How do you keep from arguing with your partner in front of your kids?

October 8 2012 | offbeatbride
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Photo by Navaneeth K N, used under Creative Commons license.
I grew up in a single parent household and I didn't grow up with a picture of the "right" way to disagree around the kids. My husband and I are under a lot of stress, with little-to-no time alone together to have fun, much less hash out issues.

We find ourselves bickering in front of our kid way more often than any of us likes, though I wouldn't call it constant. We're not likely to get any more time alone together for some time (that's part of the problem), so that won't work for us.

When do you fight with your spouse when you have kids? How do you keep from arguing in front of kids? — Rebekah

  1. We don't avoid arguing in front of the kids. We DO make sure that even when we're angry with each other, we don't resort to name-calling or belittling. We feel that it's important that the kids see how we argue, and how we resolve the issue, rather than to hide it and let them believe everything is perfect. It's not perfect, and it's important that the kids learn how to resolve conflict. We also make sure to have conversations with the kids about the argument, and explain that it's okay to be upset, and to argue and work through it, but that it doesn't change our feelings for one another. 🙂

    • As someone whose parents fought nastily in front of her and who has been married to TWO men whose parents never fought in front of them, thanks so much for what you are doing! Conflict resolution is damn difficult and if you see it managed well at home, it gives a blueprint for how it is done. Don't raise an avoider or catastrophist! And if the situation is sliding towards disaster and nastiness, then it's time to table it and deal with it later anyways.

    • I second this- I grew up watching my parent's argue- sometimes well, and sometimes poorly,but I learned so much from it. My husband and I have a few rules about arguing that we almost always live up to (unless, I'm PMS-y,and then I usually slide into biting sarcasm): No personal attacks, no name-calling, no sarcasm, no fighting dirty or belittling. I always know that my parents loved each other, even if they fought and now they are coming up on thirty years of marriage. I have a a pair of friends who married and neither of them had EVER seen their parents argue, so when they entered into their expected newlywed bliss, they couldn't believe how much they argued and thought something was horribly wrong! As it turns out, their parents had always only argued behind closed doors, so they never witnessed how to have a reasonable and productive argument. Now, I think they're are probably some issues that ought to be hashed out if it's too far above your kid's comprehension level, but overall, I think most disagreements are probably fine to have in front of the kids, especially if you are clear in explaining that you still love each other, it is perfectly healthy to disagree, you're not mad at them, etc etc.

      • Equally important is reconciling in front of your children. It can be harmful if they always see you argue and never see you make up.

    • I second Miranda, only as someone whose parents never argued in front of her. 🙂 I think it's great that you let your kids see disagreements so they know conflict is not the end of the world, and upset feelings are perfectly normal feelings that can be worked through and moved past.

      • Totally. Not only did my parents not fight in front of me, my Dad's parents never fought or even discussed things so their kids grew up seeing my grandpa as an autocrat and my grandma as a servant. Apparently it wasn't like that behind closed doors, but that is the relationship they saw. Kids need to see healthy relationships at work which means not hiding behind closed doors. It's a lot scarier for kids to overhear parents fighting or worry about what they aren't seeing than it is to talk to them about what they do see.

        • I'm afraid of this happening because our "friends" already have a totally screwed up idea of mine and my partner's relationship. We have made a point not to fight in front of people, although I know our own kids will probably be a different story. Even so, when we do fight it's almost exclusively civil. That's something that's important to us to show respect for each other, and I hope we can show that to our kids. The hardest part will be verbally acknowledging when I've behaved badly (because really, it's usually me). Even though it's almost always a result of low blood sugar, I still feel it's important to own up to and take responsibility for my own actions, even if that responsibility is in the form of remembering to eat to avoid the Cranky Bitch from Gre'thor.

          • I think "not fighting in front of friends" is probably a good rule, because I think people who DO fight in front of friends tend to want to recruit these friends to one side or the other, investing in being RIGHT instead of being respectful… plus it just creates an awkward situation. Disagreeing in front of kids is different and healthier, I'd say, because I think kids might motivate us more toward compromise and respect.

    • My parents also fought terribly, never really resolving the issues. It definitely helped me see the ways in which I didn't want to argue with my husband.

  2. With all due respect, if you're bickering in front of your kids that much, then the problem isn't how to not bicker in front of your kids, but rather figuring out why you can't calmly discuss the matter without bickering period.
    Because try as you might to not behave any one way, if you really think they're not going to pick up on the hostility between you and your partner than you aren't giving your kids enough credit.
    Kids need to not only not see you bickering but they need to see you displaying positive examples of problem solving. You are the example of relationships.
    The problem is that there are so many underlying causes of what is behind the bickering. Some of which you may not even realize.
    It may be better to talk to a trusted friend who knows your relationship history and is willing to be honest with you. OR even a relationship counselor. And to be honest with ya, there is no shame in that.
    Setting out to conquer your problems is better than ignoring them.

