I’ve never really liked the advice that you shouldn’t fight in front of your kids.
While I agree it’s important to make sure children feel safe and secure, I’ve never viewed not fighting as the key to that security.
In fact, I think that hiding our fights can ultimately lead to more tension and fear, an inability to deal with conflict, and unhealthy relationships for our kids down the road. (And I was relieved to discover I’m not the only one who feels this way.)
That said, my Italian blood has not always made me the most appropriate fighter, and over the years we’ve had a few arguments that definitely crossed the line of appropriateness (verbally, not physically, which is another issue altogether).
On our trip to Florida earlier this summer, I started thinking about the progress we’ve made. Fueled by exhaustion from a 3:30am wakeup call and the stress of traveling with little ones, we had a few little spats on the way down. What I realized, though, is we’ve actually come a really long way and are able to handle and resolve disagreements much more effectively these days.
Here are a few of the things that have made a difference for us:
1. Share your feelings early.
We’ve gotten much better at this over the years (or at least I have, since I’m not sure Sean struggled with it the same way I did in the first place.) Rather than letting frustrations and resentments build, hoping he would figured out I was upset by osmosis, I’m much more likely to simply tell him I’m frustrated/hurt/upset. Once we acknowledge the hurt feelings, we’re able to work through it before it turns in to a big blow up.
2. Acknowledge the role of hormones.
Despite the cultural jokes and stereotypes, I don’t believe that PMS or postpartum depression or any other hormonal imbalance gives us the right to treat our spouse (or anyone) like crap. However, it does make a huge difference when Sean is able to see and acknowledge that it’s “that time of the month.” And honestly, his understanding goes a long way in helping me reset my attitude and make better choices.
3. Make physical touch a priority.
I have rolled my eyes at this advice so many times in the past, but it’s true: holding hands or touching in some way when we’re upset or angry really does build a physical bridge that helps us reach the point where we want to resolve the conflict. In some situations, a hug can completely diffuse it (and reveal the real source of the frustration), and in others it just reminds us of our love and commitment as we work through bigger issues.
4. Look for the root cause.
When Sean and I are arguing over every little thing, I’ll often say, “It doesn’t really feel like we’re connecting.” He’s not the biggest fan of those words, but we have also learned how to address feeling disconnected. For us, going to bed at the same time is a huge part of it, even though we’re home all day together. Finding time to really laugh together is another.
5. Keep trying.
As I mentioned, we’ve had a few arguments that went way beyond what is appropriate (in front of children or alone, quite honestly), and there we’re times that it felt hopeless: Why couldn’t we control our emotions? How would we ever do better? Were we scarring our kids for life?
For us, the key was to strive to do better each and every time. Although it would have been easy to throw our hands in the air hopelessly, we recommitted each time to finding better ways to fight, and I’m happy to say that it’s been many many years since we’ve had one of those.
These days, our kids may see us argue, get frustrated, or even cry, but they also see us apologize, work through our frustrations, and resolve the issues.
And I’m pretty sure that leads to true security.