We are proud to have Dr. Linda Mintle in ParentLife each month answering questions submitted from readers. To submit a question for Dr. Mintle, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org y.com and include “? for Dr. Mintle” on the subject line. This month we have an extra Q&A from Dr. Mintle we wanted to share.
Q: Our home is filled with a lot of conflict because my husband and I don’t get along. The conflict is getting worse. We are yelling at each other and constantly upset. We have talked about divorce. I am sure my three and five year-olds can sense the tension. How bad is this for the kids?
A: Honestly, it is bad. We have numerous studies that show that high conflict between parents, hurts young children. When anger is evident between parents, preschoolers become physically, behaviorally, and emotionally upset. Their development is affected as the intensity of conflict impacts their attachment, beliefs, ability to process and regulate what is happening and much more. The issue isn’t the conflict. All marriages have conflict and the majority of it never gets solved. The real issue is the intensity of the conflict and how you deal with it. You can lesson the damage if you make a few changes. 1) Don’t ever use physical aggression in front of your children (or on your spouse for that matter). It is scary for kids. 2) Don’t say awful things about a spouse in front of your children. 3) Don’t do the opposite of a screaming match and give the silent treatment. Kids notice this and it is hurtful. 4) Don’t put your children in the middle of an argument and have them choose sides. 5) If you are going to address a conflict in front of your children, stick with it until there is an agreement or a decision to disagree so they can see you work through the issue. 6) Stay calm and respectful, guarding your mouth. 7) Leave your children out of the conversation so they don’t think they somehow created the problem. As you and your husband try to work through your differences, remember that you are modeling how to deal with conflict for both children. Do you want to pass your actions on to them? If not, do the above and see a couple’s counselor. You owe it to your children and yourselves before divorce is on the table. So many couples divorce over fixable problems. And divorce has its own set of problems for kids.
Resource: Resolving Conflict in Your Marriage by Dennis Rainey (Family Life Publishing, 2010).