Q: My wife and I don't argue often. But when we do, it feels like we actually become enemies. That bothers both of us. We're struggling to get past this; do you have any advice?
Jim: Conflict in marriage can often make you feel like you're pitted against each other when you ought to be working together. It starts with a disagreement and ends with the couple bitterly locked in a "me vs. you" mentality. But it doesn't have to be that way.
The key is to remind yourselves that you're on the same team. When I played sports, my teammates and I may have had our differences, but our "enemy" was the opposing team, not each other. You and your wife won't agree on everything -- no couple does. Pledge to direct your energy toward solving the mutual problems you need to work through. Attack the issue, not each other.
To achieve that in your marriage, talk about the conflict that has driven a wedge between you. Forgive each other for hurtful words or choices and learn how to pursue a common solution. It can take some time to work through those matters. It might even require the help of a counselor. But it's an important step. Unresolved conflict leads to resentment and bitterness, and it's why couples can't get on the same page.
So work on embracing the differences in your relationship and learning to work together as a couple. Make your spouse your teammate, not your adversary. Our staff counselors can help; feel free to call them at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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Q: I'm concerned about how our 8-year-old son reacts when he makes a mistake or struggles in school. Any little thing -- dropping and breaking a glass, or a lower-than-usual grade on a quiz -- gets blown out of proportion in his mind. How can we help him?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: This is a fairly common response at this impressionable age, especially if a child has perfectionist tendencies (or is seeing that modeled by someone else in the household). The key factor is whether your son is interpreting his mistakes and failures as an indicator of his worth. Help him grasp the proper perspective by emphasizing three truths that he needs to hear from you as his parent.
First, failing is an important part of life because it helps a person mature. If your child falls into the trap of thinking, "It's my fault" or "I'm stupid," help him see the situation from another point of view -- as an opportunity to grow. Celebrate his potential for learning. Model the idea that success builds on itself through learning the right ways to do things and practicing them consistently.
Second, failure is a gift to our "future self" (the person we become) because it reminds us there is always room to grow. Kids sometimes get stuck on the message "I always fail." Help them learn to overcome mistakes by focusing on motivation, determination, perseverance and learned skills. These are great traits that can position your child to succeed along the road of life.
Finally, falling short helps us become humble and loving. Pride can be destructive in relationships, while humility opens up the potential for real and selfless love to shine. Emphasize to your son that his worth doesn't depend on being perfect; you love him the same regardless. In turn, by learning to accept himself for who he is, he's learning to love and accept others for who they are rather than by what they do.
With a little guidance and encouragement from you, your child can learn to reframe his mistakes and turn them into opportunities for growth and connection.