5 Relationship Skills to Teach Your Children: 1. Behavioral Changes Lynne’s new series explores the impact of having children and what your relationship will teach them later in life. BY LYNNE Z. GOLD-BIKIN
Showing your kids good communications skills through example is an easy way to teach them.
As a divorce lawyer for 35 years, I have watched marriages end simply because couples have grown apart, gone in their own directions, and lost touch with each other. While there are good reasons for divorce, this situation is just a waste! The marriage could have been saved if the husband and wife had just worked to communicate better and grow in the same direction—as a result, the couple’s children have now learned some very poor communication skills from their parents.
When I chaired the American Bar Association’s Section on Family Law, we, in conjunction with the PAIRS foundation, developed a program to teach young people some of the skills they needed to have successful relationships; a program we called PARTNERS. This series of articles draws on my experience with PAIRS and PARTNERS to look at communication skills that can save your marriage—skills that we all should have learned in kindergarten. You can improve your marriage by mastering these skills, and should make it a priority to teach them to your children. You’ll all enjoy healthier, happier relationships because of it.
Two people fall in love and decide they want to spend their life together. So far, so good. But they each come from different family structures, different parents, different siblings and different ways of dealing with each other and their daily living. How, then, to merge the couple to grow together? Every family needs good communication skills, skills that enable people to express their feelings in a positive manner, a manner designed to build the relationship, not to destroy it.
The first skill involves knowing how to ask your partner to change a behavior that bothers you. The communication should be to change the behavior, not punish it. For example, your husband comes home late and doesn’t give you the courtesy of a phone call. You’re concerned, you’re angry and want him to know about it. You could say this, "Listen, you rat; I’ve been standing by the window for an hour waiting for you. Why can’t you pick up your cell phone and call me?"
But yelling doesn’t help and just elicits excuses. If, on the other hand, you try dividing your statements into three parts: this is the behavior I notice, this is how I feel about, and this is the change I want (and thanks for listening)—you’ll have a positive outcome. For example, try approaching the he-doesn’t-call problem this way, "Honey, I notice that when you’re going to be late, you don’t call to tell me. I wonder if you know how I feel when you don’t get home on time and I’m waiting for you—I’m concerned, not knowing if you’ve had an accident. I’m sure you’re busy and not thinking of that, but it’s pretty scary for me, waiting for you and not knowing where you are. What I would really like you to do is just call me and tell me you’re going to be late so I can plan accordingly and not be concerned. And, thanks for letting me tell you this."
It should be obvious that talking about the things that bother you, how you feel about it and providing a solution is a better way to build a relationship than anger and insults. It takes practice and thought, but it really does work and, over time becomes easier. So make it a point to practice this method of requesting a change in your spouse’s behavior if something is bothering you rather than just complaining about it. Your marriage will be stronger for it, and you’ll be teaching your kids a valuable relationship skill by example.