Question: I don’t know how to spare our children from the fighting. I feel like being with my wife equates to having an argument. Every strategy I’ve tried (reasoning, listening, trying to respond to her requests, walking out of the room) usually results in my losing my temper or becoming an emotional basketcase because she won’t let up on the criticism. I’m worried the constant arguing might not be good for my children. What should we do?
Answer: Don’t do this to your children! What you have described is more than the occasional, inevitable parent conflict. In ordinary circumstances, children may see parents fighting – but they also see resolution and security. The emotional cost of your current situation to your children is too great. The foundation of their world is at risk. They are living with too much instability which will ultimately affect their ability to learn and thrive as individuals.
Children also learn lifelong skills from their parents who are their #1 role-models. Your children need to experience better models of problem solving and communication, not to mention love and respect.
I cannot make suggestions for your wife since she isn’t the one writing for advice. I can only make suggestions that are within your power to change. If it were your children rather than your wife who were pushing your “anger buttons”, I would tell you to take control of your stress. Decide in advance what you will do to stay calm through the conflict. Talk to your wife before the emotions escalate and make a plan. You must reach an agreement before the fighting begins and you need to discuss the options if either of you fails to hold up your side of the agreement. This is where counseling can help but both parties must be completely honest about their levels of involvement and their willingness to change. Anger management lasses might be needed if you feel anger is an inevitable response. You can change your contribution to the drama.
Maybe you and your wife can communicate in writing when things start to heat-up and you can no longer talk face to face. Let your wife get things off her chest and try to listen to her emotions – listen “as if” everything you believe in depends on reaching a resolution. In some ways it does!
With children, they keep “pushing” until they succeed in getting the strong emotional reaction – the anger response, even if delayed, still encourages the power struggle. You might set a timer for your discussions. Let yourselves build up to longer discussions. Admit that things fall apart rather quickly in the current emotional climate and practice talking for 5-10 minutes at a time (end by the timer no matter how well it’s going). It’s a success if you manage to get to the “bell” without escalating emotions. Add minutes to the timer as you rebuild successful communication together.
Search out the person and the counseling style that will help your on-going progress. Absolutely get help if you think violence is ever a possibility. Your children deserve to live in a peaceful home where the adults are willing and able to teach them, by example, how to live, love, make mistakes, and take responsibility for their actions. Start with yourself and lead your family to a better place.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.