Even the “healthiest” of families deals with conflict. As a couples therapist, I have found many couples think that arguing or entering into conflict is bad. Many also think you should never argue in front of the kids.
Generally, it is not a good idea to fight or argue repeatedly in front of your kids. However, working through conflict does have benefits. Keep these ground rules in mind:
Ideally, sit next to your partner not opposite. Research shows that discussing difficulties when facing each other makes the other person more defensive.
Be aware of your body language, your tone and your attitude, while showing self- control with your words. If you are tempted to resort to criticism (“you are so ...”) and defensiveness (“me? what about what you!”), focus on “I” statements instead (“I feel frustrated and confused”). Ask questions in terms of “we” (what or how can we do it differently?), and give each other time to talk without interruption.
Remember, you are teaching by example. Strive to solve the problem, and keep calm in the process. If you are super angry and ready to freak out, and you don’t think you can stay calm, it is okay to say “I am feeling very upset and would like to talk about this later, in private.” Sometimes acknowledging your anger clears some of the tension. Kids are super sensitive to parents’ needs. If you are tense and stuffing feelings in, it won’t be long before the kids start acting out just because the energy in the room has gotten intense. When you acknowledge it, it lets some of the air out of the balloon (before the balloon pops).
Lastly, face it. You had an argument that should have been handled behind closed doors. Don’t keep your regret to yourself. Tell your kids that you regret what you said, or that you regret not taking a “time-out” before you expressed yourself. Let them know that mom and dad are okay and that all couples have difficulty; it didn’t involve them and that you both will work through it in time.
After the conflict? Forgive each other. Keep negativity to a minimum, and focus on the things that bonded you in happier times.
While many conflicts arise out of simple disappointed expectations and unmet needs, chronic and uncontrollable conflict might hide an underlying problem waiting to see the light of day, then acknowledged and reconciled.
If serious conflict is creating an unstable situation in your family, I recommend talking to a family counselor or an EAP counselor. This is not a sign of weakness or that your relationship is falling apart. Consider it a basic tool to help you understand and better navigate your changing relationships.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker. She has 20+ years experience in counseling individuals, couples and families. Her book, Stop Giving It Away, can be purchased through Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Please visit her website at www.stopgivingitaway.com or visit her Facebook page at Stop Giving It Away. She welcomes questions, and you can ask them on the website or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.