It is frustrating for any couple to work through a challenge where they have differing opinions. One partner may be involved in the day to day parenting whilst the other works full time and wants some influence over the family scene.
According to Stacy, her husband travels a few days every week. She usually takes care of the kids and plans out their week. And Stacy spends Thursday evenings with her girlfriends. It is one day of the week she gets to connect with friends who understand her and she gets to enjoy herself.
Over the past month her husband, John, has been spending at least two weekdays at home. He is usually home on the weekend. But things have changed. Last week he insisted their daughter not visit a friend for an hour to complete her project because he wanted to spend time with her.
He picked up his son from football practice early Friday evening knowing he stays a little later to hang out with his friends. His son has been involved in football practice for a year, always staying a little late to hang out with friends. He insisted that he would like to spend more time with his daughter didn’t see the need for her to hang out with her friends for a few hours every Thursday. After that, he apologized to his son for taking him home from practice early and the next day bought him an XBOX worth $300.
Stacy’s husband is oscillating from not being present during the week to now stopping the kids from doing their activities and trying to guilt Stacy into spending more time with him.
When behavior like this happens in a family, usually the children feel it is unfair. They are used to spending time with friends and doing their usual activities. They like their schedule and enjoy their activities, and feel that those things have been ripped away from them. Stacy also feels controlled. Whenever John is around and trying to spend more time, he guilts her into stop doing the activities she enjoys. She feels stifled and cheated.
John feels alone. He feels as if his family does not appreciate him. Whenever he tries, he gets pushback from someone. He is wondering whether the kids and Stacy appreciate all he does for the family. This vicious cycle repeats itself. Over time this ends in yelling, fighting, and negotiation where everyone is trying to get their way in the family.
In order for the couple to overcome the constant oscillation of their behavior and to create stability and safety in their marriage, both of them are going to need to have some influence over what transpires in their daily routine. John wants to feel like he is respected and his needs are also taken into account despite his work situation. The best way for Stacy and John to work on this situation is to acknowledge that Stacy has been running the ship in a certain way.
When John comes home they need to first negotiate what it will look like in advance before any changes are made to the routines and schedule. In this negotiation, for example, John could say I would like to spend one day a week with a special date night for the two of us and it does not have to be a Thursday. Or John could pick a specific time with Stacy or a flexible time other than a Thursday if his schedule changes on a weekly basis.
It is up to John and Stacy to normalize the routine when John is not around. In this way the entire family is aware of the routine and that exceptions and changes will be made on specific days. In this way the kids feel safe and can also plan their activities and do not have to figure out the oscillation that transpires when John is back home. By creating this flexibility in the schedule, the family accommodates any changes easily. This will improve the overall feelings in the family. However, if this is not negotiated upfront and discussed then stress, unpredictability, and difficulty will appear. No one will feel safe and ultimately there will be hurt feelings.
How can you create flexibility when your partner’s needs or actions change in the relationship?