Disagreements are healthy, and happen to every couple. You actually get closer when you resolve disagreements. The problem is, most couples don’t resolve things; they have the same fight over and over again.
My parents never fought. I’m not kidding; I can only remember one time in my entire childhood that my parents had a fight. Then, out of the blue, they announced they were getting a divorce. We were shocked!
In the early years of my marriage, when hubby and I had a fight, I was sure we were headed for a divorce, just like my parents. Hubby taught me that disagreements are fine as long you’re working towards resolution. However, if fights are mean spirited, it not only hurts—and nothing gets resolved, it also teaches the kids to act the same way.
Kathleen E. Finnegan, MA LPC, from Family-Marriage-Counseling.com has this to say about the impact fighting has on kids, “Verbal conflict with demeaning put downs on the other partner, or sudden outbursts and threats, is toxic to a child’s emotional and physical well being…(and) continuous exposure to battles desensitizes them to aggression.”
Here are some ideas to help you work towards a resolution when you fight, and model better ways to address disagreements.
1. DON’T Fight in Anger
Waiting until you’re really angry to express how you feel creates mean, nasty arguments that are hard to resolve. Anger can consume you and take the place of thinking or accessing how you really feel. It also teaches your kids that nothing get resolved unless there’s a fight first.
DO Speak Up
When siblings fight we ask them to use their words before they get angry so they don’t hurt one another. Parents need to use calm words, too. To do that make a vow to begin expressing what you feel, when you feel it, the moment something comes up. That gives you both the ability to access and express your feelings before they build to the point of consuming you, thereby giving you a real shot to talk, not yell, how you feel.
2. DON’T Nit Pick
If you nit pick about everything, the love between you will begin to be replaced with bitterness.
DO Look at Yourself
Take an honest look at what’s bugging you about your partner. Is there a bigger issue, or is it really just the little things? Once you find the source of your anger decide what your needs are, and what you want to do about it. Taking action teaches your children how to be responsible for their feelings, too.
3. DON’T Stop Listening
Fighting when you’re angry stops any “true” listening from taking place. It also teaches the kids that fights are more about determining who’s right than they are about listening to the other person’s point of view.
DO Repeat What You Heard
The best way to “truly” listen is to make sure you’ve heard and understood what the other person wanted to say. Try asking the other person, “This is what I heard you say… am I correct?” Doing that allows any misunderstandings to be corrected immediately, before you end up fighting about something the other person didn’t mean to say.
4. DON’T Blame
Blaming someone you love usually comes from rehashing unresolved feelings and tends to use attack words.
When you say what you feel, when you feel it, and vow to work on the issue until both parties feel it’s resolved, then blame tends to disappear. The way you handle your issues either teaches your kids how to dish the dirt or how to resolve disagreements.
5. DON’T Repeat the Same Fight
Does it ever feel like you begin fighting about one thing and end up fighting about the same issues again and again? That’s because the issues weren’t ever truly resolved, so they show up in fight after fight.
DO Problem Solve
Try problem solving the issue so it remains the central focus and the past doesn’t get rehashed. Here are five steps to get you started.
1. When feelings come up stop, breathe and regroup before speaking. Remember this is just a problem, not a threat. If there is a threat, or you fear abuse, deal with it immediately.
2. Each one of you should state the problem, as you see it, so you’re both on the same page. Vow not to bring up the past unless truly relevant.
3. Each one of you should suggest three options for how this can be resolved.
4. Then discuss any possible consequences that may come out of handling the problem as suggested.
5. Choose how you want to resolve this.
This way of handling fights may feel strange in the beginning, but experts agree that remaining angry, with no resolution in site, not only erodes your relationship and models bad habits for kids; it can also affect your health.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and the Skills e-class. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.