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Too Tired to Fight

13 Essential Conflicts Parents Must Have to Keep Their Relationship Strong

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How couples with kids can transform 13 common relationship fights into closer connection, from popular Instagram counselors Erin and Stephen Mitchell (@couples.counseling.for.parents).

Parenting changes a couple’s relationship in fundamental ways, but most parents are too exhausted from the demands of life, work, and engaging their kids to prioritize their relationship. This can lead to repeated conflict and an overwhelming sense of anxiety, anger, hurt, and loneliness…just when you need your partner’s support the most. The good news: conflict is actually a sign that you are trying to connect with your partner—you’re just stuck in an old pattern of communication.

In Too Tired to Fight, Erin and Stephen Mitchell use their 20-plus years of counseling experience to walk couples through the 13 conflicts that are not just normal but necessary to keep a partnership strong once kids enter the picture, including:

  • The “Your Parenting Is Wrong” Conflict
  • The “I’m More Tired Than You” Conflict
  • The “Stop Choosing Your Family Over Ours” Conflict
  • The “Sex Life? What Sex Life?” Conflict

In each scenario, they show how this conflict plays out—and offer scripts, questions for reflection, and their tried-and-true Conflict to Connection Equation that couples can use in the moment to communicate true repair and resolution. Their secret: by expressing your feelings and intentionally listening to your partner—not just venting or reacting to your stress-response system—you can work through the “pain points” of parenthood together and actually make your relationship happier and healthier as a result.
Part I

Why Conflict
Is Good for Your Relationship,
and How to Do It the Right Way

Í

Introduction

What Kind of Couple
Relationship Do We
Want to Have?

Imagine a situation where you find yourself pushed to the breaking point. Maybe it's first thing in the morning. You were up with your child several times during the night. Now you're exhausted, getting breakfast ready for everyone, when your partner comes into the room and casually says on the way out the door, "Hey, I think I forgot to tell you, but I have a work trip the last two days of this week."

Can you feel your body tense just imagining this scenario? You feel your insides turn, your blood boil, and a deep feeling of loneliness wash over you. Over the course of your parenting journey, you've felt more and more disconnected from your partner, and this is just one example of many in which you feel unseen and unknown by them.

How did you get here? You set out to be a harmonious family-happy, unified, and strong. You want your kids to learn what a healthy relationship looks like by observing the two of you together. You don't want to fight! Yet as time passes, you find more than anything that you are just trying to make it to bedtime without irritating the other too much.

Now imagine that instead of absorbing this surprising news into your body and getting hot with rage at your partner-instead of erupting in anger-you choose a different path. You use this difficult, challenging, and yes, irritating moment to instead find connection. You work through this difficult situation together-and in so doing, model conflict that leads to connection for your kids.

Seems impossible, right? It doesn't have to be.

We are Erin and Stephen Mitchell-partners in life as well as in our business, Couples Counseling for Parents. Parenting changes even a strong relationship in all sorts of ways, and even couples who are on solid ground before the kids arrive can feel absolutely rocked and unsteady afterward. This isn't easy, but it is normal.

We have talked with thousands of couples over the years, and all of them have experienced this disconnected feeling at one point or another. When they share their hopes and dreams for their family with us, we hear over and over some variation of these two statements: 1) We know our couple relationship is the foundation of a healthy family, and 2) it's harder than ever to make each other laugh and enjoy each other's company now that we're dealing with the day-to-day drudgery of parenting.

You are not alone! Parenting can be messy and unpredictable. It can also bring you closer together as a couple . . . if you let it. What these couples are really saying to us is: "In the midst of all this stress, we are struggling to remember we like each other. Can you help us?"

We have three kids of our own. We know these struggles firsthand. We know the amazing upsides of parenting: the quiet moments of sitting down together and reveling in the beauty and wonder of the children we are raising. We also know what it's like to lose our patience with our kids-and with each other! We know what it's like to look at each other and say, "Really?! You're tired? Well, let me tell you about my night . . ." We know what it is like to feel like the person you want more than anyone in the world to understand and empathize with what you're going through for some reason just doesn't. But thankfully, we also know what it is like to regroup as a family and a couple after these moments and talk about what it means to repair.

Take a moment and reflect on the following:

What do I want for my family?

