In your book "The Heart of the Family" you argue that parents should ensure that they remain lovers. Why is that so important? The heart is the center of our body. If it stops beating, the organs are not supplied with blood and oxygen. This image can be wonderfully transferred to families. Because parents have responsibility for the family and ideally provide them with a lot of love. But this can only succeed if the heart is intact, i.e. if the parental relationship itself is full of love.
And that's exactly where it often gets stuck. Many parents care lovingly for their children, but forget about their parental love relationship... Why is that? There are many social, political and biographical reasons for this. They all share in the fact that parents in the nuclear family model have to do an incredible amount of work alone. These two people are responsible for an incredible number of things in the family, at home and at work - there is little time left for romantic evenings for couples. In addition, many parents today place the needs of their children at the center of their attention...
...because needs-oriented parenting is important to them. Yes, exactly. And that's just as well. I'm a big fan of this concept myself. It is also known as “attachment parenting”. What this means is that you build a good bond with the child by taking their needs seriously. However, the focus on the child's needs often leads to parents putting their own needs and those of their partners aside and putting everything off until later: "If the child sleeps through the night at some point, then we'll go out again" or "If the children give us less of us one day If we need something, let's treat ourselves to a weekend alone".
This endless waiting for a better later - it doesn't work, because it's often too late. Maybe there aren't always big jumps in them, but most adventures are also available in a miniature version.
When parents regularly take care of their relationship, it strengthens the heart of the family. And a healthy heart, i.e. a loving parental relationship, can be a wonderful source of energy that helps us to better master the challenges of everyday parenting.
That's why you expand the term "attachment parenting" in your book and call for "attachment partnering". What exactly do you mean by that? Many parents go to great lengths to pay attention to their children's needs and respond to them sensitively. In our adult relationships, we are usually less successful at this. I always notice that many parents speak very affectionately and lovingly to their children, but do not continue this with their partner.
Why is it so difficult for parents to treat their partner with the same level of love and understanding? This is partly because we think adults are not allowed to show their neediness. Needs are often devalued as a sign of weakness and perceived as annoying. But that's nonsense, because every person has needs and it's important to recognize and respect them. This applies to each individual, but of course also to a partnership. That's why I developed the term "Attachment Partnering". It means that both partners pay attention to their own needs and those of their partner and discuss whether and how these can currently be met. It's not about meeting everyone's needs all the time - that's not possible. But it's good if we talk honestly with each other about who needs what.
What needs are we talking about exactly? Ultimately, we all have the same basic needs, but they differ in their intensity. And we choose different strategies to meet these needs. The most important emotional needs include the need for connection, autonomy, self-esteem, pleasure and the need for security.
So when we look after children, it may satisfy our need for a good parent-child bond, but other needs are often neglected - for example our need for freedom (autonomy) or for togetherness with our partner (attachment and pleasure gain).
And how can a good exchange about these needs succeed? The five basic needs can be a good guide. If nothing can be changed about the situation at the moment, sometimes an empathetic “I can see that you are suffering from being so restricted” or “I understand you well that you would like to sleep in again” is enough. This creates much more closeness than the justification mode that parents often fall into. And parents may also find a few good ideas for improving the situation during this exchange.
Do you have an example of this? Yes, sure! For most parents, for example, the need for autonomy is neglected. Of course you can't go back to the old freedom you had as a childless couple. But you can make sure that everyone has time off when they don't have to worry about their families. My husband and I have found a good agreement here. Tuesdays are my day and I have no family obligations. I can work, go to yoga, hang out with friends – whatever! My husband has this day on Thursday. And Wednesday is reserved for us as a couple. We don't have a fixed plan, but one thing is clear: this evening is ours. Our children are 6, 11 and 14 - so they are old enough to understand that our "parent consultation hours" end on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
Many parents are plagued by a guilty conscience when they think about spending time together - and have to "organize" the children to do so. How can you free yourself from it? Yes, I often hear that from parents who come to my practice: "We can't give our child to grandma for the whole weekend" or something like that. The underlying concern is that we will damage the bond with our child or harm them in some way when we are not there. This is further reinforced by social media. There you constantly see how great and commitment-oriented other parents are. As a result, we are even more afraid of doing something wrong. But a child doesn't get attachment trauma if he or she spends a day or evening without mom and dad - provided there is loving "alternative care."
