Do you remember the movie "The War of the Roses?" The one starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a couple embroiled in a bitter divorce? They took fighting with your spouse to an all new low. Thank heavens they didn't have kids!
So, what are disagreements with your spouse like in your home? Are you shouters? Do you throw things? Slam doors? The more important question is do you do it in front of the kids?
As a Children's Protective Services worker, I had the unfortunate opportunity to see parents arguing in front of their children on a regular basis. Even worse, I had to interview the children and see the impact that the fighting had on even the very youngest members of the family. These children were filled with anguish and anxiety. How unfair that they should carry the worries of grown ups!
This is not to say that you should and will never have another disagreement with your partner. For most of us, that would be impossible! Here are some things to consider when an argument is brewing:
- If you do have an argument, make sure the kids are out of earshot. Go to your room and shut the door.
- Very young children who are exposed to marital conflict on a regluar basis obviously do not have the words to express their concerns. Instead, their anxiety is displayed through their behavior. Some common signs of anxiety are sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, appearing more clingy, etc.
- Even though you may have never discussed divorce with your kids, most elementary aged children are aware of what it is perhaps hearing about it from classmates whose parents are divorced. Often, they will become anxious seeing their parents arguing thinking that it means that it will lead to divorce.
- If you do have an argument in front of your kids, apologize to them afterward. Let them know that mom and dad still love each other very much, and that sometimes grownups disagree and that everything is OK.
Now this is not to say that you can't have disagreements in front of the kids. As a matter of fact, it is important for them to see that you and your partner can have differing opinions on something and work through the conflict to a compromise. You are modeling appropriate conflict management skills for your kids. What you don't want your kids to see are yelling, name calling, and aggressive behavior.
I will talk more in future posts about how to fight fair with your spouse. Before going there, however, it is important to be aware of the impact that fighting with your spouse can have on your kids.
Any questions about this topic? How do you and your partner handle conflict? What are your thoughts on fighting in front of the kids? Do you have any tips for others about how to avoid this? Please post your responses!