Sunday, April 22, 2012

Modeling Marriage

Full Question: How did you model and teach your kids how to have a successful marriage relationship? What specific things did you teach or show them about marriage, particularly about resolving disagreements and enriching your relationship?

Summary:

Commitment
"The concept that marriages are eternal was central and makes such a difference.  It creates a total commitment, or should." "We tried not to argue in front of our children, but they knew we had disagreements, and occasionally became distressed when we did disagree.  They did know, however, that we were committed to working out our differences, and we were committed to the marriage.  We tried to emphasize to the children that if you are committed to the marriage, you CAN work things out....I believe it is important for children to have confidence in their parents' love for each other.  We tried to do things that strengthened that confidence."

Resolving Problems
"Disagreements in front of the kids is okay as long as you can resolve appropriately.  They need to understand that you don't always agree and that you can get mad at your spouse and still love them." "I once told a child, 'What you feed, grows'.  This is true in marriages as well as life in general.  Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings and experiences.  Negative thoughts only poison a relationship, so it starts with controlling our thoughts.  A focus on gratitude and looking for the good helps a lot. "I learned...that when a problem surfaces repeatedly it needs to be addressed at a time when emotions are under control in a factual matter with 'I' messages, stating how the situation is affecting you....In essence we cannot control another’s behavior, only our own.  We can always go to the Lord, as the third party, and ask Him what we need to change or to soften our spouse’s heart, so issues can truly be resolved." "I wish we could say that our children never heard us argue or disagree, but that would not be the truth.  Having said that however, our children saw that, although we often didn’t agree on things, more often, we did.  We also never let our disagreements interfere with our feelings toward each other."

Enriching Marriage
"We had a bishop who challenged all the couples in the ward to go on a weekly date.  We were a young couple and took it seriously.  Our Friday night dates were sacred (and still are)." "We dated each week...." "Because of my husband's work schedule we rarely had 'date nights' but we did take some business trips together." "Going to the temple at least once per month also established a pattern of temple attendance and all of our children and their companions follow that tradition....The Salt Lake Temple is a major focus in our lives" "I highly recommend date night and temple night." "My husband was thoughtful about making Mother's Day and birthdays special.  I tried to do the same with Father's Day."

Support
"We...had a weekly Sunday evening family planning council so we were able to know what the plan was for the week so we could support each other in our individual activities and resolve any conflicts." "If we allow our spouse to have some room to grow and hold back with correcting one another, we leave room for the Lord to correct them when they are truly off base, which is much more effective." "As a wife, my husband supported my decisions and discipline whether they were the best or not...that was probably one of his greatest expressions of love."

Teaching
"Problem is you can't wait till kids are old enough to marry to tell them these things.  You need to start talking about WHERE they will marry AND WHO they will marry while they are open to learning this from you - long before they start falling in love."  "I do remember talking to some of our children about the challenges of marriage long before they had chosen their companions.  Basically, it’s a great challenge to take two people from different backgrounds and experiences and put them together to create a new household.  Many adjustments need to be made....We have also reminded our children that they must be patient with spouses as they learn and grow and mature in their roles." "We were affectionate in front of our children and often mentioned how lucky we were to have each other." "The biggest thing is to love your spouse and make sure the kids see it."

Full answers:

Brianne (and Spencer)
Teach kids that LOVE is a verb, an action word.  Not something you fall into.

I have three pieces of advice about choosing a spouse - they need to happen before you give your heart away.  These make a happy marriage easier to create.

1  Work beside them - find a service project, a grandparent to help or some experience where you can work side by side  (most of life will be working together).

2  Do things together with both your families. Before you commit.

3  Picture them as the parent of your children.

Problem is you can't wait till kids are old enough to marry to tell them these things.  You need to start talking about WHERE they will marry AND WHO they will marry while they are open to learning this from you - long before they start falling in love. 

We have watched many friends who have raised families struggle thru these issues - they are not necessarily what you think about when you are falling in love, but they are a big part of life afterwards.

Marsha (and Richard)
We are both totally committed to our marriage relationship and our children.  I’m guessing our children learned the most just from watching us interact with one another.  The concept that marriages are eternal was central and makes such a difference.  It creates a total commitment, or should. When we consider our two halves as a whole we are more inclined to nurture one another and not resort to “put downs”.   One piece of advice I heard which I thought was priceless was to “never even THINK against your spouse." I once told a child, “What you feed, grows”.  This is true in marriages as well as life in general.  Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings and experiences.  Negative thoughts only poison a relationship, so it starts with controlling our thoughts.  A focus on gratitude and looking for the good helps a lot.

We were far from perfect in building good communication.  We were more inclined to silence when upset but never let it go very long. I know we tended to sweep problems under the rug rather than deal with them.  I learned, however that when a problem surfaces repeatedly it needs to be addressed at a time when emotions are under control in a factual matter with “I” messages, stating how the situation is affecting you.  My husband always taught, however, the Covey concept that “If you think the problem is out there, that very thought is the problem.”  It takes some thought to understand that statement completely but in essence we cannot control another’s behavior, only our own.  We can always go to the Lord, as the third party, and ask Him what we need to change or to soften our spouse’s heart, so issues can truly be resolved.