What kind of relationship do I want to model for my kids?

What kind of relationship do I want to have along the bumpy, beautiful road of parenting?

When my kids are grown and out of our home, what kind of relationship do I want to have with my partner?

If you're like us, you want to show your kids how to support and love one another on the good, bad, and truly awful days. You want to show them their parents can have a conflict with each other, but that the partnership can still remain strong even amid disagreement. And you want to remain close with your partner even in the midst of those chaotic parenting moments, knowing the two of you are ultimately on the same team.

This is why we wrote Too Tired to Fight: to help parenting partners transform these messy moments of conflict into experiences of healthy resolution and repair, and to give couples the skills to turn conflict into connection.

Who Is This Book For?

Too Tired to Fight is for all parents in romantic relationships looking for health and connection.

Maybe you bought this book in the middle of the night when you were the only one awake feeding your baby, feeling alone and unsupported. Maybe you are a couple with older kids, and you realize you have been waiting and hoping your communication would get better once they got a little more mature-but the problems remain. Maybe you bought this book because the resentment you feel toward your partner is eating away at you, and you worry that your marriage is going to crumble under the weight of it.

This book is designed as a tool for you to work through conflicts with your partner and come out on the other side feeling connected and stronger than ever.

How Do I Use This Book?

In part 1, we are going to talk about fighting once kids enter the picture: why it seems to happen more, and why it feels so different. We will also enable you to view conflict as a signal that you and your partner are trying to connect. Then we are going to give you our tried and true equation for engaging in healthy conflict: the conflict-to-connection equation. This will be your guide to resolve conflicts in the moment as you're experiencing them.

Then in part 2, we'll walk you through the thirteen most common conflicts we've helped countless parenting couples through-hot-button situations that turn so many couples sideways, like the "stop micromanaging my parenting" conflict, the "I'm more tired than you" conflict, the "Sex life? What sex life?" conflict, and the "I am carrying the mental load" conflict. In each chapter we'll introduce you to a couple and their experience with this conflict-what the trigger to the conflict is, why it's important to engage in it, and how this fight often goes wrong. These case studies are based on compilations of stories we have heard from the hundreds of thousands of couples we have had the privilege of interacting with. Then we'll take you directly into a counseling session between us and the couple in trouble to show how the conflict-to-connection equation can transform these fights into healthy conflicts that lead to lasting connection. At the end of each chapter, we offer sample scripts to give you a handle on the "But how can I actually say that?!" question that inevitably arises when we consider having an old conversation in a new way. We will also provide questions to get you reflecting and connecting to yourself and your partner.

Finally, at the end of this book, we have "A Quick Guide to How to Engage in Conflict in Front of Our Kids," "Sample Scripts for Addressing the Conflict with Our Kids," and "Sample Scripts to Address the Repair with Our Kids."

The Ultimate Goal:
Not Being Too Tired to Fight

We want you to come away from Too Tired to Fight knowing you are not alone when seemingly small things can turn into stuck communication patterns, resulting in dead-end dialogues. The solutions we present in this book will allow you and your partner a better option than just trying to "make it until bedtime."

We are sure that you can find connection through the conflicts you will inevitably face as parenting couples. We also know that after you practice these communication skills with your partner, you'll have a better sense of how to know and love your partner and, in return, be known and loved by your partner. You'll also get to model healthy communication for your kids and enjoy laughter with your partner again.

Chapter 1

Why We Fight More-and
Differently-After Kids

Parenting changes everything. Let that sit for a moment.

Becoming a parent has changed your life in beautiful and wonderful ways, as well as in ways that are just plain hard.

Change brings stress, but stress does not have to mean something negative. Stress simply is the heightened energy that comes with going from something that is routine, expected, and practiced to something new. Having kids and parenting, whether it is your first kid, second, third, etc., is a monumental change that means your routine, what you have come to expect, and what you know how to do is challenged. With this challenge comes a heightened energy that courses through our brains, bodies, emotions, and thoughts in an effort to "get back to" the routine and practiced place. Not to mention, we all handle stress differently.

If we default to our stress response in a situation, it's almost impossible to connect with our partner to resolve the issue together and stop the cycle of stuck communication. In this way, conflict that could typically be resolved with relative ease before kids turns into stuck fighting.

