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You Don't Have My Back!

One of the most contentious and damaging issues with married couples in parenting can be the idea of “you’re supposed to have my back.” This gets dicey because once the stone has been cast both partners can claim that the other “doesn’t have their back.” It becomes a vicious cycle of “if you had my back you would’ve stepped in“ and “well if you had my back you would lay off.” What many parents don’t admit is that when they say “you didn’t have my back” what that really means is “you didn’t get as angry as I was.” The truth is that there is no therapist on the face of the planet that can truly help a couple figure out when it is the right time to “have one’s back” and when your partner should have your back.

Refraining from arguments in front of your children and completely eradicating mean and angry speaking all together is very important. Framing it as “having each other’s back” is a much different attitude than agreeing to be reasonable, always respecting each other, and making a healthy relationship more important than any disagreement. This is often easier said than done, but there are a few important steps a married couple can take.

What to do:

Plan ahead with boundaries

If you are the hot head defer to the more level headed parent for the moment

Don’t lecture or make your points during the crisis

Put relationships first and remember your demeanor, tone, and attitude are going to have more of a long-term impact than whatever the parenting message or lesson being given

Validate and love on your partner and child even when you disagree

When you have set healthy boundaries ahead of time you don’t have to worry about being in agreement with your partner or “having each other’s back.” Being consistent can be difficult for some so be patient with your partner as you work on being consistent. Boundaries can often be an important key to parenting together peacefully. Before you set boundaries read my article on setting healthy boundaries. (

Deferring to the parent who is less hot headed in the moment is going to be difficult and will take practice and commitment ahead of time. Whether you admit it or not, parents simply make poor parenting decisions when they are worked up and emotional. The goal of parenting is to be an influence in the long run. While you may miss out on a brief parenting moment, you will save your influence and relationship in the long run if you just stop everything, defer to your partner, and practice patience every time you become extremely angry.

As I have noted before, lecturing obsessively and having “insane conversations” is counterproductive. An insane conversation is one that you know the end to, you have had many times before, or you know from experience doesn’t work. If you are honest with yourself the worst time for you to hear truths about yourself or hear difficult messages is when you are in crisis. Isn’t it interesting that this is the moment that many parents choose to have difficult and important conversations with their children?

Staying calm, speaking softly, having a kind demeanor, maintaining a soothing tone, and committing to a loving attitude is more powerful than the most scary, loud, and intimidating lecture ever given. I know it goes against your intuition, but you will see that changing your demeanor, tone, and attitude will give you more parenting power than you could ever imagine.

Validating and loving on people you are angry and disagree with is a skill that must be practiced. Validating is not agreeing with. It is working to see where someone might be coming from and making sure that you acknowledge their point of view and feelings. More simply put it is making sure someone feels heard. Loving on someone is difficult to coach. The best advice I can offer is to think about what the person you love might need to hear or experience to feel loved. Follow through with whatever that is regardless of how you feel or what you think they deserve.

So many married couples have been taught and believe that healthy parenting means “having each other’s back.” No one has ever really defined what that actually means and what that effectively looks like. I don’t believe we will ever figure this out, so I am asking the parenting world to work on modeling a healthy relationship and to focus on positioning yourself to love on your children and partner regardless of the mistakes they are currently making.


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