Arguing in Front of Children – MM #347

Arguing Photoclub Teen daughter agonizes while parents fight

A lot of people worry about what their children see on television and in the movies and so on. They are trying to protect their innocent hearts. And yet, they overlook the damage that is done to these same children as they see their parents destructively arguing with each other. Their innocence is assaulted every time they hear the abusive behavior in the next room. Worse yet, is when they are exposed to the toxic arguing right in front of them.

Arguing in Front of Children

I confess this is what happened to me as a child. To this day, I still remember the confusion and hurt it caused in my heart. It modeled for me the opposite way that conflict should be handled. I also have to confess that in our earlier years of marriage, Steve and I did the same thing to our children.

We yelled and displayed selfish, childish behavior right in front of our two sons. It just wasn’t right. We now know of the emotional damage this causes. It hurts our hearts to think that we didn’t recognize it sooner than we did. We’ll always live with that regret.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re addressing this subject in this Marriage Message. We’re praying that it will cause couples to stop the destruction. We pray they will find healthier ways to work together to resolve their conflict—especially for the sake of the children!

Arguing in Front of Others

Last week we addressed the issue of Arguing in Front of Others. This, in itself, can be destructive to your relationship. It also puts others in the uncomfortable position of being an audience to your fights with each other. But it’s even worse when your children are subjected to this inconsiderate, dishonoring behavior. As parents, it’s important to realize that when the two people these children love the most—the ones who are in charge of protecting and helping them to grow into healthy adults, are pitted against each other right in front of them, this HURTS them!

We watched a powerful television program a few years back that brought this point home to us all the more. It was shown on a national program called the “Dr Phil Show.” Before it aired, Dr Phil McGraw had video cameras placed (with their permission) in the home of a married couple. This couple had asked him to help them with the fights they were having with each other.

Afterward, he had the husband and wife sitting together on his show to watch, with the audience, a part of what was videotaped. It was a VERY tough program to watch. But it was important. The video showed the husband and wife screaming at each other vile, destructive things. Their children were right there in the room watching and hearing everything that was going on. It was quite evident from the children’s behavior that they were EXTREMELY conflicted about all that was happening. The daughter was even crying, pleading, and yelling at her parents to stop. The son just sat in stunned silence, rocking back and forth, obviously disturbed.

Invisible Children

But still, this couple continued on as if the children were invisible. And for the most part, the parents admitted later, that they were. The parents didn’t even notice their reactions. They were so caught up in their own agendas that they practically stepped over the children to verbally assault each other.

When this husband and wife watched this video, they both realized how horrible this was—especially their children. They resolved to find the help they needed to change their behavior from that day forward. And from what we heard in a later report, they did. With help they learned how to resolve their conflicts in healthier ways. They also learned to take their arguments away from their children. What a great relief that has been for all involved!

Teaching Arguing to Children

Concerning this issue, one of the main “arguments” we’ve heard from others is that children won’t “learn” that it’s normal that married couples disagree with each other. And they won’t “learn” how to resolve conflicts if they don’t see it modeled for them.

Admittedly, that can be a valid argument. But what kind of modeling are they learning when their parents are assassinating each other with their words (and sometimes abusive behavior)? What’s good about that? What are they learning when they hear their parent’s berate, and demean each other, as well as bringing up subjects that the children have no business knowing about?

To shed light on this issue, you’ll find below a few quotes that we hope you’ll prayerfully consider:

•  “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.” (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)

What ARE You Teaching Your Children?

Does the way you and your spouse live and disagree with each other model “fairness, caring and integrity?” If it doesn’t, then what are you really teaching your children? Even if you can’t convince your spouse to act in a way that appears fair and caring, what’s YOUR excuse? Does the Bible tell you that you’re excused from acting as a person of integrity, just because your spouse is treating you in an opposite way? Wouldn’t it be better if that child had at least one parent who honors the Lord and others in how he or she treats everyone in their home?

We’re told in the Bible:

• “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.(Romans 14:19)

• “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else. For each one should carry his own load.(Galatians 6:4-5)

Also Consider:

• “It’s not just how you act when you know [your children] are watching, it’s how they see you when you’re not looking. We worry so much about what they see when they are flipping through the channels on television. Kids have another view of the world. It’s the things they see and hear everyday in and around the family.

“We can turn the television off, we can select the channels they can watch and for how long. But we forget that they’re more impacted by what they see everyday in their own lives. How you respond to them, how you live, what you do in a crisis and yes, how you love each other should be the real concern.” (Bob Perks)

Again, we’re told in the Bible:

• “Do not have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. Instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.(2 Timothy 2:23-24)

• “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and ready by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.(2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

The question is, from the letter you are displaying from Christ, what message are your children reading in how you treat each other as husband and wife?

We’re going to visit this subject again next week, but we’d like to leave you with one last thing to prayerfully consider (written by Heather Long)

Prayerfully Consider:

“It’s hard to be married. It’s hard to be a parent. But the best thing you can do for your marriage and for your kids is to recognize that disagreements and quarrels are a private matter that need to be identified and resolved between you and your spouse without an audience.

“Don’t fall back on the silent treatment either, kids aren’t stupid. They recognize tension and hostility as easily as an animal does. Do your entire family a favor —figure out your problems on your own and provide your children with a positive example of conflict resolution that doesn’t involve screaming matches.”

It’s important for us to note what we’re told in God’s Word:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.(Romans 12:17-18)

We pray this message ministers to your marriage in a powerful way.

