When I hear people talk about how their parents dealt with conflict in marriage, there seems to be one of two extremes. Either, the parents “never fought” or they got into all out screaming matches. Neither of these is a healthy way to address conflict in a relationship.
I have never heard, “Well, my parents would respectfully disagree with each other and modeled conflict resolution well.” Being a parent, I understand not wanting your kids to see you and your partner in conflict. For some reason, we have this idea that it will scare our kids or make them think less of the marriage relationship. But, I have heard many stories from adults who never saw their parents fight. Suddenly, when they are in a relationship and a conflict happens, the person is shocked because they thought that there were no fights in a healthy relationship.
Note: having a yelling match is also not great modeling for your children, or healthy for your relationship with your partner.
As a parent, I encourage my kids to share with their siblings when their feelings are hurt and ask their sibling not to do the thing that hurt their feelings. But, I can’t remember the last time that Ashley and I had a similar conversation in front of our kids.
Part of the problem is that we give instructions better than we follow them ourselves. We demand that our kids respect their siblings’ feelings even if they do not understand them. Myself, on the other hand, am quick to attempt to invalid Ashley’s emotions when I feel defensive. Ashley and I can also be accusatory when we share our feelings, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to our partner.
I realize more and more as I am writing this blog how helpful it is to think about how I instruct my kids to deal with conflict with one another and how that translates into how I should deal with conflict with my spouse, especially in front of the kids.
Ashley and I are imperfect human beings, so our conflicts are imperfect. But, to the extent we can model respect, grace, repentance, and forgiveness in conflict, the more likely our kids will have a healthy view of conflict in relationships. If I approach conflict with my spouse the way I instruct my kids to deal with conflict with one another, my relationship with Ashley will grow. The next time you have a conflict with your partner, take a step back and ask yourself, “How would I instruct my child to deal with this conflict?” You may not want to follow your own answer, but it may surprise you how helpful your response is.