Family life

Everything I needed to know about marriage...I learned from parenting

Good parenting practices can positively affect your relationship. Here's how.

By Liza Finlay
Everything I needed to know about marriage...I learned from parenting

Photo: Kevin Klöpper/iStockphoto

Can good parenting practices positively affect your marriage? Yes!

My friend Donna and I were chuckling about how the techniques we learned in parenting class worked equally well in our marriages. No, we weren’t disparaging our mates, comparing them to children. Quite the contrary, we found that in our attempts to engender thoughtful, creative, respectful children we had learned ways to engender those qualities in our marriages.

In other words: Everything you need to know about marriage, you learn in parenting class.


Cooperation: When I was pregnant, I made a promise to my unborn child: I will never demand you follow orders, “Because I said so.” Why? Because I don’t want children who are blindly obedient; I do want children who think critically and independently, who seek to contribute and who approach problems creatively. The same applies to our marriages. If we want relationships that are devoid of dreaded power struggles we need to cooperate — to address each other's unique needs and wants and to solve problems amicably.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Individual Psychology demonstrated that marital satisfaction and cooperation are correlated: the greater the level of cooperation, the happier the marriage.

NOTS (Needs Of The Situation): My friend Alyson Schafer (a reputed parent educator and author) stresses NOTS in her parenting boot camps, but it is equally vital to marriage. As soon as you focus on the needs of the situation, and not the people in it, you remove the emotional content from the issue. What needs to happen now? That’s far more useful than questioning who is to blame and whose job it is to fix it. Psychotherapist Jane Griffith says, “If we all look at the needs of the situation, we don’t have to argue about it.”

Time Out: I’m not a big fan of time-out chairs. I am, however, a big fan of the “positive time out” — taking a breather, calming down, coming back when ready. Rather than punishing children for misguided approaches, positive time outs teach a skill vital to life and, yup, marriage: anger management.


Listen, Listen and Listen Some More: We talk too much. All of us do. But the magic bullet of parenting is to stop lecturing and start listening. Demonstrating to children that they are heard can defuse any — and I mean any — explosive situation. The same supernatural power applies to partners. Too often we get caught up in defending our positions, protecting our egos, proving we are right. All we need to really do is listen. “I hear you.” Magic.

Laugh: A sense of humour sees a parent through a lot of loaded moments. You can sidestep a veritable minefield of volatile exchanges with a simple joke. And, did you know that humour is a critical tool in psychotherapy?  (I’m not joking. Dr. Harold Mosak even wrote a resource book for therapists entitled Ha Ha and Aha: The Role of Humor in Psychotherapy.) In a marriage, some things just aren’t worth fighting about. But they are worth laughing about. So when you feel like you’re going to blow up, crack up instead.

Want to talk to other parents about this issue? Join the Sex and Relationships board in our forums>

This article was originally published on Jul 26, 2012

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