Question: I hope you have some suggestions for us. We have been married for a long time and have kids, well teens, actually. We all love each other a lot, but we can’t seem to stop fighting. Home isn’t peaceful. Just when we think things are calm, someone will get upset, then the problem spreads and we are all involved and everyone is angry. We try to get everyone to talk about the problem and find a solution, but we never seem to get anywhere and we all end up angrier. We all would like for the fighting to stop, but we don’t know how to make that happen.
Answer: It is great to hear that you all love each other and I think that if you learn a little about managing angry moments, you may find the peacefulness you seek.
In the heat of anger, it is hard to think clearly. This is because of what happens in our brains.
Heightened neural activity in the limbic system, which regulates emotions, suppresses activity in parts of the brain that are required for thinking, seeing another’s point of view, and problem solving.
Since these functions are all necessary parts of resolving conflicts, resolution is possible only when people are calm enough to think clearly. Don’t try to solve the problem whilst angry. Instead, manage the emotion first, then deal with the issue.
Resist the temptation to take sides and assist someone to win their point in an argument. Conflict needs to be diffused and adding people to it will most likely escalate it.
A basic guide for conflict resolution is for the two people in dispute to try to resolve their problem directly. At this stage, the rest of the family should stay out of it.
For example, if one teen is angry because her sister has worn her favourite jeans without asking and now they are dirty when she wants to wear them then she needs to talk to her sister. At this stage, it will not be helpful if another sibling or parent joins in with evidence that the situation has been reversed many times.
This is also true when the dispute is between parents. Kids need to stay out of parental conflicts.
When the dispute is small and both parents have good control over their emotions, set good boundaries for the kids by letting them know that this is an issue between the adults and not letting them contribute.
Try to have the conversation in private. Because of the extreme distress experienced by children during conflict between parents, it is necessary to protect kids from that by not fighting in the presence of the kids.
Fighting that includes yelling, swearing, name-calling, threats to leave the marriage, regret about getting married, or crying is not good for marital relationships and especially damaging for kids. This kind of communication results when people try to talk or resolve issues when they are too angry.
When the dispute is between a parent and a teen, the same guidelines are useful. Don’t join in.
If you join in and take your child’s side, you will damage your marriage and your spouse’s ability to parent the child. Unless you are well able to calm everyone down, if you join in and take your spouse’s side, your child will feel ganged up on and will likely become more defensive.
If you disagree with how your spouse is handling a particular problem, wait until later when you are away from the kids to address it and look for better ways to handle the problem or to operate as a united parenting front.
Don’t let siblings participate in a dispute between a parent and a teen.
When there is conflict in the house, it is very helpful for everyone not involved to stay calm.
We are affected by other people’s emotional states. The angry people will cause distress in the others, but it works the other way around, too. Calm people are very relaxing to be around.
Calm yourself by breathing slowly and deeply, relaxing your muscles, slowing your movements and your speech in order to de-escalating tension in the home. Sometimes, it may be necessary to get a little distance from the tension by stepping outside, or going for a walk.
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