Why Do We Fight More
Now That We're Parents?

Conflict is a natural part of any human interaction. Whenever you have two people with different lived experiences and ways to respond to stress, you will have conflict. While there will be misalignment, conflict can be resolved in a good way that leads to connection (what we are going to help you with in this book), or conflict can be resolved in an unhealthy way that leads to two dysregulated people, lost in their stress response, endlessly fighting with each other. This type of conflict is not productive and an indication that neither partner is in the right nervous system state to connect. The context of parenting often throws partners into this unproductive state, and this leads to an increase in the number of negative fights couples experience.

Here's an example. Sasha and Alex turned to us for help, using words similar to those we have heard from so many couples: "Before we had kids, we got along great. Of course we were not perfect communicators. We had some difficulty at times, but mostly we were able to work through conflicts without too much effort. But now, since we've had kids, it's like we can't communicate. Most of our conversations end up in some kind of fight."

Sasha and Alex had been together for five years and had always talked about having kids. When they finally decided to have kids Sasha said, "We never felt so close." Alex agreed: "Yeah, here we were working through some really tough conversations about what we wanted and what was the best option for us, and it just felt like we were a team." Sasha added that she felt like Alex understood her anxieties and knew just how to make her feel supported.

Then their daughter, Sofia, was born, and everything changed. Alex said, "Things were still pretty good the first couple of weeks. In truth we were starstruck with Sofia. But then we just started bickering more and more and picking at each other, and now all productive communication seems to have just gone out the window."

Each began to feel as if the other was not supportive; each thought they were doing more than the other. Sasha works from home as a graphic designer, and by default, she found herself taking care of Sofia, keeping the house, and making dinner. Alex works out of the house as an investment banker and resented that on top of his demanding fifty-hour-a-week job, he came home and went right to work parenting.

So, when Sasha expressed feeling like she was doing all the work, Alex wanted to try to hear where Sasha was coming from but also resented feeling like there was more he could actually be doing. He feels like Sasha paints a picture of him sitting around on the couch while she makes him dinner. Which of course makes Sasha feel like what she is trying to say is not being heard at all. Now they feel like they are in a constant standoff fighting about every "little thing" and feeling miles and miles apart.

The couple came to us feeling discouraged, surprised by how bad their relationship felt, and frightened by a feeling of "If this is the way it's going to be, I'm not sure we should stay together."

Sasha and Alex's session exemplifies two key reasons couples fight more when their parenting journey begins.

The Stakes Feel Higher Now

We have counseled many couples like Sasha and Alex. They have a good relationship, they want to have kids, they have kids, and then seemingly out of nowhere everything starts to feel like it is falling apart. This is a frightening experience, one you may be going through as you're reading this book. The long nights of waking up with an infant while your partner sleeps or the many times you are told that "you never do anything to help" no matter how much you are helping, begin to fracture the foundations of your relationship and your sense of hope and connection. Over time, as these resentments and hurts build up, deep cracks can develop.

This is where Sasha and Alex find themselves. Before having Sofia, they never imagined that they were not right for each other. In fact, they believed that having Sofia would bring them closer together. Initially it did, but the feeling didn't last. At this point they feel like strangers to each other. The intensity of their conflict and their inability to have what they think of as a normal conversation make them both feel like maybe the other has changed or maybe they just didn't know each other as well as they thought they did.

We Are Stretched Too Thin Already

The introduction of kids into a couple system is indeed stressful. It is important to understand what stress does to couples in a parenting partner relationship. It results in a loss of capacity.

Every human being has a stress response system that is meant to help us manage and navigate times of uncertainty, danger, chaos, and instability. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated in these moments to help us survive; our fight-flight-freeze-fawn response kicks into gear. Now granted, parenting is not the same as being chased by a lion, but in our day-to-day life as parents, this stress response system is still activated. We feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, and our body activates to try and figure out how to mitigate the stress.
"Too Tired to Fight provides practical guidance for couples to improve their communication skills. This book is an incredible toolkit that offers tangible examples to navigate tricky conversations and build stronger relationships. By following their strategies, couples can foster deeper understanding and resolve conflicts effectively.” —Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play

