Q: My husband and I are constantly fighting and the kids watch it all. I’ve tried to stop but I get so hurt and angry at him that I am unable to control myself. I worry about what it does to our two elementary school age children. I want to get a divorce, but I promised the children I would never do that to them, especially since my parents divorced when I was 11 and I hated it!
A: The research on the effects of divorce on children clearly indicates that it is the constant level of unresolved conflict in the home that has the most devastating effects on children, not the fact that their parents are no longer together. It would be good to take steps to find out if you can diminish the conflict in order to handle the remaining conflict appropriately. Very few close relationships are completely conflict free, but they can be handled in a non-damaging manner. First you need to accept the principle that no pattern of ongoing conflict is entirely the fault of either party and that each shares equally in the creation of and continuance of the conflict. Now decide that you want to grow to a higher level of functioning. Invite your husband to join you in seeking a solution. If he is willing, then couples counseling is the ideal place to start. Beware of the idea that just deciding to change will not make any lasting difference; only long, hard work will lead to the real change you seek. If your husband is unwilling to join you in the search for a solution, individual counseling and/or an anger management class are options that you can choose to pursue regardless of whether your spouse is on board or not. Concentrate on your journey of growth – it may lead to an ability to appropriately handle the issues you currently lose control over or it may lead to clarity that the relationship cannot work and the strength to move on with hope. You goal is to make your mind clear on what exactly is needed for you to be happy.
If the parents divorce and leave each other alone (there are some divorces where the couple separate but still fight constantly) the reduction in hostility and conflict will be more helpful to the children than staying together for their sake. The damage currently being done is significant and must stop.
Q: I can’t stand the way my husband addresses the children. He is angry and punitive. Then he complains about the way I address him in front of the children saying and that I am always criticizing and not supporting him. The worst part is that I don’t feel supported either, and it feels to me like the children use this to get their way. How do I handle this with my husband?
A: It sounds as if the children may be taking advantage of you and your husbands disagreements to ‘triangulate’ the situation. Triangulation is a common family dynamic where two factions of a family gang up against the other. This has a tendency to de-power one of the parents, reinforce the children’s inappropriate choices, and cause untold damage to the parental and marital relationship.
When the parents are divided, in the end it is the children who are not supported. It would be helpful for you and your husband to sit down and work out some common ground rules for interacting and disciplining the children. The premise is based on the fact that the parents need to be on the same page. They DO NOT need to agree on the content of what each other says, or the style in which they deliver the message, but they DO NEED to agree on what the expectation is for the child. Dad and mom need to decide which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. For instance, if both agree that whining is not acceptable, then the common ground to originate from is to focus on the child’s whining and not on how dad expresses his displeasure. Even if dad is over the top on his response, mom needs to support the no whining rule and not focus the issue on dad’s improper method of discipline. In fact, it gives mom the opportunity to step in and be supportive of the dad, to demonstrate a less emotionally impacted response to the unacceptable behavior, and support dad at the same time. Remember, the main focus is on modifying the children’s behavior.
Anger is a normal part of the human emotional continuum and is only problematic when expressed in a destructive way; hence the availability of anger management classes not anger removal classes.
It sounds like couples counseling and parenting skills development (whether in counseling or in a separate class) are pressing needs for you and your husband. While you are arranging that, see if you can reach an agreement with your husband to discuss all disciplinary decisions regarding your children are not around. Take the time that you need to reach a consensus that you can both support. Many parents make poor disciplinary decisions born of either an erroneous belief that the decision must be immediate or emotional reactivity. Often the very actions which require discipline are born of the child’s impulsive nature – but impulsive, rushed or reactive parenting rarely has a positive lasting impact
Do not criticize or judge your spouse for a poor choice. We all make them, and they will only go away when we feel secure enough to see the harm they cause and see the way to correct it. But we change on our own; we do not change because someone else forces us to change.
The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or to order our booklet: A Parent’s Guide To The Prevention Of Alcohol And Other Drugs, please visit our website www.sbcoalition.com or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.