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.
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)
• “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)
“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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