Having the occasional argument with your partner is completely normal, even very healthy. But discussions can get heated sometimes and turn in ways you later regret. When this happens, and it will, both parents need to safeguard their children as much as possible. Remember, when the adults don’t get along, the kids suffer, too. It’s during confusing times like these that children need the guidance that only a parent can provide. So, as difficult as it can be in the midst of turmoil, it’s up to each partner to protect their children. And while they’re at it, maybe even provide some essential life lessons along the way.
Fighting Impacts Children
A study from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reports that “when [the] home is not stable… executive function skills may be impaired, or may not develop at all, limiting a child’s success in elementary school and later life.”
You probably don’t need a PhD to know that fighting in front of your kids is not a good thing, but the impact on children can be profound. It can cause acting out, struggles in school, feelings of guilt, and other negative behaviours. However, a disagreement in front of your children that is resolved respectfully can be a great example of how to handle conflict. Arguments are going to happen, so be prepared with a couple of practical strategies ahead of time.
Always try to speak calmly and fairly with your partner. Sometimes that means just giving in. Let your partner take the slow route to your in-laws. It’s not really that important and it’s a great lesson for your children on how to manage a situation. If you’re the bigger person you’ll spare everyone a lot of bad feelings and, in time, it will be reciprocated. And don’t forget, when you get stuck in the traffic jam that you knew was coming, try not to follow up with an “I told you so.” The kids will pick up on the final dig and you’ll be hearing it from them the next time they think you’re wrong.
Disagreements are inevitable but unfiltered anger is another matter. It’s important that both partners agree, in advance, to take the discussion somewhere else if it gets too impassioned. Have a pre-determined neutral spot that takes the stress away from the rest of the family. Then do your best to resolve the matter, even if it’s only temporarily. It will take the edge off any lingering resentment and provide some relief for the entire household. (It will also help you sleep better. I know couples that promise never to go to bed angry. It can never be one hundred percent successful but it is a great habit.)
Your Child is Not Your Peer
Sometimes it can be difficult, especially with a teenage son or daughter, to remember just how young they really are. We all have a need to confide in someone we trust but even older children should not be leaned on for guidance when it comes to marital problems. The confusion for a child playing the role of “best friend” can ultimately lead to feelings of depression or anger. It can also create a dangerous triangle of resentment between you, your partner, and your child.
Confiding in your children can also saddle them with the burden of feeling they have to fix things. This is a no-win situation for everyone. Both parents should commit to always keeping their children away from these kinds of discussions. Never talk with your kids about your partner in a negative way. They’ll learn to respect you for it and, eventually, expect it of themselves.
It’s Ok to Seek Support
If a situation becomes abusive or dangerous you should immediately get help. But even if it isn’t at such a dangerous stage, it’s imperative to find support outside of the home. If there’s not a friend or other trusted advisor in your life, try your church, support centers or community groups. Sometimes your doctor can have excellent advice. Even online resources can provide a sympathetic ear. Having someone to talk with can ease the pressure and help you work toward positive solutions.
Difficulties at home and periods of stress are a natural part of the development of all relationships. Don’t let that bring you down. Be accountable and stay optimistic. Every person, every couple, every family charts their own course through these periods of conflict. Just keep sight of the responsibility and love you have for your partner and your child. As long as you do that, you will succeed in handling even the most trying times. Just remember to let go, compromise, and practice healthy communication.