The last few weeks we’ve written on the subject of married couples who argue in front of “audiences.” The point we’ve been trying to make is that it can be embarrassing and awkward to others (and it should be to each of you) when you inflict this type of tension upon them. This is particularly true when you are disagreeing in hostile ways in front of children. For that reason, it’s important to:
STOP… See The Other People and be kind enough to take your arguments elsewhere. Please use enough self-control and restraint to wait for a more appropriate time and setting to settle your disagreements. That’s ESPECIALLY true when it comes to fighting in front of your children. It can negatively change who they are in the future if they witness their parents fighting with each other in ways that are hurtful.
But does that mean they should NEVER see you disagree as a married couple? No. But you need to be discerning as to what is hurtful and what is helpful for children to witness. We think Mitch Temple says it best in the wonderful Focus on the Family book, titled The First Five Years of Marriage. He addressed the following question:
“Is it okay to disagree in front of the children?”
He then wrote:
“Yes. How else will children learn how to discuss and solve problems? Children raised in homes where spouses never disagreed in the kids’ presence often develop the perception that their parents never clashed. To develop the conflict resolution skills they’ll need if they marry, children need to know that their parents did struggle. And they need to know how those struggles were resolved.
“Some issues, of course, should be discussed only behind closed doors. These include issues young children can’t understand. Adult problems such as sex in marriage, financial trouble, and addictions should be discussed in private. Decide in advance with your spouse which subjects are ‘off-limits.”
Focus on the Family counselor Jim Groesbeck adds this advice:
“If your voices remain calm, if there’s mutual respect and good listening, and if the subject matter is appropriate for children, then open discussion in front of them may be helpful and serve as a model. But children must witness a positive outcome, not a negative one.”
Disagreeing in Agreeable Ways
The point is that you are to make sure that your disagreements aren’t ones in which they will see and hear things they shouldn’t about either of their parents (because it’s hurtful to their spirits). These situations could cause them unnecessary confusion or anxiety. You are trying to help them to grow up into adults who will know how to approach conflict in healthy ways.
As they grow up, children need to know that it’s a natural thing for married couples to disagree with each other. As Dr Gary Oliver said in his book, Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse:
“Many people really believe that healthy couples don’t have conflict or get angry. Now it is true that mannequins don’t have conflict. It’s also true that cadavers don’t get angry. But real people in real relationships, who are actively working toward figuring out what it means to become one while remaining individuals, experience disagreement, conflict, and anger.
“The people to whom we give the most time and energy, in whom we invest the greatest amount of love and other emotions, are the ones we have the highest expectations of. They also are the ones with the greatest potential to trigger painful emotions such as fear, hurt, frustration, and eventually anger.
“Anger is not necessarily a sign of relational immaturity or instability. In fact, anger is an inherent component of all human relationships. But it is especially prevalent in romantic ones. The more dependent on someone and vulnerable you feel, the more likely they will be the object of your anger as well as your affection.
“Research tells us that happily married couples disagree and argue almost as much as unhappily married couples. The difference is whether they express their anger in healthy or unhealthy ways. The healthy expression of our anger can help us clarify, understand, and appreciate our differences. When we deny our anger and run from conflict we are running from the very process that God can use to heal our hurts and knit our hearts more tightly together in love.”
Figure Out When and Where
So the point isn’t that we aren’t supposed to disagree with each other in front of our children. It’s that we need to figure out when and where is the most appropriate times and places to do it. Disagreeing in front of children should only happen if you can display good communication skills. Make sure you don’t expose them to information that it isn’t healthy for them.
Dr Robert Frank, who wrote the book, Parenting Partners says this:
“Good communication isn’t only helpful to couples. It also sets the stage for how their children will communicate as they grow up. If children witness their parents engaged in bickering or name-calling, or if evenings are spent in stony silence, that’s what they’ll learn.
“I’m reminded of a negative man I once knew who came to dinner every evening with a complaint. His day was lousy, his job was rotten, his boss was a jerk, and so on. Yet this same parent seemed surprised when his own son began remarking that he hated school. His teachers were all idiots, and his friends were fools.
“I encourage parents to work on good communication skills both for themselves, their own emotional health and sense of inner peace, and also for their children. It’s much more beneficial for kids to see their parents discussing issues, exchanging ideas, and occasionally, when there has been a bad disagreement, hugging and making up. It’s okay for children to know that their parents sometimes disagree. But it’s also important for kids to see their parents coming together again.
“So often, misunderstandings between couples are resolved privately, after the children are asleep or when they’re out playing. It’s healthy for them to see that their parents can have differences and still love and care for each other.”
Keep in mind:
“Children may not ask you tough questions about how you’re living (but then again, they might) but never forget that they’re watching you. They’re listening to you, and learning from your every move, every day” (John Trent).
And for that reason, you have the responsibility of modeling mature behavior that they can learn from. After-all, YOU are their examples of how adults are supposed to interact with each other.
If your spouse acts in ways that she or he shouldn’t, then don’t add fuel to the fire by acting in ways that you shouldn’t. Be a responsible parent, partner, and “child” of God in your own actions and words. Allow your children to have at least ONE example they can learn from.
You know when you are saying something you shouldn’t. You know when you are insulting in your words or behavior. God lets you know in your conscience. But it’s your choice to listen to what He is prompting you to do or not. We pray that if you have been fighting in front of children in harmful ways —that today you will start to make the choices to change that. Make it your mission to learn what you need to, so you interact with each other in healthy ways. Each day can be a new beginning.
Next time we’ll give further pointers on how to work together on your disagreements so they are productive and helpful rather than damaging.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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