She is just a little girl but she has seen too much. A 10 year old asked if she could speak with me privately.
“What does it mean if I hear my mother crying in the night? And why does my father say, 'Tell your mother I’m not coming home for supper' and my mother says, 'Tell your father we are going out to get sneakers,' if they are both sitting right there?”
What is there to say?
All couples disagree about some things. For some it is in-laws, for others it is money, dividing up household responsibilities, or how to discipline the kids. As long as two individuals live together there will be always be different ideas and opinions. The issue becomes serious when parents don’t know how to resolve their disagreements with dignity and respect. Children grow up seeing constant conflict and hearing their parents bicker. They live with negativity and inappropriate ways of dealing with marital discord.
Kids wish that their home would be a happy home, one without yelling, arguing, or emotional withdrawals. When parents hold onto resentments or don’t know how to find good resolution, the children absorb the hostilities.
Marriage should never be thought of as a chronic pain. It can be our greatest source of happiness. We are living with our best friend, the person who shares all our joys, all our hurts; the person whose love we carry within our hearts forever. But when we lack the right tools to communicate properly, disagreements and conflicts can make married life miserable.
Judaism describes our homes as a ‘mikdash me’at,' a miniature sanctuary. Children need this haven to grow up feeling safe and secure. When we create an atmosphere of tension and strife in our homes, we slowly chip away not only at our marriages, but at the sense of emotional security that our children need to flourish in life.
How can a couple work out their differences without hurting each other and destroying their marriage?
4 Steps to Conflict Resolution
without Killing Your Marriage
1. Keep your Discussions Private
When you know that there is a contentious issue, don’t clash in front of others. Decide together that from now on you will take your discussions to a private place at a private time. When you fight in public, you lose a sense of dignity and often feel ashamed. You blame your partner and now you grow even angrier. Children do not have to hear the details of your arguments being volleyed back and forth. If you say to me that children should be exposed to parental fighting because that is real life, then I say to you that our children are exposed to enough pain and challenges in this world of ours. Hostility between parents should not be exposed to your children. The same goes for one sided conversations or thinking that your kids don’t hear you fighting in the other room. When children hear parents arguing, they often become forced to take sides or align themselves with one parent over the other. They become caught in the middle and get involved in parental arguments. This is not only unhealthy; it further breaks down the relationship between husband and wife.
2. Establish Rules of engagement
No matter how opinionated you are or how correct you feel you in your views, you do not have the right to put down your spouse. We should never believe that we can strip another person of their dignity; and certainly not our partner in life. Children cannot grow up thinking that it is okay to belittle, yell, scream, intimidate, mock, threaten, put down, or be hostile to one another just because you have a difference of opinion.
Of course it goes without saying that physical violence – grabbing, shoving, or any other means of physical assault is out of the question.
Unfortunately, when we become passionate about our views we act in ways that we come to regret afterwards. Husbands and wives should sit down before the conflicts occur and establish rules of conduct for when they disagree. This way we ensure that we deal with our differences in a respectful manner. We certainly cannot expect more from our children’s behavior than we do from ourselves.
3. Discover the Source of your Anger
There are times that we allow emotions to simmer until they boil over. There comes a huge blow-up and we have no idea why this fight became so hostile. The problem is that we are angry about other things and all the emotion comes out now. We both think that we are fighting about spending Sunday with your parents but deep inside I am resentful of your late nights in the office and I have been furious that you keep missing dinner. Or I mention that we have an invitation to go out with couples and you lose it. What I don’t know is that you are brewing from the last time we went out and feel that I totally invalidated you in front of our friends. We never resolved the issue and just held onto the bad feelings.
Don’t allow emotions to go unchecked. If you are upset, communicate with your spouse in a respectful way. Otherwise, you will find yourself exploding and overreacting. This type of fighting quickly becomes all-consuming as pent up anger threatens to overtake the conversation.
4. Be Solution Oriented
Many fights are just accusations, complaints or criticisms flung against each other. We’ve got to stop playing the blame game and learn to live in unity. Life will bring us challenges. No one is immune. Arguing about whose fault it is accomplishes zero. Instead of going back and forth, decide to seek solutions together. The way to do this is after we communicate our emotions, instead of just leaving the discussion with bad feeling, practice good communication skills. If you have a sarcastic edge, bite your tongue. Take a moment and reflect back what you believe your spouse is trying to tell you. Try to consider your partner’s perspective; you cannot always be right. Resolve that you both attempt to bring a solution to the table and discuss the ways you can make this work. Once you do find resolution – be it an apology and forgiveness, a fresh approach in dealing with work and money issues, a more effective discipline plan – do not go backwards and bring up old complaints. Solutions bring us forward. Do not rehash old arguments.
Hostile fighting depletes us and destroys the most precious relationship that we have. We can resolve our disagreements respectfully and create an atmosphere of peace despite our differences.