  3. I think it is healthy for kids to see there parents respectfully disagree with each other and even argue. It shows them that you can disagree and still have a loving healthy relationship.

    • I completely agree. My parents didn't ever argue in front of us, if at all, which eventually led to their divorce. If you can't work things out, it'll simmer under the surface. I'm grateful that they didn't name call or shout, but I do wish that I had a good example of how to work out conflict. My husband's parents were completely different and have a very healthy relationship. He's great in a disagreement – always respectful and willing to give when necessary. He taught me a lot about how to argue with someone you love.

  4. Kids need to see some level of disagreement and even (constructive) argument between their parents. My parents never bickered in front of us, and we grew up thinking that underlying tension between them was normal and all of us are very conflict avoidant.

  5. We don't avoid it, as many have stated above. We just set rules ahead of time that if we break during arguments then we have to stop talking. Raising your voice, cuss words even if they aren't directed at the other, saying hurtful/non-constructive things, or not being willing to hear the other out completely (trying to "lawyer" too much) will end the conversation until we can continue according to the rules.

  6. I grew up in a household where my parents would scream at each other in another room, leaving my brother and I to sit there in terrified silence and, for many years, I thought screaming was the way all arguments ended. If you are capable of broaching sensitive topics without resulting to name calling or screaming, I think it's worth it to let your kiddo witness at least a few of these so that they know how it's supposed to be done. If you struggle with having a fight that doesn't end in rage and tears, find a marriage counselor or look up information on effective communication. Our pre-marital counselor was full of amazing information on communicating effectively to keep arguments from happening AND communicating effectively in arguments. It's worth it, trust me.

  7. As some others who have posted allude to – the way you and your partner disagree and work out conflicts will teach your kids how to do it. So in that respect it's healthy for them to see how that works.

    That being said, if the way you and your partner argue doesn't feel good or healthy to you that's a great sign that this is an edge for you two and could use some attention from you both.

  8. I love all the above comments.

    I do think it is important to model for children appropriate expression of disagreement and anger as well as conflict resolution. My son is currently having hitting issues when he is angry and although there is no hitting in our home (other than his!), I do think I raise my voice in anger sometimes to my partner and that isn't good modeling of how to express anger. So, I am really working on this. So, I concur that we have to model to them and not pretend the world is full of people who only agree.

    Also, I read a while back that arguing in front of children isn't what damages them, but rather children not seeing how the argument ends and how the making up happened (if it did) happen. It usually happens behind closed doors (and I'm not talking sex here, just that people often calm down later and talk alone). So, I am trying to keep that in mind too. We should show him the end result of conflict, not just the start of it.

    In our case, we speak a second language to each other in front of our child sometimes. We use that for disagreeing and for spur of the moment decisions that have to be made regarding him. We probably need to reduce the frequency of this, though!

    • my parents did the whole talking in another language thing when they didn't want me to understand….which eventually backfired…kids can learn to understand other languages a lot faster than people give them credit for…

    • I too cannot agree to speaking in another language when arguing with your partner/spouse. My parents spoke Spanish when they were arguing. I hated it. Instead of the language meaning a love of culture, history and an expansive other world, it mean't to me and my siblings; anger, confusion, and ultimately our parents divorcing. When I was a child I hated when my mother spoke to me in Spanish. I only associated it with her being angry. I resisted learning the language. Still to this day, after many years of studying Spanish, I cannot say I speak the language.

  9. I agree with what the others say. I just wanted to add: prioritize your relationship. You write that you're under a lot of stress plus that you do not have much time together. You've gotta do what you've gotta do (obviously food on the table should be prioritized), but is there anyway to make time for your family/partner? (Maybe not visiting extended family/friends in the weekends for a month or so, or dropping a hobby?) I would value my partner over my hobby/extended family/friends. Just something to think about…

  10. I really appreciate all of these comments and the question, too. Still managing this kinda stuff daily. Can I add something weird that also worked for us? Some of our lamest bickering was just about money so…we established an Email Only rule for anything financial. The 'business' side of our partnership is done in the polite, professional email language we're accustomed to at our jobs and it gave us more opportunities to spend our face-to-face time on the 'romantic' or, well, usually just 'non-logistical' parts of our relationship.

    • I am all about this. During periods where my husband and I have been long distance, we've had horrible horrible phone conversations about money that we were then able to actually hash out over email with a lot less sturm und drang. Plus email allows you time to really think about your response and be your best self, and doesn't require that both people are ready to think about a subject at the exact same time.

  11. I think it really depends what you're arguing about. Arguing about parenting things in front of the kids is a big no-no in my book. (In other words what kinds of discipline are appropriate, what parenting choices you should make, etc should be done behind closed doors.) I think it's really confusing for kids to see their parents not agree on how to parent them.

