Couples fight. That is nothing new. Unfortunately, fighting between couples takes on a whole new meaning when children are in play. Numerous studies over the years have shown that constant fighting among parents is as bad for the kids as it is for them. Yet so many couples fight with little regard to how their behavior is affecting their children.
Even when children are not involved, constant fighting creates an unhealthy relationship environment. Couples unwilling to get a handle on their fighting issues only set themselves up for future separation and divorce. However, that is another topic for another post. The focus of this post is the fighting couple’s children.
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Fighting and Childhood Mental Health
An in-depth Verywell Family piece published in 2019 takes a very good look at fighting among parents and its effect on childhood mental health. The piece cites numerous scientific studies that paint a pretty bleak picture when children are exposed to constant fighting. The article is well worth reading if you and your spouse are fighting more frequently than you should.
One of the cited studies tracked children for seven years. Each of the children in the study were kindergartners when researchers began. Their parents were asked to reveal the level of conflict they believe existed in their marriages. In addition, they were individually asked to discuss topics couples frequently fight over, so that researchers could understand how critical each of the parents was toward their respective spouses.
On follow-up seven years later, children whose parents frequently fought with one another – especially if their fights were more mean – were more likely to exhibit anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. Additional studies cited by Verywell Family demonstrate that children whose parents fight frequently are more likely to suffer from:
- reduced cognitive performance
- behavioral problems
- eating disorders
- relationship disorders
- physical illness
- negative worldview
- substance use.
Unfortunately, the research does not lie. Children who grow up in combative homes tend to face more challenges than their counterparts whose parents do not fight as frequently or as meanly.
Signs of a Harmful Environment
A generally concerned parent would want to know whether fights with their spouse were creating a harmful environment for the kids. The first sign of a potentially harmful environment is the frequency with which couples fight. Occasional disagreements are normal, but they should not dominate a couple’s interactions.
Fighting every day is a sure sign of a harmful environment. Fighting multiple times per day, every day, is even more harmful. Beyond frequency, the couples’ therapists at Westchester New York’s Relationships & More point to some additional signs:
- Couples resorting to name-calling and insults
- Threats of divorce in the midst of arguments
- Walking away or completely withdrawing from an argument
- Giving in just to bring a disagreement to a close
- Adopting the ‘silent treatment’ following a disagreement.
Obviously, any form of physical or verbal aggression is bad. It definitely creates an unhealthy environment for children and thus should be avoided at all costs.
Learning from Mom and Dad
The most troubling aspect of constant fighting is that parents are teaching their children negative problem-solving skills. Ironically, parents often observe their children fighting and rush in to break it up, knowing that it is not good. Yet they fail to realize that children are simply practicing what they have learned from mom and dad.
Disagreements are normal among couples, and they are to be expected. But constant fighting is another matter altogether. Unfortunately, it is just as bad for the kids as it is for their parents.