“You can’t control how someone’s going to see you. If someone wants to make up their own story about you, there’s not much you can control there. What you can do, is be respectful and at the same time assert your own values. And choose what you want to do when faced with conflicting values,” said Dr. Komal Gupta, Clinical Psychologist and Couples Therapist.
What did pre-kids you expect from your life? Many of us have to mourn the loss, of who we thought we’d be. As parents, partners or workers. And forge a more realistic vision. But it’s not a private reconciliation. So, how do you communicate that discrepancy? Whether it’s with your partner or family of origin, setting boundaries can create a lot of friction.
Although no one likes to think about family discussions as negotiations, there are similarities. Like needing to have a strategy. And a clear intention for outcomes that feel like freedom to you. It will make the difference in how well those conversations go. And, how it feels to reset expectations of yourself, for yourself.
Yes, Your Needs Will Change
“There’s so much that comes from contending with families around boundaries. Whether that’s setting boundaries and communicating what you want. Hearing or strengthening, your own voice, in those situations,” Komal said.
Many of us want to honor traditions we grew up with. And decide, long before we have kids or a partner, what that means. But if your style doesn’t sync, with your partner or family, it can spark years of debate few couples prepare for.
And you May Get Pushback
Komal said, “It’s very common to have the battle between, how ‘your family’ or ‘my family’ wants to do things. Also, to clash on the way you think ‘it’ should be done.” Whether it’s parenting, household ops, money, childcare or something else, that process of getting aligned can feel fraught.
But anger isn’t all bad. She explains, it can be quite instructive. “Coming from that place of anger you know more about what you need to communicate.”
As You Adjust How You Do Your Life
Even if you’re living exactly the life you planned, it may not feel the way you expected. Burnout, anxiety, and depression, which disproportionately affect women, have reached historic highs. And unsustainable schedules make restorative self-care nearly impossible.
So, many try to enlist support. And the first stop, on the tame-the-workload tour when partnered, is getting the other adult in your home to step in. When it’s clear that might take a minute, a lot of Moms feel resentful or angry. Komal shares how to get better results with stronger communication.
So, Know Your Goal
Although it may be tempting to prove that you’re ‘right’ because that’s often how we win at work, it won’t solve problems at home. Komal said, “Taking a holier than thou ‘I know better than you’ stance doesn’t help. Because no one wants to be told that.”
In our research, the biggest source of tension among Moms coupled with Dads, is the gendered divide in household and childcare. And conflict isn’t fun. But ignoring your own feelings is worse. So, Komal suggests several ways to stay true to what you need. And navigate the ripples that come with changing what your partner, or other family members, expect.
Honor the Relationship
Trust often precedes understanding. Which is the basis for lasting change, especially with a partner or family member. Komal said, “First nourish the relationship in general. If you come into the discussion, from a place of not feeling like there’s a friendship, start having that conversation. Otherwise, it’s going to put both partners into defense mode.”
Many of us are careful about planning our professional discussions. Yet, finding the strategic angle for controversy at home, feels draining. But as Komal wisely states, “We know based on research that some ways are more helpful to be heard than others.”
Communicate to be Heard
Komal explains how to plan for better outcomes. “For example, not communicating in a way that feels like an attack on someone’s character. Saying something like, ‘you never do the dishes and that makes me angry, implies that the other person is lazy. Or not helpful. And almost disqualifies anything else they might bring to the table.” Sigh.
She explained, “It puts that person on defense. I’m not saying to stuff your frustrations and to avoid confronting your partner either. It’s about being specific.” How can we reframe in a less provocative way?
Be Specific and Depersonalize
Komal said, “Instead say, ‘I did not like that you said you were going to do the dishes last night after dinner and you didn’t. And I’m upset about that.’ That’s very specific, it’s actionable, and it allows space to share how you feel about it. And lets your partner know what they can do.”
