All couples disagree at some point. It’s not realistic to think that we’ll see eye-to-eye on everything over the course of a long marriage. Disagreeing isn’t the issue; how we handle it is.
Most of us will admit to fighting in front of the kids at some point. This is a problem. Disagreeing in front them? Ok. Problem solving in front of them? Good. Working things out from start to finish, so that they aren’t left feeling anxious and wondering about the state of your marriage, and they learn some solid communication skills in the process? Even better.
But be careful. Many people will say that it’s important to “fight fair” in front of the kids. I’m not a huge fan of that phrase. Fighting, to me, implies something hostile, maybe violent, definitely not collaborative. I’m ok with disagreeing and problem solving, but fighting? That just feels like a slippery slope into name-calling, swearing, personal attacks, put-downs, aggressive body language and all sorts of other behaviours that cross the line and that we certainly don’t want our kids witnessing or, worse, imitating.
I’m a very big advocate of never fighting in front of the kids. Ever. When I’m doing couple counselling in my office in Oakville, I’m pretty clear with my clients that as we move away from all of the fighting that may have been taking place in their marriages, that they put a full-stop on fighting in front of the kids. Consider how you would define how you’re speaking to one another in these moments: if there was a camera in your house right now, would you say that you’re disagreeing or fighting? Is it causing your kids distress? Does it leave you feeling depleted and hopeless? Then you’re fighting. It’s not helpful, it’s not working, and we need to connect you with other ways to manage those problem situations.
Instead, breathe deeply. Most of us don’t lose our cool with our kids the way we do with our spouses – even though our kids push our buttons like nobody’s business – so tap into that reserve and hold back. No good ever came from speaking to someone we love from a place of anger.
Give yourself a time-out if that’s what you need. Letting your kids watch you say, “I’m feeling pretty angry right now and I don’t want to fight or say something I’ll regret. I’m going to leave the room until we can work this out calmly” teaches them that some things are better dealt with once everyone is feeling calmer. There’s no shame in saying that you’re too angry to work something out right this minute.
If you start a discussion or argument in front of your kids, let them see you finish it. Not only are you demonstrating how to work through problems with those you love, but you’re also reassuring them that sometimes their parents don’t see eye-to-eye, but that they can work through those differences and come to a place of resolution that leaves everyone feeling ok.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever done marriage counselling and not had the couple tell me that one of their main issues is communication. What a gift it would be to our kids to teach them better ways of talking to one another than what we’ve been left to sort out on our own! Let them learn at home that it’s possible to disagree without fighting, to work through problems together without there needing to be a clear “winner”, and that there’s always a better way than fighting.