Resolving Your Discipline Differences

Relate has these practical tips for moving on from the one thing you and your partner may never agree about.

Agree to Disagree...

It’s happened a hundred times before: you assume one thing is acceptable and your partner assumes the opposite. You wonder: why is he punishing the kids for that? Why is he ignoring that bad behaviour? And why can’t he see my point of view?

Ultimately, the reality of relationships is that not all differences are resolvable.

Most of us learn how to be parents and how to be partners from our parents. We see how they did it, make decisions about whether it was good or bad, right or wrong, and then adjust our parenting and relationship skills accordingly.

So if you grew up in a house where mum did all the discipline and dad was the laid back one, and if it never did you any harm, chances are you’ll do the same.

Conversely, if your dad was a strict, authoritative, even cruel disciplinarian, you may decide that discipline is best left to mothers who have a softer touch.

When couples disagree on fundamental issues about family life, such as discipline and division of responsibility, they often make the mistake of trying to establish who is right and who is wrong. But more often than not, there is no right and wrong.

If your family history is different from your partner’s, then you first need to accept that neither of you has a moral upper hand. Once you can accept this, you can stop arguing about what the other one ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do and focus instead on what the two of you can do together to compromise.

These tips can help you reach that compromise….

Find a common goal 

Often when we’re stuck in the thick of an argument we forget that underneath the differences lies a common goal. You’re parents together, you love your children and you both want what’s best for them.

On top of that you undoubtedly want a harmonious family environment and a relationship that’s fun and rewarding. Remember that both of you are working in the same direction - you might just have different routes for getting there. 

Agree to disagree 

Differences of opinion are inevitable. Rather than trying to convince your partner to share your point of view, accept that you’re different and you’re each entitled to see life through a different lens. 

Develop a compromise

Having agreed that you share the same common goal and you’re each entitled to your opinion, sit down together and work out how you can move forward.

Take time for each of you to share your perfect scenario then discuss the points that are essential and those that are arbitrary. For example, you may agree that you will support your partner in ensuring your child eats at the table, even though it’s not important to you, in exchange for your partner supporting you in making your child tidy away toys.

And you may agree to give up on making sure the washing up is done before bedtime in exchange for him reading the bedtime story three times a week. What’s important is that you negotiate and compromise so that neither of you feels that you’re sacrificing any more than the other. 

Pre-empt arguments

Many couples find there are particular flashpoints during the day when they’re most likely to argue. Typically this is first thing in the morning when everyone’s rushing to get out of the house or at mealtimes or children’s bedtimes.

If this is the case then plan ahead how you can avoid this happening. Learn the argument triggers. It could be something as simple as your partner raising a disapproving eyebrow or always sighing when you ask them to do something. Discuss these triggers with your partner and agree how to eliminate them.

Stop arguments fast

If you’ve got into the habit of arguing over the same old things time after time, then it will be easy to slip into those old routines – even after you’ve reached a compromise. Remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and gently remind each other that you’ve agreed a new approach.

Some couples find it useful to set a code-word. When one of you uses the code word you agree to a time-out until you’ve both calmed down.

If all the above fails…..

For some couples there are hidden pay-offs for continuing to argue. It may be that are resentments much deeper than the surface things that you argue about, but rather than face these issues you bicker about safer things.

The main issue may be something that happened in the past or an ongoing problem that has become too difficult to talk about. Arguing about something else allows you both to air your feelings, but avoid talking about the problem.

The only way to stop this destructive cycle is to address the deeper issue. If this feels too difficult to do alone then you could consider talking it through with a couple counsellor at Relate.


Related links

  • When a new baby breaks your routine: When a couple become parents their lifestyle is turned upside down. In this article, Paula Hall describes what can be done to ensure the bond isn’t broken by the new arrival…
  • Discipline for Dads: Effective discipline requires positive attention and good relationships, says Tom Beardshaw from Fathers Direct. Tom gives his top tips for how parents can work together to discipline their children.
  • Same Page Technique: Sometimes, it’s Mum and Dad who need to think about where they could be going wrong. This technique is used on the show to open communication between parents.
  • Divorce and discipline - how to stop matters getting out of hand: If their Mum and Dad are having relationship problems or going through a divorce it can bumpstart bad behaviour in children of all ages.
  • Making Time for the Family: Making time for a healthy family, work and social life can be challenging - to say the least. We have this advice and some useful links to get you started.

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