With the holidays coming up, my husband and I are fighting more than ever. It kills me that our kids see us screaming at each other. I can’t imagine that other couples fight like we do. I’d like to get to a place where we never fight and can just talk calmly with each other. How do we bring peace to our house?
Signed, Finished with Fighting
Dear Finished with Fighting,
A lot of families experience an increase in conflict and chaos this time of year. I know how hard it can be to feel like your family doesn’t live up to the “Norman Rockwell” image of peaceful family togetherness. Let me assure you, most families are not blissfully gliding along in peaceful harmony. The sooner you can let go of that expectation, the better. My goal is for you to be able to fight in a fair, healthy manner, and to reduce your amount of fighting so you can notice and enjoy the beautiful moments I am sure are already going on.
Your kids deserve to grow up in a healthy home. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t witness their parents fighting. It means that on occasion (not daily) they should witness respectful, productive conflict, as well as the resolution, apology and forgiveness that come after a fight. I encourage you to create a set of rules you and your husband agree to abide by when you fight, whether or not the kids are present. Not only do your kids deserve a healthy home and healthy relationships; you and your husband do, too!
Consider your family values as you create your rules for fighting. Do you value respect for property? Not slamming doors or throwing breakable objects might be on the list. Do you value expression of anger? Permission to scream and yell may make the list. Here is a sample list. All people should have at least 1-3 on their lists.
1. No physical violence. We do not touch each other in anger.
2. No verbal abuse. We do not call each other names, put each other down, attack each other’s character, or threaten violence.
3. No threats of leaving or divorce when angry.
4. We will use time outs responsibly and respectfully. When one person calls a time-out, we will both stay home, go to separate rooms and cool off for 10 minutes before meeting back at the kitchen table to try to continue the discussion in a less intense manner.
5. We will not curse while angry.
6. Fights will not last longer than 30 minutes. If we are still having trouble after 30 minutes, we will take a time-out, and try again. If after 30 minutes more, we are still at an impasse, we will table the discussion for 24 hours.
7. We have permission to yell, but we must stand at least 15 feet apart when yelling so we do not scare or intimidate each other.
You can use this list as a template, and add, delete or change things to reflect the culture you want to create in your house. I personally like to curse when I’m mad, so my husband and I have agreed if our son is not home, I can curse when we fight, but I can’t curse AT my husband. (Ex: “I hate that we go round and round about this *!&%” is okay, but “%$@! YOU!” is not okay–get the difference?)
Now, make a set of guidelines for making up. Make sure if the kids saw you fight, they see you make up. Here’s a sample:
1. We both apologize for our part in the fight.
Give a full apology that includes the wrong behaviour you both engaged in and the way it may have impacted the other person. (“I am sorry for being so stuck on my method. I’m sure you felt like I didn’t care about you or your ideas.”) Avoid non apology-apologies: “I’m sorry what I said made you so mad.” “I’m sorry you aren’t capable of understanding my point.” You know them when you say them. If you want to teach your kids accountability, this is a powerful place to do it!
2. We hug and speak softly with each other.
3. We ask for forgiveness from the other for our part in the fight.
4. We agree to disagree or set a time to have a calm talk to agree on a solution.
A therapist friend of mine often asks her clients to take a break from conflict by only fighting about things they would rank as a 10, on a scale from 1-10. I also recommend if you see a pattern where you fight more after drinking, you cut down on drinking, because it makes sticking to the rules you create around fighting harder to follow (none of us are our best selves when we have alcohol or drugs in our systems).
I hope these tips will help your fights feel calmer and give you more time and space for joy this holiday season. As always, if you find you are still struggling after trying some of these things, you can find a local therapist by using: www.therapistlocator.net.
Take care–and I wish you much peace and joy,