My teenage daughters and I were having another one of our “talks.” It may have been about the mounds of clothing on every surface of their room; it may have been about technology. Perhaps it was about the way they treated each other. I honestly can’t remember what we were “talking” about that day, I just remember that we were “talking.” Note that I use quotes in telling that story because “talks” with my teens all too often amount to me desperately trying to convince them of something. And in attempting to persuade them, my daughters are often bombarded with a profusion of words and every logical argument I can muster.
Another fact that I remember about that day: My husband, Jeramy, stood a little ways behind my daughters and mimicked an airplane landing. “Land the plane” is code between the two of us for “This isn’t going anywhere; table it for now.” Fortunately, I had sense enough to recognize he was right. I halted my verbal tidal wave and told the girls, “I think you’ve heard my side of things. Let’s talk [more] about this later.”
My husband didn’t intervene to control or shame me in front of my girls. He did it because we’re teammates. We’re a united front in loving and raising our kids, and that makes all the difference in how we engage with each other as a couple.
Because of our ministry together, Jeramy and I speak to parents of tweens and teens all across the country. A lot of their marriages are struggling, and we understand that it’s not easy to parent adolescents. With that said, we’d like to offer some suggestions for preserving your marriage while raising tweens and teens. Consider the following tips:
Practice the 90-second rule
The parenting years with teens are often fraught with emotion, and that emotion can be between parents and kids or parents with each other because of the stress created in the home by teens. If you find yourself in conflict with your spouse, consider implementing the 90-second rule to help minimize the emotional explosions in your marriage that arise while parenting teens. Here’s how it works: If you know that your feelings aren’t under control, remove yourself from the situation. Excuse yourself to get a glass of water, go into the bathroom or flat-out say, “I need to take 90 seconds to get my emotions under control.”
Some of you may be thinking, That may work for others, but I’ve tried the whole counting-to-10 thing, and it just pushes my spouse further away. This may happen, and — if you have a hot-tempered spouse — it may happen often. But remember: You are responsible for what you do with the emotions you experience. Despite what your spouse does, you can choose the internal calm that comes from waiting a minute and a half to allow the heat of emotion to pass.
While 90 seconds won’t solve the conflict, it can lay the groundwork for healthier communication. It can also display God’s wisdom, as Proverbs 29:11 (NASB) affirms, “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
Power down an hour before bed
If you ask parents of teens what the biggest roadblock to peace and unity in their marriage might be, busyness will crop up in their answers over and over again. Moms and dads often feel like they’re juggling a zillion things and their marriage is collateral damage.
A major component of busyness in the 21st century has to do with technology. Most of us inadvertently allow the corners of our lives to be filled with digital input. The trouble is, when our attention is divided among our devices, there’s just no time — or energy — left for connecting with our spouse.
For those who feel like busyness has robbed you of time with your spouse, try a simple change this week: Shut all of your electronic devices off an hour before bedtime. I realize that means no texting, email, news, Instagram, Netflix or Pinterest right before bed. But it’s not as impossible as it sounds — and it might even strengthen your marriage.
Stay warmed up
While parenting teens, there will be times when you’ll need to be a relief pitcher for your spouse. He or she may have been through some tough innings and may have made some parenting errors. It doesn’t matter why your husband or wife needs help as much as it matters how available and willing you are to relieve him or her. If you stay warmed up — ready to jump in at any given moment — you can build your marital team at the same time you strengthen your parenting team.
Working spouses can “warm up” on their way home by doing something relaxing in the car — listen to good music or maybe some Scripture on an audio Bible app. Pray that God will give you strength and courage so you’re ready for action as you walk into the house.
Stay-at-home spouses shouldn’t assume that their husband or wife who works outside the home never needs relief, even if he or she interacts with the adolescents in your home less than you do.
Say goodbye to iLife
We’re not talking about ditching the Apple software; we’re putting our finger on a major issue in almost every marriage, and a particularly insidious problem for parents of teens: creeping separateness.
Author Sheldon Vanauken coined this phrase 40 years ago in his remarkable book, A Severe Mercy. Vanauken claimed that “creeping separateness” was the greatest enemy of married life. Most couples don’t end up on opposite sides of a Grand Canyon of hurt and bitterness overnight. Instead, the distance between them usually happens slowly and slyly. It creeps in and steals the joy from their marriage. This is especially true for couples with teens, who often feel alienated from one another, whether because of disagreements over how to handle adolescent issues or simply because busyness has hacked their life to bits.
In a day full of “i” everything, it’s essential that we fight creeping separateness in our homes and hearts. The way we do this is by courageously looking at whether, as a couple, we’re building an “iLife” or a “weLife.”
I’d encourage you to make a list of the things you do together and the things you do apart. If most of your life falls on the “i” side of this list, it may be time to make some adjustments. Then ask yourselves if you selfishly cling to what you believe you “deserve” (or don’t deserve) or what you’ve “earned” Or do you humbly surrender to a weLife, a life in which you both seek to serve more than to be served?
Jerusha Clark is the author or co-author of several books, including Your Teenager is Not Crazy.