“A groundbreaking, insightful book that reframes how parents in relationships view conflict. Erin and Stephen Mitchell break down the 13 conflicts that parent couples should—and must—have to create a stronger relationship and family unit in a such a fun and engaging way. Their invaluable Conflict-to-Connection equation used in real-time fights works wonders, and their scripts and questions for reflection are perfect tools to take with you on your parent-couple journey. This should be required reading for all parents in relationships!” —Michele Borba, Ed.D. author of Thrivers: Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

“This book is an invaluable resource for couples and parents. Many people think that conflicts are the sign of an unhealthy relationship, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Too Tired to Fight provides a clear roadmap for how to navigate the most common parenting pitfalls and go from conflict to connection. Using real life dialogue examples and practical tips, it addresses the most common situations couples inevitably find themselves in. The way out is always through. Highly recommended." —Jessica Joelle Alexander, author of The Danish Way of Parenting

“This is first and foremost, not only a parenting book, but a relationship book so intelligent and on point that there are few readers who won't be able to identify with the subtle slights, control issues and genuine confusions over ‘what's fair’ that are present in virtually any relationship--only exacerbated when children enter the picture.  Whether they are dealing with the wife convinced of her over-arching expertise or the husband unable to grasp the unspoken mental load of his partner, the Mitchells' genius is taking two people in gridlock with an ‘impossible’ partner....and turning them into empathic allies.  When you are feeling overwhelmed and less than partnered by your co-parent, this book is the fast track to getting you back to operating as true friends on a shared mission.” —Nancy Dreyfus, Psy.D, author of Talk To Me Like I'm Someone You Love

“Your fights will never be the same after reading this book. You will learn how to transform these inevitable moments of conflict into opportunities for better communication, intimacy, and connection. You will also get the tools, insights, and scripts you need to turn this novel approach to conflict into a lasting habit.” —Kaley Klemp and Nate Klemp PhD, authors of The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship

Too Tired to Fight is a hopeful, practical, relationship-saving resource that every parenting couple needs. Erin and Stephen have given us a gold mine of relatable stories, helpful insights, practical tools and loving scrips to navigate the sacred and often complex terrain of holding on to each other while we simultaneously raise our children.” —Eli Hardwood, author of Securely Attached: Transform Your Attachment Patterns into Loving, Lasting Romantic Relationships

"Most parents barely have enough time to make dinner, let alone work on their relationship. Too Tired to Fight changes that: it's full of simple, insightful strategies to help frustrated parents address and resolve inevitable conflicts. Raising kids can drive couples apart—Too Tired to Fight will bring them back together.” —Melinda Wenner Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes

“For a parenting book to be truly impactful in today’s society, it needs to not only contain valuable advice for therapists who work with parents, but also offer specific and practical direction to parents themselves. Too Tired to Fight by authors Erin and Stephen Mitchell does exactly that. In this book, parents will learn a strategic approach to handling 13 essential conflicts that will allow them to embrace these conflicts rather than avoid them…..Therapists working with parents will feel like they have a front row seat to observe effective and efficient therapeutic interventions from couples representing diverse experiences and challenging parenting situations….This will truly be a valuable asset for any couple who wants to understand the challenges presented by parenting in today’s world.” —Dr. Ron Welch, clinical psychologist and author of 10 Choices for a Better Marriage

Too Tired to Fight is the book I wish I had while navigating new motherhood and struggling to keep my marriage from running off the rails. Through humor, honesty, and personal stories from real partnered couples, authors Erin and Stephen Mitchell teach readers how to transform conflict into practical strategies for emotional intimacy and personal growth. I believe this is the book every parenting couple needs on their shelves to maintain a thriving relationship amid the chaos of early parenting.” —Amber Wardell, Ph.D., author of Beyond Self-Care Potato Chips: Choosing Nourishing Self-Care in a Quick-Fix Culture
Erin and Stephen Mitchell are the cofounders of Couples Counseling for Parents, a company focused on providing access to research-informed, psychologically sound online education for couples. Both have a clinical education—Stephen, a PhD in medical family therapy, and Erin, a master’s degree in counseling psychology—and they have a combined 23 years of experience providing counseling and education. They have been married for 16 years and have three kids.
Stephen Mitchell, PhD View titles by Stephen Mitchell, PhD

About

How couples with kids can transform 13 common relationship fights into closer connection, from popular Instagram counselors Erin and Stephen Mitchell (@couples.counseling.for.parents).