    In terms of bickering about little stuff, you just have to decide that it's ok to "lose" an argument sometimes. It's just not worth it. Lose graciously and let it go. "You're right, honey, taking the interstate during rush hour probably worked out just the same as taking the back roads." Talk to your partner about your decision to do this, and see if he'll get on board. That way you're not doing all the acquiescing.

    If you don't have any alone time with your partner to work out major issues, you need to find some. I know that's not helpful, but I think it's the truth. Plunk the kids in front of the TV for an hour and work on one specific issue. Set aside 45 minutes after the kids have gone to bed. Devote someone's 30 minute lunch break to a we're-going-to-talk-about-this-not-scream-about-it session over the phone. The fact is, there are major life stressors that come up that need to be resolved by grown ups, but not in front of the kids. You need to figure out what you're fighting about.

    Finally, if you do fight in front of the kids, make up in front of them too. With a full apology and a promise to try to do better next time. You don't have to apologize for your feelings, but if you've behaved in a way that you wouldn't want to model for your children, you both should apologize for your behavior. Even really young children can understand that parents have feelings, and if you name those feelings, that helps a lot. "I'm sorry I yelled at Daddy. I hurt his feelings, and I probably scared you too. I was just really angry. Next time I'm angry, I'm going to go into the bathroom and calm down for 3 minutes instead of yell." Good luck.

    • I agree that it's very confusing for kids to see people argue about discipline/child raising in front of them. I witnessed a lot of this kind of argument yesterday between parents of a two-year-old (and the grandmother), and I think it really undermined everything they were trying to accomplish.

  12. My kids' dad and I had a miserable marriage, but we always avoided arguments of any sort in front of the kids. But then the tension between us would make us a lot more edgy, and quick to snap at little things the kids would do. Avoiding arguments is not healthy, if you ask me.

    My partner and I now, we don't really argue a lot, nothing heavy duty anyway. But even if we have a minor disagreement or difference of opinion, we get it out even if the kids are around. But we always make up in the end, and it usually ends up in joking and laughing by the time it's over.

    I think seeing parents argue in a healthy manner, and more importantly – seeing their parents resolve whatever issues they are having and come back to a point where they are laughing and getting along – that is what is crucially important. We all argue in my home, kids AND parents, but we all are still able to love each other and laugh with each other even when we aren't necessarily "liking" each other. And I feel good with that being what is taught.

    • I agree, though I think it's ok for kids to see occasional fights if they end with full resolution. My parents sometimes got into shouting matches in front of us (though they would diffuse the situation pretty quickly if it ever got that bad) and still have a strong marriage. Actually, they started treating each other more lovingly when I was a teen, after reading Kosher Sex by Shmuley Boteach, and I think that also helped me develop a core sense that marriages can grow, recover, and be resilient.

  13. PLEASE DO have a productive argument in front of your children to spare them from my experience. Their future relationships could greatly benefit from your example!

    Growing up I never, ever saw my parents argue. I thought it was great.
    Until I was in a committed relationship and realized I was a BASKET CASE when it came to a heated disagreement/ argument. I freaked out, became overly (way overly) emotional, angry, resentful, and unruly. I realized this after some pre-marriage counseling that I was unable to handle a serious disagreement because I had never seen it done by my parents. We got some tips from the counseling and I'm better, but still not great. I was able to handle these argument type situations with my cousins, friends, peers, work colleagues etc… but not my spouse. Because he matters MOST to me, it scared me so much that we argued! I had never seen my beloved parents argue! It's been a both a rough, and amazing (hello new communication skillz/make-up sex!) first year.

  14. My parents never argued or got into "fights" in front of me and my siblings. I do remember hearing them sometimes with angry raised voices (though there was never yelling or name-calling) in the other room, and once I asked them what they were fighting about. "We weren't fighting, we were just having an important discussion about something we disagree about," they said. Maybe it's just me, but I've seen this happen with other couples too – they start arguing/fighting, the kids see, and they say "we were just talking/discussing."

    I know they intended this to make me feel more comfortable, like "everyone has disagreements and it's ok to disagree and discuss it," but it actually backfired. I KNEW that they were mad and arguing/fighting, that this was something beyond just everyday discussion. Their comment made it clear to me that it might be ok to discuss things extremely calmly and logically and emotionlessly, but any kind of emotions meant that it was a "fight" and something "bad" that should be avoided at all costs or hidden away. I wish they would have just said something like, "yes, we were discussing something, and we did get kind of mad at each other, and we probably did start fighting a little bit (and here's why/what it was about, in very age-appropriate terms). But it's ok for that to happen sometimes when you have really strong feelings, as long as you understand that it's never ok to hurt someone else's feelings on purpose and you know that behind being mad, you still love the other person very much." Trying to make sure to model appropriate conflict-resolution techniques is important, but I also think it's very important to acknowledge when things have gone beyond the bounds of strictly appropriate, and model how that is ok sometimes and is not the end of the world.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.