Child Caring

Fighting Phoenix parents: can you learn how to resolve conflict?

[This letter has been edited and condensed. Ed.]
husband and I have a one year old son. We've been married for 5 years. Our relationship has its ups and downs. In the past, before baby, we've had some pretty serious fights. The first year of our marriage, it's a wonder we didn't kill each other. I can admit I have an anger issue and that I have to be intentional on making wise choices on my reaction to things my husband will do to set me off. He, however, has an anger issue, too, but is in denial. He thinks he's perfect. I have learned to rise above and pick and choose what I go "to the mat" with him regarding issues. However, today, I was lying down with our son who needed a nap desperately and he was just about to drift off when my husband barged in and proceeded to tell me that I didn't clean the knives correctly...talking very loudly on "teaching" me a lesson on taking care of his stupid knives. That set me off so bad, because his stupid knives were more important than his son's rest!!!

I got up, son in hand, walked out and gave our son to him, my son's crying, and decided to let him deal with the disruption he just caused. The fight escalated....I got in his face yelling and then he pushed me and I pushed back. Our son was sitting on the floor watching, not doing anything, not crying but being quiet. I had to get out of the house so I left. When I got back, my husband was holding him but wouldn't let me hold him.

Anyway, I'm concerned that our son is ruined and that he's going to have major issues because of what he saw. I'm just beside myself mad at even giving my ...husband's incident any life!! I just hate myself for what I did because I feel like I can't make it better or take it away. :(

From: Abigail, Phoenix

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Dear Abigail,

You're right, you can't take it away. That's the bad news: It happened. Here's the good news: you recognized the potential for it to impact your son. Good for you. That's a healthy starting point. So here's the question: Can you learn enough from how worried and frightened you are from this one incident to not let it happen again? Because you're right: Kids who are exposed to repeated martial dispute, verbal and/or physical, are at high risk for emotional instability.

You already know that you and your husband both have anger management issues. From your description, it's hard to imagine the two of you aren't going to repeat this pattern unless you get serious about changing your ways. I mean that as a plural "you." Both of you. I sincerely hope you do. I hope you get professional intervention, together and/or apart, because -- I'm not gonna sugar-coat -- the way you describe what you describe has the potential to have serious impact on your son. For instance, parental fighting is correlated to a child who is less likely to have an optimistic outlook on life; and more likely to be depressed.

But there's good news here, too. If parents learn how to resolve their anger -- by walking away; by knowing how not to push each other's buttons; by making an effort not to put each other down; by keeping their disagreements out of sight and earshot of their children -- children can do just fine.

Recognizing you've got a problem is the first step.