2-Minute Therapy

What To Do When You And Your Partner Disagree About Child Discipline

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s shellacking in the court of public opinion (and subsequent indictment on felony child abuse charges) suggests that most people are finally united in their views on corporal punishment. Still, even sensible parents have a wide spectrum of techniques and philosophies to consider when disciplining their kids and, if you and your partner part ways on the topic, it can create serious tension.

Doctor Don Cole, a certified master trainer for the Gottman Institute with over 25 years experience in couples counseling, says that everyone enters parenthood with a “dream” of how it should be, and few topics expose differences between two people’s dreams like discipline. He also offers some easy-to-follow advice that can help you strike a balance between strict and lenient, without feeling like you’re dooming your kid to become a sociopath.

“The smartest 3 words a guy ever said to his wife are ‘That makes sense.'”

1. Enter Into The Conversation Using A “Gentle Startup”
What sounds like an illicit massage parlor offering is actually a Gottman Method cornerstone: begin by expressing what you feel and what you need rather than what you think your partner might be doing wrong. “Be careful not to put blame on your partner,” says Cole. “It’s not, ‘I feel you are too harsh’ or ‘I feel you’re too lenient.’ That’s not a feeling. It’s, ‘I feel concerned that we’re sending mixed messages and I need us to be on the same page.”

2. Accept Influence From Your Partner
Research proves that women are more likely to bring up a relationship problem, while men have a natural tendency to dismiss or minimize. If your partner disagrees with your philosophy on discipline, make an honest effort to hear why she feels the way she does and don’t assume her views aren’t grounded and valid. “The smartest 3 words a guy ever said to his wife are: ‘That makes sense,'” says Cole – but that economical phrase only works if you mean it.

Remember: Eventually your kids will be legally allowed to ignore both of you.

3. Communicate How Your Background Informs Your Opinion
Harsh or lenient, you’re likely reacting to how your own parents disciplined you, either in an effort to live up to an example they set or to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes. “If your own dad was unreasonable and would react without giving you a chance to speak, maybe you try hard not to overreact and err on the side of leniency,” says Cole. “That comes from a good place.” Explaining that to your partner should help her see those ideas as less arbitrary – if it doesn’t, maybe introduce her to the whole “accepting influence” thing.

4. Understand That The Middle Ground Is Where You Need To Be
These differences aren’t “solvable” problems; they’re perpetual, and the only way to work through them productively is to maintain a dialog so you don’t inadvertently (or, worse, purposefully) sabotage each other when disciplining your kids. “You don’t need to have the same opinion for your kids to have a good parenting experience.” says Cole. “You just have to stay in dialog around those differences and make compromises as you go.” An inability to do so means gridlock, and gridlock is what keeps Doctor Cole in business.

5. Remember That There’s A Third Member Of This Relationship
Whatever your individual beliefs, as your kids grow you’ll accumulate evidence of what is and isn’t effective. The bigger that body of evidence gets, the more central it should be to the dialog with your partner. And remember: Eventually your kids will be legally allowed to ignore both of you.

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