Relationship Time and Space: The BC and AD Eras

Gavin was stuck. “Nothing ever changes between us! Chrissy and I can’t talk without detonating a massive fight. So, most of the time we just tend not to talk”. There was a simmering, unspoken tension between Gavin and his wife Chrissy. But whenever one of them raised a touchy topic, sparks would fly.


I work with a lot of people who are in long-term relationships with kids. Many of these couples live in a state of silent tension interspersed with fiery arguments. The tension keeps building out of fear of a fight, and the fights become fodder for future tension.

Most people don’t have children with a partner unless they have some loving feelings before embarking on parenthood.

So, why can’t we all just get along?


The history of a child-laden relationship can be divided into two eras: BC and AD.

BC, or Before Children, is an innocent age when spontaneous emotions, both good and bad, reign supreme.  Partners may indulge in incontinent venting of their pettiest thoughts and feelings. One little inconvenience, for example leaving dishes in the sink, can be cause for an immediate sharp rebuke followed by a lengthy exploration of the psychology and sociology of the partner involved.

Gavin: “We actually used to argue more before we had Seb and Daisy. It felt lighter back then though – we’d often laugh in amongst the fighting. I guess I used to think that she had my best interests at heart back then, now I’m not so sure”.

In the BC era, time is in abundance. Disagreements and peeves can be given more than enough time to be raised, analysed, debated. No problem is too small for a BC couple to (over)analyse until the wee hours of the morning.

And the relationship itself is light as a feather during the BC epoch. One or both of you could walk away from the partnership and no harm done. No one needs to hold the relationship together for anyone else. Its just two free individuals, staying together out of mutual self-interest.

AD, or Amongst Drudgery, is a more civilised era. And that is to say a more oppressed era.

Although the advent of AD can be dated to the birth of the first child, drudgery actually takes time to build. Drudgery grows with late nights, with differences in role expectations, with misunderstandings, with unmet emotional needs. Tensions rise from external pressure too: Job promotions, mortgages, renovations.

However, he biggest difference between these two eras is time. The lack of time to spend on lengthy arguments and analysis leads to unexpressed emotions. Lengthy fights are not necessarily good; however, they do prevent the unchecked accumulation of resentment.


The other big challenge of the AD relationship is space.

Home is no longer a relaxed venue of free emotional venting. Little witnesses now stand in audience to arguments between couples. So, adults need to act like adults. Need to be good role models. Need to create a safe, harmonious environment for the little ones.

“I don’t like to have big arguments in front of the kids, I’d prefer they weren’t exposed to this stuff”. Gavin tried to not fight with Chrissy when the kids were around. “The problem is I don’t want to raise issues later because I’m too tired and just want to forget about the badness”

The relationship is as heavy as the moon now. You can’t just walk away. You’ve got kids to consider, property, the bank, shared friends and family.

Bending the Space/Time Continuum

How does one break the insidious trap set by the AD Era?

By bending life to create more space and time. And using this space and time well by:

Making time for pleasure. According to relationship supremo, John Gottman, couples should have five positive interactions to every one negative. Date nights, shared activities, showing each other love (using love languages). The most important thing is to first make sure that there is enough positivity in the relationship, so you know that you have each other’s back. Then move on to:

Making space for problems. There needs to be some venue for problems to be discussed so that they don’t bottle up to huge, unspoke resentments. A scheduled weekly talk or an agreement to not go to bed with resentments. It might not feel good to have these discussions, but it is important housekeeping for a relationship. However…

Not talking about the problem when you’re inside the problem. The AD era is gone, and it won’t be back until the kids leave the home (if ever). Don’t go back to immediate venting. When an emotion occurs, sometimes its better to leave the scene, make a quick note on your phone about the problem (and how it made you feel). But always remember…

Not to bury the problem. Keep yourself accountable to raise ongoing problems. It can help to work out patterns of problems. I find that 100 small problems usually boil down to 2-3 ongoing pattern. Once you can abstract the pattern, you can greatly reduce the number of fights you have.

“We’ve agreed now to write each other letters”. Gavin and Chrissy were in a much better place. “When she thinks I’ve done something wrong, or vice versa, we write a handwritten note, which we have time to digest before discussing. Its so much better now”. Gavin and Chrissy now addressed their problems first by writing a letter then, after some time to think, by talking about the problem.

Speak Your Mind


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