I do remember talking to some of our children about the challenges of marriage long before they had chosen their companions.  Basically, it’s a great challenge to take two people from different backgrounds and experiences and put them together to create a new household.  Many adjustments need to be made.  It is important to discern between things that don’t really matter but are a matter of preference, and those that have eternal consequences. This is when we need to “grow up” and put selfishness aside, caring more about the relationship.

We have also reminded our children that they must be patient with spouses as they learn and grow and mature in their roles.  We all have had to do that.  It is important to include the Lord in the relationship.  If we allow our spouse to have some room to grow and hold back with correcting one another, we leave room for the Lord to correct them when they are truly off base, which is much more effective.

Marianne (and John)
We asked my daughter to help answer this one.  She said that we seemed to always enjoy being together...and we did and do!  We had a bishop who challenged all the couples in the ward to go on a weekly date.  We were a young couple and took it seriously.  Our Friday night dates were sacred (and still are).  Time together was always an issue but we made sure we talked on the phone several times a day and went on errands together whenever possible.  We were affectionate in front of our children and often mentioned how lucky we were to have each other.  Our personalities are not confrontational so our disagreements were almost always away from the children.  As a wife, my husband supported my decisions and discipline whether they were the best or not...that was probably one of his greatest expressions of love.

Mary (and Robert)
The biggest thing is to love your spouse and make sure the kids see it.  I highly recommend date night and temple night. 

Another thing is to always present a united front.  Never contradict your spouse in disciplining the kids.  If you must step in (it happens), ask for a time out for conferencing.

Finally, disagreements in front of the kids is okay as long as you can resolve appropriately.  They need to understand that you don't always agree and that you can get mad at your spouse and still love them. 

Kenneth (and Catherine)
We were a pattern for a successful marriage relationship.  We dated each week and had a weekly Sunday evening family planning council so we were able to know what the plan was for the week so we could support each other in our individual activities and resolve any conflicts.  Going to the temple at least once per month also established a pattern of temple attendance and all of our children and their companions follow that tradition.  Now we are ordinance workers on Mondays and I am a sealer on Thursdays and we are staff coordinators together on Fridays.  The Salt Lake Temple is a major focus in our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren who regularly do baptisms for the dead.  Music was also an important focus with each of our children playing a musical instrument and Linda and I going regularly to the symphony and to plays including the Shakespeare Festival at Cedar City.  Family vacations were also at least an annual event.

Rachel (and Bennett)
I'm now sure how successful my husband and I were  at modeling a good marriage.  He worked long hours and our time together was very limited.  We tried not to argue in front of our children, but they knew we had disagreements, and occasionally became distressed when we did disagree.  They did know, however, that we were committed to working out our differences, and we were committed to the marriage.  We tried to emphasize to the children that if you are committed to the marriage, you CAN work things out.  I talked with them about the importance of improving communication skills, but they did not often see us model the communication, because most of our communication was when we were away from the children.

Because of my husband's work schedule we rarely had "date nights" but we did take some business trips together.  Our children saw that we enjoyed being together when we had the opportunity.  Over time (as we figured it out ourselves) we taught that each person brings unique gifts to the marriage -- each has unique talents and personality traits that often compliment the other spouse.  They began to understand how we balanced each other in teaching and in disciplining.  My husband was thoughtful about making Mother's Day and birthdays special.  I tried to do the same with Father's Day. I believe it is important for children to have confidence in their parents' love for each other.  We tried to do things that strengthened that confidence.

Abigail (and Martin)
I am not so sure we did a great job modeling a successful marriage relationship.  Both my husband and I are very strong willed people who don’t always see eye to eye on everything.  I wish we could say that our children never heard us argue or disagree, but that would not be the truth.  Having said that however, our children saw that, although we often didn’t agree on things, more often, we did.  We also never let our disagreements interfere with our feelings toward each other.  I don’t think we asked the children to take sides, but it was always pretty clear how each of us felt about things.  In retrospect, I wish I had done a better job dealing with disagreements, but thankfully, my kids seem to have figured it out.

Jane (and Samuel)
The best way we have modeled a successful marriage is that we are still married and are committed to staying married and working through whatever trial may come our way. We supported each others' work and church callings and education.  For the first 20 years after we got through education that meant I, the mom did mostly mom stuff and whatever was needed to get the kids where they needed to be and to support the dad in making the most of his profession. Since my parents tended to get to the yelling point and that scared me as a child, we made a big effort not to yell at each other (or the kids either for the most part).  For the first 20 years I tended to apologize even if I really thought the problem was his because  I wanted to open the discussion and have some resolution.  I had to be patient because he does not respond quickly.  I always deferred to my husband to ask someone to pray at mealtime and bed time.  We didn't always have a weekly date but we tried to go on a date regularly and did take occasional trips without the children...even if they were just overnight.  We said" I Love You" and hugged and were affectionate.  We tried to keep our bedroom just for us....except for some Sunday Mornings when we invited kids in with us for some cuddling and a chat.  Whenever I feel a little resentful that he has asked me to say the prayer again....I remember how glad I am that we pray together and that he takes that initiative and that he has always been the head of the family even if occasionally I have been the neck.  I think now that perhaps I could have found a way to disagree politely earlier in our marriage and that would have been a better example of resolving disagreements than me apologizing and sometimes going along with decisions because I was afraid we would fight about if I disagreed.

Next week's question: What things do you think most helped keep your kids from rebelling during teenage years? If they did rebel, what advice do you have for parents?

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