In more than 11 years of being a divorce mediator, I’ve seen my share of marital arguments. (And I’ve had plenty of my own.) When my divorcing clients confess to me that they fight in front of their kids, I try not to react, even though it conjures up unpleasant memories of my own childhood.
My parents constantly bickered in front of me, and I felt both frightened and super-uncomfortable. I often wondered if they’d get a divorce, and whether I’d live with my mom or my dad. (P.S. It never happened. They were married 65 years when my dad died.) As for me, as a young bride, I also bickered with my husband. It took me 14 years to figure out that bickering didn’t work for me. My point is all couples disagree from time to time.
And kids learn the dos and don’ts of resolving disagreements from their parents.
I now ask my divorce mediation clients to agree in writing that they won’t fight in front of their kids, and I recite the sentence that appears in bold above. So, before your next argument, please take note of a few things I’ve learned.
DO follow the three Rs: Respect, Request, and Resolve. Show respect for each other in front of your children. (Otherwise, where are they going to learn this?) Make a request of your spouse instead of a demand. (It’s going to be more effective in the long run.) And resolve the issue in front of your kids. (Showing children that solutions are reached through compromise is a life-lesson.)
DON’T yell, call each other names, throw things, or slam doors in front of the kids.
WHY? Because your fighting will raise their anxiety level, threaten their security, and most importantly, will give your children the message that it’s normal and okay to handle conflict in this manner.
- Don’t take the bait. As my dad used to say, “even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he kept his mouth shut.”
- Agree in advance to postpone the heated conversation until the kids are out of earshot.
- Identify recurring problems and figure out solutions.
- Listen to each other to understand, rather than to retort.
- Apologize and hug it out.
I’m not writing about this to point a finger at anybody, but rather to provide some food for thought. Conflict in a relationship is inevitable. However, if you can teach yourself how to resolve disagreements using these guidelines, you’ll actually be teaching your kids at the same time.
One last story: I recently conducted a divorce mediation with a young couple. When I asked (as I always do) about fighting in front of their children, the wife told me that they don’t fight. Excuse me? Not a single disagreement? Turns out, neither of them learned from their own parents about how to resolve conflicts. So, they fumed on the inside until they reached a boiling point, and then their marriage was irreparably broken. That’s why they ended up in my office.