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PARENTS: LEARN TO FIGHT RIGHT!

Why do parents fight? Parents are humans and all humans get angry and frustrated. To become a grown-up we must learn how to handle that anger and frustration. I, alas, took more years to learn this lesson than I would have liked so I must confess my own children heard some shouting matches.

Some marriages are deeply troubled and the fighting is a symptom not the cause. But quarreling can occur in otherwise good marriages because of thwarted or unrealistic expectations.

Many of us go into marriage with unrealistic expectations of the degree to which our partner can help us when we are feeling bad. Every one of us will have a bad day when we are blue or tired and/or everything has gone wrong. No partner can “make it better”. A partner may empathize with our feelings or offer to feed the baby but does not have the power to make us feel good instead of bad. Yet we want magic; we want someone to make it better. Also when we feel bad sometimes we project those feelings on a partner which may lead to a fight although it won’t make us feel any better.

Really heavy stuff shouldn’t be discussed or fought over in front of the children –or in front of anyone else for that matter. A public place is not the appropriate setting for private matters.

But the occasional bickering about whose turn it is to take out the garbage won’t hurt the children. If the kids do see you fighting, then they should also see you kiss and make up afterwards.

For myself I finally learned that I was more apt to be argumentative, which meant there was more apt to be an argument, when I was tired or frustrated. If I took a “time out” so I could figure out what was really bothering me, I could often reduce the tension I was feeling and prevent a spat.

One important rule: NO NOISY FIGHTS! Parents should NOT scream, throw things, or use physical violence in front of the children. This terrifies kids. Seeing parents out of control is scary because children have trouble with their own impulses and depend on the external control provided by the parents. Further, children hate to see a parent hurt and every opponent in a screaming fight gets hurt.

If the bickering and arguing become a way of life in your house, it’s time to get professional help. Fighting simply takes too much human energy and generates too many unpleasant feelings to be tolerated. If you sprained your ankle, you would go to the doctor. Fighting all the time is a symptom of a sprained marriage which marriage counseling can often fix.

Dr Heins’ advice for parents who want to “fight right:”

  • Use “I” messages–”I hate to see the trash piling up!” –rather than “You never” (or “You always”) messages
  • Each partner should memorize my little slogan, “Before you explode or drop, STOP!” Most fights start because somebody is close to the brink of exploding. You are hot or tired or over-committed or all three.
  • The key to STOPPING–whether you’re about to start fighting with your spouse or screaming at the children–is self-awareness. Learn what it feels like when you are at the brink.
  • Learn tricks to keep you away from the edge. The old adage about counting to 10 works. I advocate 2 minute “mini-breaks” (excuse yourself, go into the bathroom or your room, take deep breaths or image yourself in a peaceful place until you don’t feel like exploding).
  • Pick your battles and pick the place and time for your battles. Every couple learns to overlook the unimportant stuff. You also have to learn where and when to negotiate the big stuff.
  • We are born with a physiological system that enables us to fight or flee when we are in danger or angry or attacked by someone else who is angry. But we have a brain and can learn to negotiate. Fighting not only doesn’t solve anything but it leaves both people feeling awful. Fleeing–or avoiding the issue–may prevent the fight but it doesn’t solve anything. The only thing that works is conflict resolution
  • Negotiating depends on each person clearly (and quietly) stating his or her feelings, listening to the other person, and being able to compromise.
  • If the bickering and arguing become a way of life in your house, it’s time to get professional help. Fighting simply takes too much human energy and generates too many unpleasant feelings to be tolerated. If you sprained your ankle, you would go to the doctor. Fighting all the time is a symptom of a sprained marriage which marriage counseling can often fix.

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