We should therefore question our guilty conscience very critically: Is the time together as a couple that we allow ourselves really harmful for our child? Or just unpleasant? We can certainly expect our children to have another person take over their care from time to time. This is species-appropriate. And if this time out brings us closer together as a couple, our children will also benefit from it.
Time together is always an investment in our family happiness... Exactly! This mindset is incredibly important. Why should the parents' happiness only be possible when the children are completely at peace? We can take our happiness just as seriously as that of our children!
Finding the right mindset is not that easy. Which thought patterns put a strain on our relationships with parents? Oh, there are a few! “It’s the other person’s fault,” for example. We often think that we do a lot more than the other person - and that that's why our lives are so stressful. There are definitely relationships in which there is an imbalance when it comes to housework, care work and the whole mental load. But what is often overlooked is that both struggle and are overwhelmed by the many tasks that parenthood entails.
Other harmful thoughts include: "Everything should be the same again" (a completely unrealistic wish!) or "My partner must know what I need" (No, how is he or she supposed to know that if both of them don't talk about it?) or "Everything would be a lot easier if he or she was like me" (yes, maybe, but people are different and that's a good thing).
And what good thoughts do you recommend to couples so that their relationship becomes better? First of all, we should always make it clear to ourselves: "We are a team!" As parents, we are in the same boat and usually have the same goal: We want our children and ourselves to be well. I also think a very banal sentence is very important - namely: "Nobody is perfect!" Unfortunately, we often forget this simple truth. The following thought can also be very helpful: "It's just a phase!" It contains the comforting message that what isn't going well can get better again. Good thoughts also include gratitude. We should regularly become aware of what is going well and what good sides our partner has. We often think in a very deficient way and focus on what we don't like. That's understandable, but not helpful!
In your book "The Heart of the Family" you listed many reflection questions that help you better understand yourself and your relationship. Can you share a few of them here? Yes gladly. For example, one of my favorite questions is: "How much undivided time together have we had in the last week?" You can then embellish this: "Is that enough for us - or do we want more? Where and when do we want more attention?"
I also think it's incredibly important that we ask ourselves from time to time: "Is it fun to be in a relationship with me right now? What positive shared moments do I care about? What positive signals do I send?"
And in order to discuss needs, it is of course important that we regularly ask ourselves: "Why do I behave the way I behave? What needs underlie my behavior?"
What are the first questions you ask couples when they come to you for couples counseling? Of course, we always talk about your concerns first – i.e. the reason for the consultation or therapy. But I always ask the couples in the first session: "What can stay as it is? What do you want to keep?" This question directs the focus away from the problem and towards the resources the couples have. They usually discover many lifelike and lovable little things about themselves and others. In the best case scenario, this leads to more heart fibrillation and closeness.
In her book "The Heart of the Family" Romy Winter has compiled many "moments of the heart": simple exercises that help couples get closer again. We briefly introduce three of them here:
Bonding through touch: Hug and touch each other! It sounds banal and obvious, and yet it is often precisely these small gestures of love that couples miss and cause imbalance.
Cheers to personal responsibility: Whenever you think “He/she would have/should have/should…” try to redirect your thoughts. It's better: "I need / want / want..." This way we don't burden the other person with the responsibility for our needs. In addition, communication is more constructive if we avoid using accusatory language.
Love Bucket List: Write down five things (on your own for now) that you've really wanted to do together for a while but keep putting off. Then you compare your lists and choose one thing together that you can commit to here and now. For the remaining ideas, it is also determined who will take care of the implementation and by when.
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