Learning to fight {and why we argue in front of our kids}

Learning to fight {and why we argue in front of our kids}

Fighting in front of kids

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.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I completely agree with you, Mandi. It’s why we don’t try to hide our arguments either. Yes, sometimes, there are topics that are best left to a private conversation, but most other times it’s so HEALTHY for our kids to see that married people are still two individuals on a life-long journey of learning to love, forgive, and compromise. If they don’t ever see us disagree, oh the beautiful life lessons they would miss when we submit to one another’s interest and choose to love the other more than ourselves!!!

    Otherwise, when they are married and they have their first argument with their spouse, they won’t know that a) it’s perfectly normal and b) you CAN get through it … and this is how you do it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mandi! It’s good encouragement for ALL of us! 🙂

    (Disclaimer: Like you acknowledged, abuse is a totally other matter. We’re talking “normal marital disagreements” here.)

  2. We fight in front of our children, too. I think it is important for them to see how married couples resolve their conflicts in a healthy manner. Otherwise, what do they do when they have conflict in their marriage if they don’t have an example of what that looks like? Your tips are excellent. Hormones and letting issues build up both play a role in our arguments. Thanks for the post!

  3. Yes, I agree whole-heartedly that you “need” to fight in front of your children. I have a friend whose parents never fought in front of them and the first time she and her husband had a fight she thought they were already headed for divorce, LOL…

    Your list is a good one. I’ve never put ours down in writing but I can truly say that it would probably mirror yours. And my husband never had an issue with telling me how he felt, that was unfortunately one I had to deal with too. 🙂

  4. Kevin Bacon once said the key to a healthy, long-lasting marriage is to “Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty”. He was definitely on to something 🙂
    If you never fight or express any emotions in front of your kids, how are they going to learn how to deal with their own emotions? Besides a spouse, they will never learn how to resolve conflict with a classmate, co-worker or even a friend. You can lecture all you want, but when it comes to emotions, leading by example is best.
    That being said, our fights end up escalating to full-blown screaming matches when I’m accused of it being “that time of the month” when he knows full well it isn’t.. That makes me see red (no pun intended)! LOL

  5. Instead of saying “I don’t feel like we are connecting,” may I suggest te simple phrase: “Hey, I am on your team.” This really helps us quickly reaffirm our unity rather than feeling attacked, as if blame is being put on someone for disconnecting. It removes potential for blame and just reaffirms a heart of being on the same team.

  6. Very inspiring post! Way to be real!

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