Level of fighting is harmful to kids

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 6, 2012 06:00 AM

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My husband and I have approximately 5 -6 explosive fights a year. He swears, screams, breaks furniture, tears the house apart, etc. We have three children ages 8, 10 and 12. I keep thinking about leaving him, but I'm not sure if I should tear our family apart because of 15-20 bad days a year. The rest of the time we get along fine. I feel l like the fights are so damaging, I truly don't know what to do.

From: Karen, Pueblo, CO

Dear Karen,

He breaks furniture? Tears the house apart? Screams? And you have to ask? Your kids are living in fear. They wake up not knowing what today is going to bring. They come home from school fearful that tonight will be one of "those" nights. They go to bed wondering if the sounds of breaking furniture will wake them. Your family may be living under the same roof but it's torn apart nonetheless.

Are there lasting effects on this for kids? You bet. Unresolved parental fighting can lead to a host of problems, including depression, aggression, anxiety and hostility. It can cause children to act out, or withdraw, and it can impact their own abilities to have emotionally intimate relationships as they get older, This is not a healthy or safe place for kids. Your husband needs therapy (possibly AA?) and you do, too, to figure out what's keeping you there.

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9 comments so far...
  1. My parents had explosive fights, probably like yours. You may think you "get along fine" the rest of the time, but there's a pretty good chance your kids don't. They are probably afraid to tell you that, because they don't want to wreck one of the "good" days. They probably live in fear of the fights, live in fear their friends will find out about them, live in fear that they are somehow the ones causing them, live in fear that someday their father will turn his physical rage toward you or them instead of the furniture. (And if your husband's temper is an "open secret" and your relatives and friends know about these fights and don't intervene to keep the children safe, but instead look the other way, or patch up the walls and broken windows and furniture afterwards, what kind of message is that sending your children? That those closest to them value keeping up appearances more than their wellbeing.)

    The longer you stay without professional help, the more damage you are probably doing to your children's emotional and physical health (as well as your own) Please get out or get help as soon as you can.

    Posted by BeenThere March 6, 12 12:06 PM
  1. It's better to be from a broken home than to live in one!

    Posted by just cause March 6, 12 01:01 PM
  1. You should reword the first sentence to: My husband swears, screams, breaks furniture, tears the house apart, 5 -6 times a year.

    Oh, wait. You said "My husband and I". Did it ever occur that no one side is 100% responsible for these fights?

    Posted by Mike March 6, 12 02:12 PM
  1. Mike, she doesn't need to reword it. That's exactly what she wrote-

    "He swears, screams, breaks furniture, tears the house apart, etc."

    Read it again. It doesn't matter what anyone says to provoke him. That behavior is never the "responsible" reaction.

    Posted by Linney March 6, 12 02:40 PM
  1. "Did it ever occur that no one side is 100% responsible for these fights?"

    So one person is responsible when another person gets violent? Yes, two people have a fight. But if either party starts breaking furniture and tearing the house apart, that is ALL on that one person. If one person is violent and awful, it is the fault of the violent and awful person. Entirely and only.

    I do not subscribe to the "well, she was being obnoxious, so of course I punched holes in the wall/tore the door off its hinges/smashed her nose - my violence is partly her fault" philosophy.

    Posted by jjlen March 6, 12 09:36 PM
  1. Letters like this make me so sad. Do people really think they are getting along the other 345 days a year when they have explosive, violent arguments the other 20 days? I guarantee that you do not "get along fine".

    As usual, Barbara's advice is right on target. Couples counseling to work out your issues or go alone, to figure out why you are still there.

    Posted by ash March 7, 12 11:29 AM
  1. I agree, no one should be defending this guy. I hope he gets the help he needs.

    Posted by geocool March 7, 12 11:57 AM
  1. "That is ALL on that one person."

    The first time, sure. But 15-20 days a year, to subject her children to live in fear and violence, and stay year after year-- she shares responsibility for allowing this to continue. And she surely will share in the blame and anger when the kids grow up and realize mom could have kicked dad out, but decided to let him terrorize the kids for their entire childhood.

    My friend grew up in a violent home. She doesn't speak to either of her parents because she blames her mother for choosing violence over her daughter's safety and mental health.

    Posted by deedee March 11, 12 09:41 AM
  1. I'm a freshman at college, and my parents fought like that throughout my entire childhood. My dad would break phones, scream, throw plates at the ceiling, and usually just because my mom would suggest he eat with the family instead of in front of the tv. They would then fight for days, trying to get us to say who we liked better, who we'd want to live with in a divorce. Although that was never even in the cards, and never ended up happening. A few times he was violent towards us (I have two younger brothers), and to this day I'm afraid of what will happen when I go home. I'm going home for break tomorrow, and I still have a nervous feeling that something will go wrong. Also, he's so much bigger than us that it's terrifying. I compare him to Shrek now. But, push come to shove, I've been in 2 failed relationships because I couldn't deal with any conflict at all, and I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and OCD because I'm really worried about messing something up, like missing a spot on the floor when sweeping, because that could bring on an episode. Although, with the exception of a few bad days, my parents aren't abusive, the tension in our house has really messed myself and my brothers up, and my mom lives in fear. You should really get out while you can, and show your kids that there is no reason to put up with the drama and terror it brings. Seriously, there is nothing I will remember as vividly as these times, and I feel like I will become a cat lady because of them.
    Also, you might not think they are scared of having friends over, but I can guarantee they are. My brothers friends have been over during two of these outbursts, once when my dad locked them out and another time when I had to smuggle them and the dog out the bulkhead, because my dad was so preoccupied fighting with my mom. It's really scarring.

