The article below is a guest post by Martiena van der Meer from TheCoupleConnection.net, a guide to relationship advice and support.
Arguments are a normal part of most couple relationships. While continuous conflict soon becomes tiring, airing our frustrations from time to time can help resolve issues and allow us to move forward in the relationship.
Many parents are reluctant to argue in front of the children, and often feel extremely guilty if conflict flares up in front of them. But witnessing a fight doesn’t have to have a negative impact on teenagers.
Some academic research has suggested that teenagers who experience more arguments around age 15, compared with their peers, have an increased risk of depression, alcohol and drug abuse and antisocial behavior when they reach age 30. Other more immediate side effects can include heightened stress levels and desensitization to aggression. However, there are now an increasing number of family support therapists who believe appropriate arguments can actually have a positive role-modelling effect on teenagers.
As they grow older and the dynamics of their relationships with friends, family members and love interests change, it’s important that young people learn how to handle conflict in a mature and appropriate manner.
Children learn much of their behavior in relationships from their parents, and those who never see their mom and dad argue may be left feeling ill-equipped to deal with confrontation. This can leave children afraid of conflict, unable to assert themselves, and they might develop a tendency to bottle things up instead of addressing issues head on, contributing to relationship problems later on in life.
Parents can teach their teens appropriate forms of conflict resolution by handling their own arguments well. When teenagers see their parents resolve their differences in a positive way it can give them a real sense of security. Not only will they learn that couples and families can stay together even when things aren’t going well, it can instil a developmental attitude to relationships that’s beneficial to future partnerships.
Of course, teenagers who witness frequent fighting that spirals out of control may develop a fear of repeating their parents’ patterns and begin to bail out of relationships early. The key to avoiding this outcome is to argue well.
Arguments which focus on venting resentments rather than problem solving are of no benefit to teenagers. Instead follow these simple tips the next time a discussion gets a little heated.
- Argue as though the neighbours can hear you. Avoid name calling, bad language, and raised voices.
- Use active listening skills. Make sure your partner knows they’re being heard with a gentle head nod and sustained eye contact.
- Avoid blame by using ‘I’ statements. Instead of saying “You make me so angry when you don’t help prepare dinner” you could try, “I feel really let down when I get no help preparing dinner”.
- Acknowledge your partner’s point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree.
- Call a time out if things get too heated and save the discussion for when the children aren’t around.
- Involve the kids in the argument. They should never be asked for an opinion or made to choose sides.
- Argue about the children or finances. They’ll only hold themselves responsible or become frightened and insecure.
- Let it get physical. Children should never witness violence or physically intimidating behaviour.
- Argue when drinking. Things can quickly get out of hand.
- Let it happen too often. Arguing once in a while let’s children see disagreements are a normal part of family life, more than that becomes distressing.
And finally, the golden rule of arguing in front of the children:
DO make sure they see you make up. Damage is minimized if children see how the argument was resolved. It teaches them problem solving skills and lets them know solutions can be found even when people are emotional or upset.
Apologise to your child and reassure them that you still love each other. By explaining how you might have handled things better you can help them take a lesson from the situation too. You might say, “Dad and I work things out much better when we listen to each other to reach a compromise. Shouting gets us nowhere.”
How do you handle arguments in front of your teenagers? Comment below or join in the conversation on thecoupleconnection.net’s relationship advice forum.