Should We Be Fighting in Front of the Kids?

Should We Be Fighting in Front of the Kids?

My wife thinks that it is good for us to fight in front of the kids, she says that it helps them to know that it's healthy and normal. I don't want them to worry about out our relationship, some of their friends have parents that are divorced. Is it ok to have arguments in front of them?

The answer depends a lot on what you argue about and how you argue.

It is great modeling for kids to watch their parents in a spirited discussion about whether to spend the summer at the ocean or the mountains, both places they’re been to and enjoyed.

Especially if:

  1. The parents remain calm and respectful 
  2. Lay out their argument intelligently, playfully, or with enthusiasm 
  3. Listen to each other and ask each other honest questions (not set-up questions) about the other‘s position.

Your children will learn that two adults can want different things, but are able to talk about it without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. 

If you’d like to see your two children having a disagreement this way, you’ll know you are on the right track.

But that isn’t what most couples mean by “fighting.”

Your children have tender nervous systems that respond easily to danger. When the two people, who’s job it is to protect them, are angry and agitated, it causes their bodies to go haywire. Like the Will Robinson robot, their systems are shouting “Danger, Will Robinson!!!”

If that happens twice a week, they may live in a chronic state of agitation that will impact every bodily organ.

You don’t need to be shouting and calling names to create this chaos. Chronic marital tension can also do harm.

Never, every fight in front of the children when the question of how you parent is on the line.

“I think you are being too harsh with her.” Is never something your daughter needs to hear. “Can we talk?” a few minutes later, is better. Then get out of earshot and talk it out.

Every couple has issues that don’t have “resolution.” Sixty-nine percent, according to the Gottman Institute. Learning to talk about these issues repeatedly and monitoring your partner’s level of distress, is crucial.

Differences in sleep/wake patterns, work/life balance, spending vs savings, or sex might be some of these “hang around forever” type differences.

Setting aside 20-40 minutes on a regular bases to try to get a better understanding of your spouse’s perspective is important and useful, but not in front of the children. Tempers flare quickly and unpredictability in “perpetual” problems.

Solvable problems, or complains, can be issues you can bring up respectfully, because they have clear, concrete solutions. What’s more, when the complaint focuses on the solution (and not a ‘flaw’ in your spouse) it sends the message that asking for behavior change is a normal thing people do.

But your partner has to be receptive to the complaint as well, and respond non-defensively. Given that if a complaint is made, 85% of the time women (vs men) make it, gives plenty of opportunity for husbands to demonstrate respect for their wives and a willingness to be responsive and accept influence. Great lessons for the little ones.

You can learn more about how to make effective complaints here.

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About the Author Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online private couples retreats.

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