By Sharada Bain
Grown-ups underestimate how disturbing it is for children to hear their parents quarreling. One of the key foundations of the child’s sense of safety and trust in life comes from feeling his or her parents’ harmonious partnership.
However, disagreements are an inevitable and even a healthy part of life. We don’t want to repress all of our feelings – we would have no personality left and the spark would go out of our relationship!
What’s needed is to remember and put into practice the guidelines for healthy fighting – which is especially important when you become parents:
1. No nastiness:
You can disagree robustly – but without getting mean or nasty. No attacking, no name-calling, no put-downs, no belittlement, no emotional violence. (Needless to say, physical violence is NEVER acceptable.)
2. Cool it:
Learn to manage difficult feelings. Rather than getting swept away, slow down and take time out when emotions are getting overheated. Call for a pause in the dialogue; go for a walk, go to the gym, have a warm bath, do some journaling. Cool things down.
3. Keep talking
Taking “time out” does not mean giving your spouse “the silent treatment”. That cold, punishing silence will make life miserable not only for your partner, but also your child (yes, even if you continue to talk to the little one). Your child will remember that icy quiet between its parents for years to come… and not in a good way. So don’t sulk. Don’t punish. Communicate like an adult.
4. Be mad respectfully:
Learn how to express anger while keeping the communication within the bounds of respect and kindness.
5. Take it outside:
Have difficult discussions away from the children.
6. Don’t whitewash:
It is natural to want to reassure children following a domestic storm. However, a simple “Don’t worry, everything is fine.” doesn’t fully address the child’s upset. Instead, offer age-appropriate information that is reassuring. For example: “Mummy and daddy have different ideas on where we should go on holiday and we’re discussing it – but we agree that we want everyone to enjoy themselves. And we will find a solution very soon that we all like.”
7. Don’t sweep trouble under the carpet:
If there are hot spots in the relationship that repeatedly flare up and bring up anger, take them seriously. Don’t try to sweep it under the carpet; rather, try couples therapy or family mediation. Even a short course of five or six sessions can sometimes clear up a trouble spot that has been a source of simmering resentment.
8. Your partner is not your enemy:
Never run down your spouse to the children. Don’t complain about your spouse to the children.
9. Allow your children to be children:
Develop your own emotional support network of family, friends and helpers (therapists, etc.). Avoid turning to your children for emotional support – this burdens them.
10. Let their little ears hear good things:
If you’re going through a difficult time in your marriage and need to vent to a relative or friend, ensure it is not within the hearing of your children. And ensure that the relative/friend you are venting to is careful not to discuss your affairs within earshot of his/her children. Bottom line: you don’t want the children hearing negative things that parents are saying to/about each other.
11. Stand up for your spouse:
Don’t allow your parents/friends to criticize your spouse in front of your children.
12. No tug-of-war:
Don’t place your children in a position where they have to take sides between you and your spouse. They deserve the freedom to love both of you equally.
13. Don’t score points:
Don’t compete with your partner for your child’s love. This is petty, mean and selfish behaviour. When you hurt your partner, you hurt your marriage and attack your own happiness. Further, you also hurt your child as they realize that your need to win against your partner is greater than your need to be a wise parent who puts the child’s happiness first.
14. Be their role model:
Remember that your job is to teach your children mature behaviours such as cooperation, collaboration and give-and-take – not simply by talking about them, but by modelling them.
15. Remember the sunny days:
Remember that disagreements can be worked through, even if it takes a little time. This will pass. Don’t allow the temporary upset to overshadow all the good things in your relationship.
16. The last word…
Most important of all: Don’t lose sight of the love and respect.
Do you have other golden rules that help you manage conflict in your marriage in a healthy way? Write in and share with other readers! Post your experiences and comments in the space below.
About the Author
Sharadha Bain has helped people for more than 20 years drawing on psychodynamics and spiritual healing. She has an international private practice working with clients from around the world via Skype. She is also an advice columnist through her website: dearsharadha.com. Follow her on twitter @DearSharadha.
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