Are Your Marital Problems Hurting Your Kids?

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Marital Fight

There’s a popular Carrie Underwood song out right now, “Little Toy Guns”, that talks about a little girl hiding in her closet listening to her parents yelling and praying, “I wish words were like little toy guns, No sting, no hurt no one, Just a bang bang rollin’ off your tongue…” and so on.  We love the lyrics because they take an honest look at how marital discord can really impact our kids emotionally.


**Disclaimer** We don’t want to shame any parents who feel like they fit in this category–we’re all human and we all make mistakes–we just want to bring these dynamics to your attention so you can do something about them while you still have a chance.  (a.k.a. Before your kids leave the house)


Research has been clear in the recent years that disagreements in a marriage have the potential to actually help kids emotionally in the long run, but more often than not end up damaging kids because they’re handled poorly.  The instability and fear children feel when they hear parents yelling or storming out on one another can lead them to question if their parents will get divorced, whether this is their fault, if they’re loveable, if their parents notice them, care about their well-being, etc.  If you’ve noticed increased agitation, aggression, anxiety, or depression in your children, these could all be symptoms of distress from living in an emotionally charged and unstable environment caused by your fights.


If you know that you and your partner engage in the following harmful behaviors around disagreements, there is a good chance your kids are suffering:

Harmful ways of disagreeing


  • Physical aggression or violence

  • Threats (emotional or physical)

  • Verbal anger

  • Nonverbal anger

  • “Cold shoulder”

  • Withdrawal (storming out, driving off, etc.)

  • Lack of conflict resolution


But if you and your partner are able to have disagreements and engage in the following behaviors, you’re probably helping your kids learn that it’s okay to disagree and that there are healthy ways of resolving conflict.

Beneficial ways of disagreeing


  • Showing support for your spouse

  • Problem-solving together

  • Showing affection

  • Using humor

  • Apologies

  • Compromise

  • Explicit agreements to discuss the issue later together



We want to emphasize that there are beneficial ways to handle disagreements in the home.  We find that kids who never see parents engage in conflict together struggle to adjust and stay connected in relationships because they don’t know how to solve relationship problems.  It is important to teach kids that conflict is normal and healthy because mature adults can resolve issues together, as long as it doesn’t lead to abusive behaviors or harmful fights.


One great way to shift your conflict-resolution skills is to open up a dialogue about your issues.  Once you can safely talk about things openly, they won’t need to come out in screaming matches or disengagement.  The RELATE Assessment will give you and your partner a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis of the issues you need to work on to improve your relationship.  If you are seriously worried about your children’s emotional or physical health, it is always a good idea to find outside help and work together as a family to find new solutions.


Written by: Erin

Some of the content from this post was inspired by this article in the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter.

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