Help for Marriages Strained by Defiant Children

Keeping your marriage strong can lessen your child's defiant behavior.

Posted Feb 06, 2014

Married couples with a defiant child or teen find it challenging and even daunting when contending with their child’s problem behaviors and manipulative exploits. Defiant children and teens actually believe they are equal in authority to their parents. When they don’t get their way, they often create drama and chaos to successfully divide and conquer the couple’s co-parenting attempts. This usually hurts the marriage in the wake of miscommunications, misunderstandings, and confusion.

The following questions are important for couples to keep in mind when dealing with a defiant child:

  • How do you react to your spouse when your child misbehaves?
  • How does your spouse react to you when your child misbehaves?
  • When you and your spouse are working together to manage your defiant child, what kinds of parenting strategies work?
  • What kinds of strategies don’t work?
  • To what extent have you and your spouse blamed one another for your child’s misbehavior?What do you and your spouse do as a couple to comfort each other and cope with your child’s stressful moments?

Here are three important marriage preserving strategies for dealing with a defiant child or teen:

1: Stay united as parents. Since your defiant child may try to divide and conquer you as a couple, make sure you check in and communicate with each other so you’re on the same page. Have frequent conversations about how things are going.

2: Make and keep your relationship safe. When you and your spouse disagree, don’t turn on your spouse or withdraw to handle it alone. Remember how important it is to keep your relationship a safe place to express your opinions and needs for meeting parenting challenges. Stay committed as a parenting team. The more you do this, the less susceptible your relationship is to being divided.

3: Catch each other being good parents. Praising each other as parenting partners can help to keep open to talking about your differences and frustrations. You must be a solid parental team to be able to comfort each other and overcome setbacks with your child going forward.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty three years experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the The Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006) 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books, 2009) and Why Can't You Read My Mind (Perseus Books, 2003)