    Posted by SuzieQ March 14, 12 01:53 AM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. My parents had explosive fights, probably like yours. You may think you "get along fine" the rest of the time, but there's a pretty good chance your kids don't. They are probably afraid to tell you that, because they don't want to wreck one of the "good" days. They probably live in fear of the fights, live in fear their friends will find out about them, live in fear that they are somehow the ones causing them, live in fear that someday their father will turn his physical rage toward you or them instead of the furniture. (And if your husband's temper is an "open secret" and your relatives and friends know about these fights and don't intervene to keep the children safe, but instead look the other way, or patch up the walls and broken windows and furniture afterwards, what kind of message is that sending your children? That those closest to them value keeping up appearances more than their wellbeing.)

    The longer you stay without professional help, the more damage you are probably doing to your children's emotional and physical health (as well as your own) Please get out or get help as soon as you can.

    Posted by BeenThere March 6, 12 12:06 PM
  1. It's better to be from a broken home than to live in one!

    Posted by just cause March 6, 12 01:01 PM
  1. You should reword the first sentence to: My husband swears, screams, breaks furniture, tears the house apart, 5 -6 times a year.

    Oh, wait. You said "My husband and I". Did it ever occur that no one side is 100% responsible for these fights?

    Posted by Mike March 6, 12 02:12 PM
  1. Mike, she doesn't need to reword it. That's exactly what she wrote-

    "He swears, screams, breaks furniture, tears the house apart, etc."

    Read it again. It doesn't matter what anyone says to provoke him. That behavior is never the "responsible" reaction.

    Posted by Linney March 6, 12 02:40 PM
  1. "Did it ever occur that no one side is 100% responsible for these fights?"

    So one person is responsible when another person gets violent? Yes, two people have a fight. But if either party starts breaking furniture and tearing the house apart, that is ALL on that one person. If one person is violent and awful, it is the fault of the violent and awful person. Entirely and only.

    I do not subscribe to the "well, she was being obnoxious, so of course I punched holes in the wall/tore the door off its hinges/smashed her nose - my violence is partly her fault" philosophy.

    Posted by jjlen March 6, 12 09:36 PM
  1. Letters like this make me so sad. Do people really think they are getting along the other 345 days a year when they have explosive, violent arguments the other 20 days? I guarantee that you do not "get along fine".

    As usual, Barbara's advice is right on target. Couples counseling to work out your issues or go alone, to figure out why you are still there.

    Posted by ash March 7, 12 11:29 AM
  1. I agree, no one should be defending this guy. I hope he gets the help he needs.

    Posted by geocool March 7, 12 11:57 AM
  1. "That is ALL on that one person."

    The first time, sure. But 15-20 days a year, to subject her children to live in fear and violence, and stay year after year-- she shares responsibility for allowing this to continue. And she surely will share in the blame and anger when the kids grow up and realize mom could have kicked dad out, but decided to let him terrorize the kids for their entire childhood.

    My friend grew up in a violent home. She doesn't speak to either of her parents because she blames her mother for choosing violence over her daughter's safety and mental health.

    Posted by deedee March 11, 12 09:41 AM
  1. I'm a freshman at college, and my parents fought like that throughout my entire childhood. My dad would break phones, scream, throw plates at the ceiling, and usually just because my mom would suggest he eat with the family instead of in front of the tv. They would then fight for days, trying to get us to say who we liked better, who we'd want to live with in a divorce. Although that was never even in the cards, and never ended up happening. A few times he was violent towards us (I have two younger brothers), and to this day I'm afraid of what will happen when I go home. I'm going home for break tomorrow, and I still have a nervous feeling that something will go wrong. Also, he's so much bigger than us that it's terrifying. I compare him to Shrek now. But, push come to shove, I've been in 2 failed relationships because I couldn't deal with any conflict at all, and I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and OCD because I'm really worried about messing something up, like missing a spot on the floor when sweeping, because that could bring on an episode. Although, with the exception of a few bad days, my parents aren't abusive, the tension in our house has really messed myself and my brothers up, and my mom lives in fear. You should really get out while you can, and show your kids that there is no reason to put up with the drama and terror it brings. Seriously, there is nothing I will remember as vividly as these times, and I feel like I will become a cat lady because of them.
    Also, you might not think they are scared of having friends over, but I can guarantee they are. My brothers friends have been over during two of these outbursts, once when my dad locked them out and another time when I had to smuggle them and the dog out the bulkhead, because my dad was so preoccupied fighting with my mom. It's really scarring.

    Posted by SuzieQ March 14, 12 01:53 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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