Conflict in relationships - how to keep the kids in mind?

When you and your partner deal with conflicts between you, what are your ideas about how you should work it through? If you have kids, what beliefs do you have about whether they should be around when you're fighting?

You may think:-

  • it's better to try work it out at the time an issue is raised, even if the process is messy or even violent (i.e. it may involve yelling, making nasty comments about your partner, shoving etc.)
  • it's good to avoid a row, and see if things will naturally sort themselves out after we've calmed ourselves down.

If you have kids, you might:-

  • try to avoid having fights within earshot of the kids, and believe that they are unaware of the problems you are having.
  • find it hard to control when fights happen between you and your partner, and perhaps in the heat of the moment find it difficult to think of the impact this may have on your kids when fights get nasty.

Much good research has gone into thinking about what's best for kids when parents are in conflict ( http://www.tccr.ac.uk/policy/policy-briefings/267-impact-of-couple-conflict-on-children-tccr-policy-briefing gives an excellent summary).

Interestingly, it's actually not conflict per se that's bad for your relationship, or bad for your kids. It's the way that you deal with conflict that can either be harmful or beneficial, if handled in a skilful way.

So what does this mean for how we go about resolving conflict?

The bad news is:-

 Unresolved, frequent and intense conflict - even if it is not violent - can have negative effects on relationships, and on children's development. Children may respond by acting out, or turning their distress inward (or 'acting in' - these kids can then be at risk for anxiety or depression, becoming isolated from friends, and/or having physical symptoms of stress). When exposed to prolonged conflict (even if it is expressed in silence rather than fighting) kids' social and thinking capacities can suffer - with negative consequences for their academic and social development.

The good news is:-

Fair fighting - that is, where you are able to manage to work through your issues in a controlled and respectful way - actually improves the quality and intimacy in a relationship over time. For kids - seeing you work through your issues in a skillful manner that reaches a resolution teaches them valuable skills about how to resolve conflict that will help them through life and in their relationships.

Fair fighting includes:-

  • thinking about the right time to have your conversation about the issue.
  • sticking to the one issue
  • focus on problem-solving (rather than telling the other person what is wrong with them!)
  • using active listening techniques - it's important to really listen and understand the other person's perspective, even if you don't agree with it.
  • not being the 'expert' on what your partner thinks, or on the problem you are discussing.

If you are locked in ongoing conflict, you may need counselling to help you learn the skills of fair fighting. If not for yourselves, do if for the kids!

Till next post, Vivienne

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