Parenting changes a couple’s relationship in fundamental ways, but most parents are too exhausted from the demands of life, work, and engaging their kids to prioritize their relationship. This can lead to repeated conflict and an overwhelming sense of anxiety, anger, hurt, and loneliness…just when you need your partner’s support the most. The good news: conflict is actually a sign that you are trying to connect with your partner—you’re just stuck in an old pattern of communication.

In Too Tired to Fight, Erin and Stephen Mitchell use their 20-plus years of counseling experience to walk couples through the 13 conflicts that are not just normal but necessary to keep a partnership strong once kids enter the picture, including:

  • The “Your Parenting Is Wrong” Conflict
  • The “I’m More Tired Than You” Conflict
  • The “Stop Choosing Your Family Over Ours” Conflict
  • The “Sex Life? What Sex Life?” Conflict

In each scenario, they show how this conflict plays out—and offer scripts, questions for reflection, and their tried-and-true Conflict to Connection Equation that couples can use in the moment to communicate true repair and resolution. Their secret: by expressing your feelings and intentionally listening to your partner—not just venting or reacting to your stress-response system—you can work through the “pain points” of parenthood together and actually make your relationship happier and healthier as a result.

Excerpt

Part I

Why Conflict
Is Good for Your Relationship,
and How to Do It the Right Way

Í

Introduction

What Kind of Couple
Relationship Do We
Want to Have?

Imagine a situation where you find yourself pushed to the breaking point. Maybe it's first thing in the morning. You were up with your child several times during the night. Now you're exhausted, getting breakfast ready for everyone, when your partner comes into the room and casually says on the way out the door, "Hey, I think I forgot to tell you, but I have a work trip the last two days of this week."

Can you feel your body tense just imagining this scenario? You feel your insides turn, your blood boil, and a deep feeling of loneliness wash over you. Over the course of your parenting journey, you've felt more and more disconnected from your partner, and this is just one example of many in which you feel unseen and unknown by them.

How did you get here? You set out to be a harmonious family-happy, unified, and strong. You want your kids to learn what a healthy relationship looks like by observing the two of you together. You don't want to fight! Yet as time passes, you find more than anything that you are just trying to make it to bedtime without irritating the other too much.

Now imagine that instead of absorbing this surprising news into your body and getting hot with rage at your partner-instead of erupting in anger-you choose a different path. You use this difficult, challenging, and yes, irritating moment to instead find connection. You work through this difficult situation together-and in so doing, model conflict that leads to connection for your kids.

Seems impossible, right? It doesn't have to be.

We are Erin and Stephen Mitchell-partners in life as well as in our business, Couples Counseling for Parents. Parenting changes even a strong relationship in all sorts of ways, and even couples who are on solid ground before the kids arrive can feel absolutely rocked and unsteady afterward. This isn't easy, but it is normal.

We have talked with thousands of couples over the years, and all of them have experienced this disconnected feeling at one point or another. When they share their hopes and dreams for their family with us, we hear over and over some variation of these two statements: 1) We know our couple relationship is the foundation of a healthy family, and 2) it's harder than ever to make each other laugh and enjoy each other's company now that we're dealing with the day-to-day drudgery of parenting.

You are not alone! Parenting can be messy and unpredictable. It can also bring you closer together as a couple . . . if you let it. What these couples are really saying to us is: "In the midst of all this stress, we are struggling to remember we like each other. Can you help us?"

We have three kids of our own. We know these struggles firsthand. We know the amazing upsides of parenting: the quiet moments of sitting down together and reveling in the beauty and wonder of the children we are raising. We also know what it's like to lose our patience with our kids-and with each other! We know what it's like to look at each other and say, "Really?! You're tired? Well, let me tell you about my night . . ." We know what it is like to feel like the person you want more than anyone in the world to understand and empathize with what you're going through for some reason just doesn't. But thankfully, we also know what it is like to regroup as a family and a couple after these moments and talk about what it means to repair.

Take a moment and reflect on the following:

What do I want for my family?

What kind of relationship do I want to model for my kids?

