STOP fighting, marital conflicts impact your children!
Imagine a wrestling match – the referees run around the ring, give signals to wrestlers, all the while being on the receiving end of a never-ending stream of abuse from both wrestlers. Now, imagine a child who lost the genetic lottery and ended up with parents who constantly quarrel. I would think that such a child would be subject to a similar amount of stress and anxiety to that experienced by WWE referees.
Most couples have probably been through the experience of being in a heated negotiation when they suddenly looked around to find their child standing wide-eyed in a corner of the room, listening timidly to the harsh dialogue being exchanged between the parents. On the other hand, teenage children often tend to act as referees, trying to ensure that the argument ends quickly.
The question is whether arguing in front of kids is okay? If not, then why?
Pakistan is going through a major socio-demographic and epidemiological transition with consequent fluctuations in health scenario due to growth in social development amidst political variations. With a population of over a billion and an insecure law and order condition, mental health affects each one of us.
According to a mental health survey, 30-40% of people in Karachi suffer from common mental disorders (CMD). Moreover, most of these common mental disorders have been found to be co-related to marital problems.
In order to try to decrease these figures, it is imperative to first recognise mental health disorders as a public health concern which affects a significant proportion of the population. Even if mental health gains the government’s undivided attention, our behaviour and reactions to certain events need enormous improvement; for instance, parents quarrelling in front of their children has become a dilemma all over the world.
The status of parents in Pakistan is second only to God, which is dictated by the doctrines of Islam. Couples that fight and yell at each other in the presence of their children usually end up causing emotional and behavioural damage to their children’s future lives.
These children may or may not recover from such damage.
Exposure to marital conflicts has been connected to depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders in children, the effects of which can continue into their adult life as well. Many people define the ‘golden rule’ for marital conflicts to be that parents should avoid arguing in front of their children. However, the fact is that conflicts themselves are seldom the cause of terror for children; rather, it is the way in which these conflicts are addressed that causes psychological trauma.
The emotional insecurity that arises in children as a result of marital conflict, can affect how they regulate their own emotional arousal and their response when faced with conflict in their own marital lives. Constant exposure to marital conflict, condition similar responses in children and develop internalised representations of parental relations which has long-term impact on children.
There is no problem with arguments themselves. After all, no two people are alike and having differing points of view is but natural. However, arguing should be done in a constructive manner and parents should disagree with each other respectfully. In doing so, parents can impart one of the great skills to their children, which is that of conflict resolution – which will help children build better relationships in the future.
Storming off in anger never solves any issues and neither does name calling, hurling insults, venting resentments and bringing up stories from the past.
Learn to tone it down.
Avoid pointing fingers while arguing and most importantly, learn to let go.
Children find it very difficult to cope in a home environment where the parents are always at loggerheads. Some suffer sustained emotional maturity delays or disruptions while others experience difficulties in their academic and social lives. Such incidents often leave children wary of pursuing or committing to relationships themselves. They are likely to develop emotional insecurities which can cause them to bully their own partners later in life. You cannot really blame them because this is what they have understood marital life to be from seeing their own parents.
On the other hand, some children hold themselves responsible for the arguments between their parents and they spend their entire lives wearing this guilt on their sleeves. This attitude of self-hate can have an impact on their professional, social and marital lives.
If you find yourself fighting with your partner in front of your children, it is important to reassure them that the quarrel is temporary and that you are both trying to work out a solution. There is no doubt that clashes occur every day. However, if parents try to work it out, if they show positive emotions while in the midst of an argument, if they try to be affectionate, it is likely that children will see the disagreement in a positive light and it will change how they perceive the conflict.
However, if conflicts remain unresolved and continue to spiral upwards, consider visiting a marriage therapist who can counsel you and your partner in the effective strategies to avoid disastrous fights.
Think of it as an investment in protecting your child’s social, emotional, professional and marital future.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.