Cindy and Steve Wright

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13 responses to “Arguing in Front of Children – MM #347

  1. The following comment came in to Marriage Missions from a woman from South Africa:

    Thank you for such a powerful message, this also happened to me when I was a child. My parents never respected one another, they we always on each others throat and it really affected my child hood that I do not want to remember and school was highly affected. Arguing and fighting in front of children it’s not good and it was never good, it damages their childhood, school and attitude towards a marriage.

    I thank God that he carried me through my childhood to where I am today. I’m married to a good man who never yells at me and I have two beautiful girls and we all love and the Lord and the most important part is that we are children of God.

  2. (US)  Thanks for these wonderful articles on how to arguing/fighting/disagreements in front of children affect them. My husband and I are usually good about this, but sometimes, when he has an outburst it reminds me of my father with my mom. She always diffused the situation with humor or redirection and it worked.

    Sometimes though, I get caught up in the injustice of what was said or how my husband behaved and I snap back with something equally critical or unkind in front of the kids, so they don’t think I’m just taking it. Bad idea. Nobody wins that way, least of all them or our marriage harmony. I pray for help for my husband, as he is easily aggravated and seems to have less patience and inner joy as time passes. It’s hard to be an enabler, but fighting back in public does no good. It just fuels the fire.

  3. (SOUTH AFRICA)  My husband is always verbally abusing when he is angry, which 85% of the time. He will shout at the kids and call me names even if we have relatives visiting us. How do I deal with this since both of us are Christians?

  4. (CANADA)  This was a really good article. My parents have been screaming and yelling and swearing at each other for as long as I can remember, no care for if I’m in the room or not. And it does affect me, I hate hearing it, everyone gets really angry, and they take it out on me.

  5. (KENYA)  Absoutely true. Very, very true. Isn’t it? What do you also think you fellow brethren? Isn’t it true that me and my beloved wife should at all times try to avoid arguing in the presence of our children? I know that this is a true fact and I’d like your sincere prayers and local church guidance and counselling towards enabling me and my mate to serious succeed in working this out. Ok?

  6. (UNITED STATES)  It is so PAINFUL to read what my husband and I are exactly doing right now in front of our two beautiful young children. We have so much anger for each other for so long, for so many reasons, that we just can’t keep our mouths shut when we are together.

    My husband isn’t the type of man who likes to share his problems with others and especially with strangers such as therapist. I’m lonely and bored with my husband and I wanted to end my marriage at least 2 years ago and live somewhere else with my children to protect them from those painful fights and to give them a happier life but I have no money or family to give me the support that I need.

    I do not wish to deprive my husband seeing his children. He is a good father but we just don’t love each other anymore or have nothing to share anymore. I WANT my children BE HAPPY AND LIVE IN A HARMONIOUS AND POSITIVE ENVIRONNEMENT surrounding with lots of smiles and LOVE and NO hateful FIGHTS. I deeply feel that they will be happier if they see mom and dad living apart at this point.

    1. (USA)  Manon, I understand what you are going thru, my husband and I are in the same boat. We have 3 wonderful children, who see and hear it all. I will keep you in my prayers. Please pray for me as well.

  7. (US) My husband and I love each other very much. We both came from homes of abuse in all forms. Unfortunately, we have horrible arguments when we are stressed and I have to admit I drag them out until I “win.” Fortunately, we both realize it is wrong. We went through this as kids but also that we are wrong for putting our kids through this. We are taking steps to heal our hearts and change for all of us. We have put God in the middle and together we will work it out. I pray for all of you.

    1. Mandy, I can’t even start to tell you how encouraging this is to read that you and your husband now understand this issue. How I pray that you both become over-comers together, where you learn how to put the dysfunction behind you and become the example for your children that you never had. The marriage relationship loses when one “partner” feels they have to “win” a fight. Somehow, you need to learn to listen to each other and work on some type of solution so you both “win” in some way –at least the marriage wins, and so do the children. And keep it private when it gets heated in the argument category. Your children (and others) don’t need the shrapnel that will be inflicted upon them as they see you both heatedly arguing. It causes confusion and insecurity in your children’s hearts and lives. I’m SO thankful that you both are realizing this.

      Now comes the hard part of implementing what you know you need to do. It will take a lot of UN-learning and then learning anew. We have a lot of “tools” and recommended resources on this web site, which hopefully will help you. God bless you as you begin this journey of learning how to disagree in healthy ways! And along the way, don’t forget to put intentionality into doing fun things together to build your relationship and stockpile good feelings to get you through the harder times. That’s important, as well.

  8. (USA) I can’t even imagine how miserable my kids feel when me and my husband fight because we seem to forget that they are around. I try to tell him to calm down so they won’t hear what’s going on but he doesn’t know how to control himself. He calls me names in front of them when he’s really angry and he sometime threatens me but he doesn’t hit me; he just say he will. I know that this is wrong. This is why I am considering a divorce. The arguing has become so streeful & depressing that I can not focus anymore. My husband has some trust issues and he has some controlling issues. I really have to got to pray for us really hard and trust that God knows what he doing.

    1. Jawanda, I’m wondering if you went through with the divorce. I’m in the same situation. We have 3 small kids. My husband yells at me and the kids; calls my 8 year old a moron, dummy, etc. I’m afraid he is destroying his self esteem. I can’t take it anymore and am thinking about divorce.

  9. My husband and I argue all the time. I beg it not be in front of our son, but in my husband’s eyes he don’t see what it’s doing to our son and he puts me down and calls me names in front of him. Asking him to stop does no good, I do pray and offered for us to go to counseling but he refuses. I’m miserable and my son has been diagnosed with ADHD and acts out to get attention. I’m at end of my rope. Please help.