A few months ago, a friend of mine told me about her experience as a child whose parents divorced when she was a young girl. She told me that she grew up in a home where everything was completely peaceful and seemingly perfect--from her perspective. She had never seen her parents argue. Not once.
Her mom and dad would often embrace, smile at each other, and even hold hands. They seemed happy and in love. Then one day, when she was ten years old, they sat her down and said they didn’t love each other anymore and hadn’t for a long time. They told her they couldn’t stay married, and her dad moved out the next day.
My friend was blindsided, confused, and heartbroken. She had NEVER seen her parents disagree about ANYTHING. All she had perceived was a mirage, a “house of cards” romance, an inauthentic partnership. She never witnessed her parents discussing real issues or concerns. Her mom and dad had been building up resentment towards each other for years. Disagreements were being dodged, issues were kept inside, and true intimacy was quickly becoming something of the distant past.
My friend said it took her a long time to cope with her parents’ divorce. It took her an even longer time trying to figure out how to effectively communicate, especially during disagreements in her marriage. All too often, we pause our spousal communication--especially our disagreements-- "because of the kids.” We use our kids as an excuse to approach hard conversations. I think there are times that we don’t want to hash out an issue with our spouse, so we say we can’t discuss something “because the kids are in the house” and “they might know we are mad at each other.”
The truth is our kids need to understand that married couples argue sometimes. We get mad at each other. We disagree, and disagreements are a healthy, natural part of any lasting relationship—especially a marriage. Our kids need to see us work through our issues in a healthy way—talking and listening to one another without berating each other, using foul language, tossing blame back and forth, name-calling, yelling, or any physical aggression. We must approach each other with respect. We need to be slow to speak and quick to listen.
Let me be clear, NASTY ARGUMENTS WITH THE BEHAVIOR DESCRIBED IN THE LIST ABOVE ARE EXTREMELY DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR MARRIAGE AND YOUR CHILDREN.
There is NO scenario where that kind of behavior is okay, whether children are present or not.
If we find ourselves in a nasty argument in front of our kids, we must apologize to our spouse and our kids for the behavior. Quickly seek help from a professional marriage counselor on how to effectively resolve conflict in your marriage. You can learn the skills necessary to argue more respectfully and healthily, and your marriage and kids will significantly benefit.
Sometimes, we are going to blow it. We might lose our temper and raise our voice. It happens. The best way we can turn that negative situation around is by quickly recognizing the error of our ways and seeking forgiveness. One of the best lessons our kids can learn from us is how to seek forgiveness and how to offer forgiveness. The Bible tells us to seek and offer forgiveness quickly. We have a golden opportunity to demonstrate this for our kids by how we treat our spouse when we are having an argument or disagreement.
I want my kids to know that even when I am upset with my husband, Dave, I still love him. There must be love at the baseline of an argument. How can our kids understand this, if we never show them the process? They must see us work through a disagreement from time to time, so they can fully understand how married couples navigate conflict resolution and forgiveness.
As parents, we sometimes have disagreements that deal with issues that are too mature for our kids to hear. We must be mindful of this and save those discussions for when we have privacy.
Conflict is part of life--especially when you and your spouse are in the trenches of raising kids. Our kids need to experience us working through our issues through healthy discussion, lots of humility, mutual respect, and of course, forgiveness. When we offer them a healthy, honest glimpse of us working through conflict, they will form a better understanding of what it takes to have a thriving marriage.