What kind of relationship do I want to have along the bumpy, beautiful road of parenting?

When my kids are grown and out of our home, what kind of relationship do I want to have with my partner?

If you're like us, you want to show your kids how to support and love one another on the good, bad, and truly awful days. You want to show them their parents can have a conflict with each other, but that the partnership can still remain strong even amid disagreement. And you want to remain close with your partner even in the midst of those chaotic parenting moments, knowing the two of you are ultimately on the same team.

This is why we wrote Too Tired to Fight: to help parenting partners transform these messy moments of conflict into experiences of healthy resolution and repair, and to give couples the skills to turn conflict into connection.

Who Is This Book For?

Too Tired to Fight is for all parents in romantic relationships looking for health and connection.

Maybe you bought this book in the middle of the night when you were the only one awake feeding your baby, feeling alone and unsupported. Maybe you are a couple with older kids, and you realize you have been waiting and hoping your communication would get better once they got a little more mature-but the problems remain. Maybe you bought this book because the resentment you feel toward your partner is eating away at you, and you worry that your marriage is going to crumble under the weight of it.

This book is designed as a tool for you to work through conflicts with your partner and come out on the other side feeling connected and stronger than ever.

How Do I Use This Book?

In part 1, we are going to talk about fighting once kids enter the picture: why it seems to happen more, and why it feels so different. We will also enable you to view conflict as a signal that you and your partner are trying to connect. Then we are going to give you our tried and true equation for engaging in healthy conflict: the conflict-to-connection equation. This will be your guide to resolve conflicts in the moment as you're experiencing them.

Then in part 2, we'll walk you through the thirteen most common conflicts we've helped countless parenting couples through-hot-button situations that turn so many couples sideways, like the "stop micromanaging my parenting" conflict, the "I'm more tired than you" conflict, the "Sex life? What sex life?" conflict, and the "I am carrying the mental load" conflict. In each chapter we'll introduce you to a couple and their experience with this conflict-what the trigger to the conflict is, why it's important to engage in it, and how this fight often goes wrong. These case studies are based on compilations of stories we have heard from the hundreds of thousands of couples we have had the privilege of interacting with. Then we'll take you directly into a counseling session between us and the couple in trouble to show how the conflict-to-connection equation can transform these fights into healthy conflicts that lead to lasting connection. At the end of each chapter, we offer sample scripts to give you a handle on the "But how can I actually say that?!" question that inevitably arises when we consider having an old conversation in a new way. We will also provide questions to get you reflecting and connecting to yourself and your partner.

Finally, at the end of this book, we have "A Quick Guide to How to Engage in Conflict in Front of Our Kids," "Sample Scripts for Addressing the Conflict with Our Kids," and "Sample Scripts to Address the Repair with Our Kids."

The Ultimate Goal:
Not Being Too Tired to Fight

We want you to come away from Too Tired to Fight knowing you are not alone when seemingly small things can turn into stuck communication patterns, resulting in dead-end dialogues. The solutions we present in this book will allow you and your partner a better option than just trying to "make it until bedtime."

We are sure that you can find connection through the conflicts you will inevitably face as parenting couples. We also know that after you practice these communication skills with your partner, you'll have a better sense of how to know and love your partner and, in return, be known and loved by your partner. You'll also get to model healthy communication for your kids and enjoy laughter with your partner again.

Chapter 1

Why We Fight More-and
Differently-After Kids

Parenting changes everything. Let that sit for a moment.

Becoming a parent has changed your life in beautiful and wonderful ways, as well as in ways that are just plain hard.

Change brings stress, but stress does not have to mean something negative. Stress simply is the heightened energy that comes with going from something that is routine, expected, and practiced to something new. Having kids and parenting, whether it is your first kid, second, third, etc., is a monumental change that means your routine, what you have come to expect, and what you know how to do is challenged. With this challenge comes a heightened energy that courses through our brains, bodies, emotions, and thoughts in an effort to "get back to" the routine and practiced place. Not to mention, we all handle stress differently.

If we default to our stress response in a situation, it's almost impossible to connect with our partner to resolve the issue together and stop the cycle of stuck communication. In this way, conflict that could typically be resolved with relative ease before kids turns into stuck fighting.