She added, “It’s also not about them. Now, sometimes partners will hear it as criticism anyways. But that helps kind of soften what you’re asking for. It becomes about helping with the invisible mental load. Versus, ‘I’m a better parent or house manager than you are.’ Using words like, ‘always’ and ‘never’ tend to inflame things.”
But Emotions Happen
“This is always going to be a work in progress. Sometimes things don’t come out the way you want them to come out. I don’t want to encourage perfectionism. Because you’re not always going to be in control of your emotions,” Komal said.
“Sometimes, we say things we don’t mean, that come from built up frustrations. And not always having the words to navigate this new transitional space, with your partner, when you start to butt heads. Everyone is going to have conflict. But the goal is to notice.” How do we notice while it’s happening?
Pay Attention to Your Frustration Level
Your body might tell you. If you feel your pulse racing, heart pounding or breaths get shorter. But it could be changes to your voice or frustration level.
Komal said, “It’s okay to say, ‘hey I’m getting really mad and I’m starting to say things that I don’t want to say. So, we need to revisit this conversation later.’ Or, ‘I’m too angry right now. I need some space.’ Instead of allowing the spiral to continue, where it starts to be about so many other things.”
And Step Away if it Spirals
Exactly. Discord over dishes can quickly escalate into something bigger. Managing emotions during an intense discussion is challenging. But we can learn to pay attention to signals. And pause the action. She added, “It’s called emotional flooding. And when you feel flooded, emotionally and physiologically, it’s really hard to have any type of productive conversation.”
Even if You Go to Bed Angry
“You know Dr. John Gottman has a Love Lab where he’s done a lot of research about this. And he talks about how 20 minutes is the magic number,” Komal explained.
“You need to step away for 20 minutes and sometimes, that means going to bed angry. Which is something that a lot of us have been taught not to do. But sometimes that might mean going to sleep and revisiting it when you’re less tired. Or doing something else before coming back to it.”
Give Yourself the Reset
You probably know what helps you shift your mood. Komal said, “Whether it’s watching TV or listening to a song, whatever it is that you need, do it before you revisit the topic.” What you try doesn’t matter, only that you calm down.
She added, “And then allow space for both people to say their piece. Because the next part that comes, is usually both people interrupting each other. Like, ‘well, I wanted to add one thing.’ But give each other time to just speak without interruption. And then really hear it and try to understand what is being communicated to you. Then, they do the same for you, before you try to find a middle ground together.”
And Learn to be Okay with Unresolved Conflict
Although you may have learned that arguments will happen, even in the strongest relationships. You may not have known that disagreements, disappointments, and the disruption from them, can linger, for years. And that doesn’t feel good.
Komal explained, “Because sometimes it does mean agreeing to disagree. Not all marital or relationship conflicts are resolved. And it’s very unrealistic to think that going to be the case.”
We don’t need other people’s permission to evolve, change priorities or self-advocate. But the process can be uncomfortable and feel destabilizing. Know that part of becoming stronger and more connected to who you are, while part of a family, can mean friction.
But remember, you’re already a master at change and do more each day, than you ever imagined you could. So, learning this, is also within your superpowers. So, go on, begin to reset those boundaries. You need and deserve, more of your own time.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Komal Gupta!
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Dr. Komal Gupta is a clinical psychologist in private practice in the Greater Boston Area. She has a team approach to working with her clients to address challenges as they navigate life transitions, relationship concerns, cultural issues, spiritual/existential/
In addition to therapy work, Dr. Gupta has a passion for writing and speaking to the ups and downs people experience with their family, relationships, parenthood, identity and culture(s). Her mission is to reassure people that they are not alone in the complexity of their experiences, to build curiosity and self-compassion as they go through challenges, to understand how systemic biases contribute to these challenges, and to break the stigma with therapy and seeking support.
Tags: equal marriages, Healthy Couples, healthy couples communication, healthy marriages, negotiation with your partner, setting boundaries with your partner