Q: My wife and I have been fighting a lot for the past few months. I know arguments are a normal part of a relationship, but I'm concerned that our battles are starting to affect our two kids, ages 4 and 6. Both of them have been behaving differently lately — acting out, having trouble sleeping, and even squabbling between themselves. I can't help but think that our arguments are rubbing off on them. How can we stop our fighting and reverse the damage?
A: You're absolutely right about two things: First, fighting with your spouse is perfectly normal. Frankly, I'd be pretty suspicious of any relationship that didn't have its ups and downs. Not letting the sparks fly once in a while is a good indicator that one or both partners are feeling apathetic and would be better off apart. Second, children are extremely sensitive to the emotions of the adults around them, and the fights they're witnessing are almost certainly affecting your kids — probably more than you know. There's a right way — and lots of wrong ways — to fight. Here's what you need to know.
Slow down. It's not easy, but whenever you feel a fight brewing, try to take a break. That doesn't mean ignoring the problem, it just means that you and your wife will agree in advance to wait — maybe until the kids are in bed — to have your discussion. There's a good chance that when the appointed time arrives, you'll have forgotten what you were arguing about or it won't seem nearly as important as it did just a few hours before.
Keep it private. To the extent possible, do your squabbling out of earshot of the kids. If you can't put some distance between you and the kids, at least try to keep your voice at a conversational level.
Be nice. In the heat of the moment, it can take only a heartbeat to go from simply arguing to saying something you don't mean. Contrary to popular wisdom, words can do just as much (or more) damage as those famous sticks and stones.
Figure out what you're actually arguing about. At their core, most arguments have to do with either stress about money (not earning enough or spending too much) or labor (not doing enough or feeling overworked). Spending the time to consider the root causes can be remarkably helpful.
Let the kids see you fight. Yes, I know that sounds contradictory, but it's important for the kids to see how you and their mother handle conflict. Watching mom and dad argue, resolve differences, apologize and make up can give them a model for how they'll handle their own quarrels.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service