Why Do We Fight More
Now That We're Parents?

Conflict is a natural part of any human interaction. Whenever you have two people with different lived experiences and ways to respond to stress, you will have conflict. While there will be misalignment, conflict can be resolved in a good way that leads to connection (what we are going to help you with in this book), or conflict can be resolved in an unhealthy way that leads to two dysregulated people, lost in their stress response, endlessly fighting with each other. This type of conflict is not productive and an indication that neither partner is in the right nervous system state to connect. The context of parenting often throws partners into this unproductive state, and this leads to an increase in the number of negative fights couples experience.

Here's an example. Sasha and Alex turned to us for help, using words similar to those we have heard from so many couples: "Before we had kids, we got along great. Of course we were not perfect communicators. We had some difficulty at times, but mostly we were able to work through conflicts without too much effort. But now, since we've had kids, it's like we can't communicate. Most of our conversations end up in some kind of fight."

Sasha and Alex had been together for five years and had always talked about having kids. When they finally decided to have kids Sasha said, "We never felt so close." Alex agreed: "Yeah, here we were working through some really tough conversations about what we wanted and what was the best option for us, and it just felt like we were a team." Sasha added that she felt like Alex understood her anxieties and knew just how to make her feel supported.

Then their daughter, Sofia, was born, and everything changed. Alex said, "Things were still pretty good the first couple of weeks. In truth we were starstruck with Sofia. But then we just started bickering more and more and picking at each other, and now all productive communication seems to have just gone out the window."

Each began to feel as if the other was not supportive; each thought they were doing more than the other. Sasha works from home as a graphic designer, and by default, she found herself taking care of Sofia, keeping the house, and making dinner. Alex works out of the house as an investment banker and resented that on top of his demanding fifty-hour-a-week job, he came home and went right to work parenting.

So, when Sasha expressed feeling like she was doing all the work, Alex wanted to try to hear where Sasha was coming from but also resented feeling like there was more he could actually be doing. He feels like Sasha paints a picture of him sitting around on the couch while she makes him dinner. Which of course makes Sasha feel like what she is trying to say is not being heard at all. Now they feel like they are in a constant standoff fighting about every "little thing" and feeling miles and miles apart.

The couple came to us feeling discouraged, surprised by how bad their relationship felt, and frightened by a feeling of "If this is the way it's going to be, I'm not sure we should stay together."

Sasha and Alex's session exemplifies two key reasons couples fight more when their parenting journey begins.

The Stakes Feel Higher Now

We have counseled many couples like Sasha and Alex. They have a good relationship, they want to have kids, they have kids, and then seemingly out of nowhere everything starts to feel like it is falling apart. This is a frightening experience, one you may be going through as you're reading this book. The long nights of waking up with an infant while your partner sleeps or the many times you are told that "you never do anything to help" no matter how much you are helping, begin to fracture the foundations of your relationship and your sense of hope and connection. Over time, as these resentments and hurts build up, deep cracks can develop.

This is where Sasha and Alex find themselves. Before having Sofia, they never imagined that they were not right for each other. In fact, they believed that having Sofia would bring them closer together. Initially it did, but the feeling didn't last. At this point they feel like strangers to each other. The intensity of their conflict and their inability to have what they think of as a normal conversation make them both feel like maybe the other has changed or maybe they just didn't know each other as well as they thought they did.

We Are Stretched Too Thin Already

The introduction of kids into a couple system is indeed stressful. It is important to understand what stress does to couples in a parenting partner relationship. It results in a loss of capacity.

Every human being has a stress response system that is meant to help us manage and navigate times of uncertainty, danger, chaos, and instability. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated in these moments to help us survive; our fight-flight-freeze-fawn response kicks into gear. Now granted, parenting is not the same as being chased by a lion, but in our day-to-day life as parents, this stress response system is still activated. We feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, and our body activates to try and figure out how to mitigate the stress.

