our little apartment is tension. There’s not enough room for the distance created by the lack of good communication.

If you create distance because one of you or both of you are pushing away your feelings, rather than pushing through them, then you create an opportunity to have that gap filled by things that only make matters worse. Disappointment, resentment or misunderstandings start filling the gap and then you two have enough tension to fill a guest room that you don’t have. 

You can’t fix a problem you don’t know is there and neither can your spouse. Neither of you is a mind reader. Conflict isn’t comfortable – I won’t sell it to you like it is. But I will be honest – it’s often a chance for growth and a better understanding of each other.

You aren’t doing life on your own anymore. Important decisions are made together. I mean, as the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” 

And we had to put our heads together on whether this is a good time to buy a car or not. Who knows how this conversation will go? We often have to work to not get defensive of our own opinions. We agreed that at the end of this conversation, both of us need to feel heard and cared for.

Before we tried to come to a conclusion, we set ourselves up for success. We made each other feel safe to share opposing opinions and we listened with the intention to hear each other and respond – not just make a rebuttal (as tempting as that can be.)

  1. We made sure we had time to start and hopefully, finish the conversation. 
  2. We put our phones aside, made sure our schedules were clear and we made resolving our conflict a priority.
  3. We chose a spot where we felt comfortable talking. 
  4. We reminded each other before we started making our points that this is our decision to make, no one else’s, and that we are on the same team. Win together and lose together. We replaced the “me” in mentality with “we.” What is best for us?
  5. We actively listened. (We “listened” between the lines of each other’s answers and made sure to ask each other clarifying questions. Call us compassionate detectives.) “Are you scared of spending the money we saved for the car because of what’s unknown in the economy or are you really worried about your job?” “Are you not worried about using our savings just because we’ve been saying we would get a car, or because you feel secure in the foundation we laid for ourselves?
  6. We found a solution and made a plan where we both compromised a little while still reaching our goal. We are going to try and sell Tyler’s car before we make the purchase of the new-to-us car. That way we won’t drain our savings during an uncertain time and we are still marking off something we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making happen.

Maybe it’s been a stressful, exhausting week already and you don’t want to add to it. It’s possible you fear what the other person may say or worry they won’t see your point of view.  Maybe it’s as simple as you don’t know where to start. Make good communication a priority, now more than ever.

Remind yourself to push through and have those conversations rather than push away the emotions. Remember that good communication will help both of you grow and find better ways to love each other.

In marriage, you should be able to rest confidently in the fact that your partner chose you, chooses you and will continue to as you do all the same things for them. If you both put the effort into making your marriage a safe place where you two can fully express and be yourselves, then the rest, even difficult conversations, becomes easier.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates.

In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed.

They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

The component groups were:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This would affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts and telling private information about the relationship to others – and the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time even though the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance, and as women grew older there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities.
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether you’re considering marriage, engaged or already married, this information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.

Either way, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way.

Couples often find that when they seek to understand their partner it begins to make sense why they think the way they think. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on certain things and have a healthy marriage, but it will require some effort on each person’s part. If you are dating or engaged, you may realize that your differences are significant enough that you need to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what is in the best interest of your relationship.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***