Difficult Spouse

Like difficult children, difficult spouses may be rigid, over-sensitive, explosive, stubborn and more. This makes them challenging to get along with and one has to be a very skilled communicator in order to bring out the best in such a partner and minimize conflict. Although a difficult spouse’s personality presents certain predictable challenges in marriage, it also creates certain predictable challenges in parenting.

Here are just some problems that you may encounter with your spouse as a parent:

  • Your spouse has a tendency to spoil your children. A spouse who spoils the kids can be frustrating to deal with. He or she harms the children directly by overindulging them, refusing to establish appropriate limits and/or failing to establish healthy boundaries. In addition, such a spouse can harm the marriage as he or she contradicts the parenting rules you try to put in place and thereby aligns him or herself with the children rather than with you. In this way, the spoiling spouse diminishes your authority as a parent, causing real harm to your children through the process of “triangulation” (setting kids against the other parent).
  • Your spouse is too strict. Sometimes the opposite is true; your spouse establishes so much control in the family that there is barely room to breathe! Parenting should be a balance of love and authority, and rules must be flexible enough to accommodate the family’s changing needs. If your spouse tend to be too closed-minded, inflexible, rule-oriented and stern, he or she can alienate you and the children in one sweep.
  • Your spouse has to be right about everything. Marriage requires give-and-take as well as flexibility and the ability to compromise. Some difficult adults are simply too rigid and righteous to negotiate about parenting issues or anything else. Such a spouse provides a poor model of respectful negotiation for the children to emulate. Instead, the youngsters see an immature, controlling parent who cannot see another person’s point of view.
  • Your spouse is overly-dependent on you for decision-making. It’s great to be relied upon, but not for everything! When a partner refuses to step up to the plate to make decisions and take responsibility, you are left raising a family on your own. It’s not fair and its maddening. And watch out – the abstaining spouse may even accuse you of making poor decisions and being to blame for the children’s problems!
  • Your spouse is too critical. Getting constructive feedback from your spouse can be helpful. However, some spouses have a tendency to criticize everything you do. Whether your spouse claims that you are not feeding the kids the right kind of food, buying the right kind of clothing, or putting the kids to bed correctly, it feels like nothing but complaints.

What can you do when you have a difficult spouse?

Improve Your Own Communication and Relationship Skills
Just like a parent has to be highly skilled in order to raise a difficult child, a spouse has to be highly skilled in order to deal effectively with a difficult partner. Read marriage books or take marriage classes. Use the same excellent skills you’ve acquired in parenting to reduce defensiveness and encourage spousal cooperation. Use plenty of positive techniques like praise, acknowledgment, and empathy. Limit criticism and correction and eliminate anger. All of this will help your difficult spouse be more open to your suggestions and help in parenting and in every other area of marriage.

Consult a Third Party
Let a parenting expert guide you and your spouse together in creating your parenting plans. This can help avoid conflict over parenting issues and facilitate decision-making. When a neutral third party makes a suggestion, it is easier for your spouse to follow than when you make a suggestion (even if it’s exactly the same suggestion!).

Consult a Marriage Counselor
You aren’t the best one to teach your spouse how to behave. If you want him or her to provide a healthier model for your kids and to be a more pleasant person for you to live with, let a marriage counselor help out. Marriage counselors have the training and know-how to help people make significant changes in the way they behave as spouses. Your difficult spouse can become an easier spouse after a number of months of marriage counseling. Do not send your difficult spouse for individual counseling since the counselor will lack the necessary information (i.e. YOUR point of view) to truly help your spouse.

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