Reviews

"Too Tired to Fight provides practical guidance for couples to improve their communication skills. This book is an incredible toolkit that offers tangible examples to navigate tricky conversations and build stronger relationships. By following their strategies, couples can foster deeper understanding and resolve conflicts effectively.” —Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play

“A groundbreaking, insightful book that reframes how parents in relationships view conflict. Erin and Stephen Mitchell break down the 13 conflicts that parent couples should—and must—have to create a stronger relationship and family unit in a such a fun and engaging way. Their invaluable Conflict-to-Connection equation used in real-time fights works wonders, and their scripts and questions for reflection are perfect tools to take with you on your parent-couple journey. This should be required reading for all parents in relationships!” —Michele Borba, Ed.D. author of Thrivers: Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

“This book is an invaluable resource for couples and parents. Many people think that conflicts are the sign of an unhealthy relationship, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Too Tired to Fight provides a clear roadmap for how to navigate the most common parenting pitfalls and go from conflict to connection. Using real life dialogue examples and practical tips, it addresses the most common situations couples inevitably find themselves in. The way out is always through. Highly recommended." —Jessica Joelle Alexander, author of The Danish Way of Parenting

“This is first and foremost, not only a parenting book, but a relationship book so intelligent and on point that there are few readers who won't be able to identify with the subtle slights, control issues and genuine confusions over ‘what's fair’ that are present in virtually any relationship--only exacerbated when children enter the picture.  Whether they are dealing with the wife convinced of her over-arching expertise or the husband unable to grasp the unspoken mental load of his partner, the Mitchells' genius is taking two people in gridlock with an ‘impossible’ partner....and turning them into empathic allies.  When you are feeling overwhelmed and less than partnered by your co-parent, this book is the fast track to getting you back to operating as true friends on a shared mission.” —Nancy Dreyfus, Psy.D, author of Talk To Me Like I'm Someone You Love

“Your fights will never be the same after reading this book. You will learn how to transform these inevitable moments of conflict into opportunities for better communication, intimacy, and connection. You will also get the tools, insights, and scripts you need to turn this novel approach to conflict into a lasting habit.” —Kaley Klemp and Nate Klemp PhD, authors of The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship

Too Tired to Fight is a hopeful, practical, relationship-saving resource that every parenting couple needs. Erin and Stephen have given us a gold mine of relatable stories, helpful insights, practical tools and loving scrips to navigate the sacred and often complex terrain of holding on to each other while we simultaneously raise our children.” —Eli Hardwood, author of Securely Attached: Transform Your Attachment Patterns into Loving, Lasting Romantic Relationships

"Most parents barely have enough time to make dinner, let alone work on their relationship. Too Tired to Fight changes that: it's full of simple, insightful strategies to help frustrated parents address and resolve inevitable conflicts. Raising kids can drive couples apart—Too Tired to Fight will bring them back together.” —Melinda Wenner Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes

“For a parenting book to be truly impactful in today’s society, it needs to not only contain valuable advice for therapists who work with parents, but also offer specific and practical direction to parents themselves. Too Tired to Fight by authors Erin and Stephen Mitchell does exactly that. In this book, parents will learn a strategic approach to handling 13 essential conflicts that will allow them to embrace these conflicts rather than avoid them…..Therapists working with parents will feel like they have a front row seat to observe effective and efficient therapeutic interventions from couples representing diverse experiences and challenging parenting situations….This will truly be a valuable asset for any couple who wants to understand the challenges presented by parenting in today’s world.” —Dr. Ron Welch, clinical psychologist and author of 10 Choices for a Better Marriage

Too Tired to Fight is the book I wish I had while navigating new motherhood and struggling to keep my marriage from running off the rails. Through humor, honesty, and personal stories from real partnered couples, authors Erin and Stephen Mitchell teach readers how to transform conflict into practical strategies for emotional intimacy and personal growth. I believe this is the book every parenting couple needs on their shelves to maintain a thriving relationship amid the chaos of early parenting.” —Amber Wardell, Ph.D., author of Beyond Self-Care Potato Chips: Choosing Nourishing Self-Care in a Quick-Fix Culture

Author

Erin and Stephen Mitchell are the cofounders of Couples Counseling for Parents, a company focused on providing access to research-informed, psychologically sound online education for couples. Both have a clinical education—Stephen, a PhD in medical family therapy, and Erin, a master’s degree in counseling psychology—and they have a combined 23 years of experience providing counseling and education. They have been married for 16 years and have three kids.
Stephen Mitchell, PhD View titles by Stephen Mitchell, PhD