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  • How Marital Conflict Affects Your Loved Ones

    “When I was little, I really only remember my parents fighting. Of course there are the rare, glimmering memories of happy times—trips to Disneyland, holidays with extended family, and birthdays. When we were out in public, people thought we were the perfect family. My brother and I were scholar-athletes, both well-rounded and involved in the community. My parents were esteemed teachers, also involved in the community and well known in town. I remember pasting on a happy face and pretending to ignore the snide insults they slung at each other, under their breaths, while we were in public. At home, they were vicious—always fighting, always angry, always wanting to upset one another. My parents were married for almost 30 years, and finally , stubbornly decided divorce was the best option for us all. Their choice to split led to a much happier and tranquil home environment; however, from time to time, I do wonder if anything would have been different if they had to opted to try marriage counseling.”

    This story is a classic example of how an unhealthy marriage can affect everyone around you, not just you and your spouse. Children are most easily affected, as they are commonly directly exposed to the hostile environment that is created when parents argue. Even when partners argue behind closed doors and put on a smile in front of their children, kids can sense the tension and underlying anger.

    If you are considering marriage counseling, the benefits are endless. Not only will you re-establish a strong connection with your partner, you will also examine the root of the issues residing between the two of you. The healthy strides forward will also trickle down, creating a happier environments for your children and loves ones.

    A child’s brain is like a sponge.

    If you think that arguing and fighting away from your children doesn’t affect them, think again. Children are highly intelligent and can sense the mood in your home, even if you act “normal” when around them. When a child is young, they absorb and are affected by everything happening in the environment around them—and this includes much more than mimicking the behavior and language that they are exposed to. When parents argue and the conflict is unresolved, deeper changes are occurring within a child, creating damages that will influence their future selves.

    Unresolved arguments can result in adjustment issues.

    According to a study done by University of Notre Dame psychologist E. Mark Cummings, Ph.D, “In every marriage, conflict is unavoidable. Yet, when children are faced with destructive conflict, they are at risk for developing adjustment problems. Aggression, delinquency, and conduct disorders are commonly seen externalizing disorders, whereas anxiety, depression, and withdrawal are types of internalizing disorders that are associated with marital conflict.” The study goes on to explain how a destructive home environment affects a child’s emotional security because “their internal goals about their family are disrupted.”

    Children are affected at all ages.

    This ties back into the concept that a child’s brain is like a sponge. In his study, Cummings found that children as young a one-year-old were responsive to and understanding of their parents’ relationship. A hostile and tense home environment will also cause a child to experience “difficulties with attachment, with adjustment, and with basic trust of other people.” This includes future romantic relationships that your children may eventually enter into. Children that grew up in homes where parents consistently fought experience trust issues in their own relationships. They may be fearful that their relationship will become tumultuous or be worried that all relationships end in fighting and hate. In their early years, and even well into early adulthood, your children are growing and figuring out who they will be when they “grow up.” The prolonged and consistent behavior they are exposed to will have a huge influence on their growth patterns. This is why it is so important to create a warm, encouraging and happy environment for your children to grow in. They are always growing, learning, and evolving—so always, always be mindful of that.

    Even closed-door conflict can cause self-esteem issues.

    When parents argue, they often take the time to explain to their children that they are not the cause of the conflict. The children are not to blame for spousal disagreements and should not feel they are at fault in any way. While some children seem to understand this concept, many people (including children) experience a disconnect between logic and emotions. This means that even though your child’s brain retains the fact that they are not at fault, emotionally, they are still experiencing feelings of doubt, guilt, and sadness. This, in turn, leaves your child with low self-esteem because they feel inadequate and embarrassed.

    Even if parents fight behind closed doors, they can fall victim to venting to their children about their unhappiness or acting upset and dissatisfied when their partner is away. If this is the case, children take matters into their own hands and attempt to explain why their parents are fighting, leaving them to jump to inaccurate or incomplete conclusions. And one of those conclusions may very well be that they are the cause of the turmoil.

    A child is affected differently depending on whether the conflict is resolved or not.

    Consistent fighting that goes unresolved has much more of a negative effect on a growing child than a fight that gets resolved. In fact, studies actually show that a child who witnesses resolved fights may grow and develop in positive ways, such as problem solving techniques, compromise, and the ability to remain positive in the face of conflict or adversity. If you and your spouse have lost constructive communication methods or are unable to resolve conflict, marriage counseling is an excellent path to pursue. To learn more about marriage counseling and how it can save your family, please contact me to schedule an appointment. Set a positive example for your children and show them how to positively handle conflict. Your behavior is a model that your children will look to and learn from.

    What Causes Arguments?

    The things that couples fight about and the root of their conflicts vary from couple to couple and include things like lack of communication, unequal expectations, emotional and sexual intimacy problems, and more. I am experienced in helping couples resolves many issues that can pop up in an unhealthy marriage. If you find yourself constantly arguing with your spouse, conflict resolution and compromise are excellent things to strive for when entering marriage counseling. And if you or your partner are hesitant to attend counseling, think about your children and loved ones and examine how your behavior is affecting them.

    When you attend a session with me, you will experience a safe environment where you and your partner can speak freely about issues affecting your marriage. I will be there to offer guidance and provide emotional support. So if you are ready to attend your first marriage counseling session, please take a moment to fill out this contact form or feel free to reach me by telephone. I look forward to speaking with and helping you increase the quality of your marriage and life.