Q: How do I handle conflicts with my ex-husband over parenting styles? I'm a firm believer in structure and discipline. But that goes out the window every time the kids spend a weekend with my ex, who cares nothing for rules or guidelines. What can I do about this?
Jim: Conflicts of this kind are usually the result of nonexistent communication. You may be divorced, but if you care about your kids, you owe it to them to be on the same page.
How do you find common ground? Try to be as positive and friendly as possible, and resist the temptation to criticize or blame. Don't put your ex-husband down in front of the children. Begin by affirming the good things he's doing with the kids. From there you can move on to questions like, "How do you think we can do a better job? What do our kids need most from both of us at this point? What are we doing right and what needs to change?"
If you handle it right, a conversation like this can bring out areas of mutual agreement between you and your ex. It will reveal those rules, standards and values that you share in common and that can be made to apply in both homes. By building on this foundation, you can begin to make real progress toward a genuine meeting of the minds.
And while it might seem counterintuitive, you might consider seeing a counselor with your ex-husband. An objective third party can steer you away from anger, accusation and other negative forms of communication. Later on, you can ask the counselor to sit down with you and your kids to talk about relationships, assumptions and expectations.
Q: Sometimes my wife and I talk about sensitive issues while out on a date. We seem to be so busy that the only time we can discuss our problems or concerns is when we're alone. Is this a good idea?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: First of all, I want to commend you and your wife for going out on dates in the first place! For many married couples, dating falls by the wayside once children, careers and other responsibilities enter the picture. Their relationships can suffer as a result.
For this reason, I'd encourage you to do whatever it takes to protect your dates from conflict and overly "serious" discussion. Conflict can be destructive to your recreation because it intensifies emotions. As this happens, it becomes difficult to relax and enjoy each other. The conflict becomes like a red shirt in a load of white laundry -- it tends to color the entire experience. If this pattern occurs too often, your mate may lose the desire to do fun things because your dates end up turning "pink."
This isn't about avoidance, of course. You do need to set aside time to discuss the serious issues; just don't call it a "date night." It might require staying up a little later after the kids are in bed, or even getting up early once in a while. Schedule the conversation when you can provide the necessary attention it deserves.
It's worth noting that I haven't always taken my own advice on this issue. I remember scheduling a day at Disneyland with my wife, Erin, but before we even reached the park, I brought up a sensitive issue in the car that resulted in arguing and tears. Needless to say, our date was ruined. You can read all the gory details in our book, "Take the Date Night Challenge." It's full of conflict-free dating ideas for couples in your shoes!
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.