Next time you and your spouse get into an argument, call the kids over to watch and listen.
(You're thinking: What? That's crazy!)
Our children learn to handle conflict by watching how others do it, particularly their parents.
(You're thinking: I don't want them to imitate us!)
If the thought of the kids sitting ringside when you and your partner go at it leaves you horrified, it's time to brush up on your fair fighting skills. Consider meeting with a marriage counselor for a few training sessions; read a book or two on the topic; your kids someday will thank you.
In the meantime, know that research reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (December, 2007) reveals that how parental fights end carries a lot of weight for the children. Kids need to see some kind of warm, positive ending in order to stave off the disheartened, discouraged feelings that parental conflict can provoke (and the unfortunate conclusion that conflict is to be avidly avoided.)
Here are some ways to bring your arguments to an end:
- Whether you've worked things out or made no headway at all, punctuate the ending with a hug or kiss — at least a handshake, regardless of how you feel about one another. High school athletes line up and "high five" the opposing team at the end of a game; you can, too.
- Say "We're getting nowhere. Let's just agree to disagree. We can talk about it again another time." (Cue the handshake or embrace.)
- Or say "It was hard to work this out, but I'm glad that we did." (Again, handshake or embrace.)
End your arguments with a positive word and gesture, whether the kids are present or not; doing so will create a habit that comes easily when the kids are around. We want our children to understand that conflict is inevitable in any relationship, and although it might feel unsettling while it's happening, it doesn't cancel the underlying love and care we feel for one another.