Poorly managed conflict at home creates problems for kids

  • Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dear Liz,

My husband and I have gotten into a bad habit of letting our frustrations with one another spill over onto our family. At first, we never argued in front of the children, but as time has gone on, we’ve gotten out of hand. We have two girls, ages 5 and 7, and a boy who is 12. Our son has complained that it is really bothering him and he worries we are going to get a divorce like his friends’ families. We started counseling, but find all we do is fight there, or fight afterwards about what was said. I’m very worried and sad.

It’s a mess

Dear “It’s a mess,”

You are right, and it only escalates over time. The children are much more deeply affected than any parent would want to feel and know. Sadly, the children are learning lousy communication, when they should be learning lifelong communication skills including asking for clarification and resolving conflict. They are living in fear and underlying anxiety which your son clearly verbalized (thank him for that.).

I am concerned that your children are losing a sense of security and trust. They are learning from their parents that the home is not a haven of peace, but of conflict instead. All of the research warns us that poorly managed conflict at home creates a myriad of problems now and in the future. I’m glad to hear you are in counseling. I recommend that you use your time more wisely. Before each session, choose an issue that generates frustration and work on that with your counselor’s guidance. Agree in advance with your counselor that you will not take time re-hashing arguments. Take the last five to 10 minutes of the session to summarize and agree on steps you will practice until the next session.

Include the children in sessions from time to time to address their concerns and fears. This may take time, but if you agree to learn (and practice) more effective and positive ways to communicate you all win.

Dear Liz,

How do you let your spouse know you are worried about their health, particularly their weight? It’s a really touchy subject, but I am beyond concerned. In the past all I get is a defensive response.

HELP before it is too late

Dear “HELP,”

That is indeed one of the most sensitive of all subjects. You have the right idea - expressing your concern for the health of the person. People struggling with weight issues often are over sensitive about their appearance or fear change. There may be an issue of compulsive eating, even food addiction, and/or control. I would start with your spouse’s physician and seek guidance there first.

If you are selecting groceries and/or cooking, you can make a big difference by substituting healthier foods and proper portions. You can suggest taking walks in the morning or evening together. It is tough to watch someone we love sabotage his or her health and well being. Ultimately it is up to that person to make lasting changes.

Contact Liz via asksharpliz@gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Master degree level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health.

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