Protect your children from family disputes

It is not uncommon for adults to have disparity of opinions, attitudes, preferences or interpretations of their mate’s thoughts and feelings, regardless of their love and respect for each other. Yet, children who observe dissonance between beloved adults are often troubled, confused and even fearful about their own safety and security. How can parents and other adults spare youngsters the internal distress of watching their beloved parents and family members be vociferously at odds with each other and act with anger, hostility, contempt and unkindness?

In couple therapy, I have witnessed loving couples who emotionally and verbally discounted each other as they confronted their divergent thoughts, feelings or behavioral choices. It is as though their love, respect, caring and compassion for each other have instantly vanished as their rage, righteousness and animosity reigned. This conduct is very sad to witness, particularly since the tools for extinguishing it are available and quick to be offered to the pair.

Dr. John Gottman, an expert in couple therapy and researcher of over 3,000 married couples stated that “69 percent of marriage conflicts are NEVER solved”. One may ask, are conflicts a method of relating to one another in the absence of better tools for a loving engagement? Is it the imitation of previous generations’ style of interacting with each other that we must emulate? Are arguments a form of inviting unity in the absence of knowledge about how to authentically bond? Is it a struggle for superiority and power? Is it a faulty form of seeking love and validation in the absence of healthier methods? Or are some select fights a form of gaining attention to substitute for the absence of desired loving expressions? These questions have been attempted to be answered by gifted researchers, to no consensus.

Some people have been fortunate to grow up in families where Mom and Dad truly loved and respected one another. If they disagreed, they respectfully debated their options privately, and their children never heard unkind words exchanged in their presence.

As adults, it is our responsibility to teach our children right from wrong by modeling for them how to be kind and loving to all. Having been raised with parents who loved each other, were respectful and appreciative of one another in all their interactions, taught their children by example how to manage divergent political, religious and personality differences through attentive dialogue, kindness, and love! Blissfully paired adults are successful in modeling healthy love to their children, grandchildren and to future generations.

Parents who cannot abstain from arguing, fighting and demeaning each other in front of their children MUST repair their interactions for the sake of their children, grandchildren and generations to come! Yes, They Can!

Children who grow up in healthy families:

  • Are more likely to treat others with kindness and respect.
  • Are more highly likely to find a compatible and loving mate.
  • Are most likely to achieve their life goals and become successful in their chosen work.
  • Are often better parents and role models to others and generations to come!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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