Spoiler alert: Not much.
My parents have an idyllic marriage. Really. This August they will have been married for 32 years and they still make eyes at each other, kiss in public and hold hands under the table.
I can count on MAYBE five fingers the number of times I was aware of them arguing during the 18 years that I lived at home. When you think about it, that’s quite something.
I think this can be attributed to two things: 1) My parents are both pretty agreeable people who just don’t argue much, and 2) They were very intentional about having disagreements behind closed doors/after us kids were asleep.
On the one hand, this made for a very peaceful, loving environment to grow up in, and it gave me a nice picture of what a beautiful marriage looked like. I really respect my parents for the way they approached this issue. On the other hand, however, it did not provide me with many realistic expectations for how to deal with conflict in marriage.
Because I almost never saw them, I wasn’t aware that it was common for married people to have disagreements, and to work through them. As a child, the few times that I did notice my parents arguing were pretty upsetting, because it was just such an uncommon occurrence. I immediately assumed that arguments meant serious problem/separation/divorce. And it took me a while as a newlywed to realize that there wasn’t something wrong with my marriage just because we seemed to fight more than my parents did. I expected perfection because that is what I was used to.
My marriage is different than my parents’. Jonathan and I are two passionate, headstrong, opinionated, sometimes contrary first-borns, and we both have a tendency to want our own way. These characteristics make great things happen when we are united toward a common goal, but they can be a real pain when we have a disagreement. Things can get heated quickly.
But you know what? Disagreements happen in marriage. They just do. We disagree, get angry at each other, take some space, work it out, apologize and move on. While it is very important to me that Jonah not be forced to hear things that are inappropriate related to his parents arguing, I do want my son to be aware that married people disagree sometimes, but they always work it out, and they love each other through it all.
We’re still working on this, but I think disagreeing respectfully in the earshot of children is a very important skill to have. This means things like keeping our voices even and our language neutral, and when we can’t do that, we table the conversation until a later time. Often, the act of having to wait to hash out an issue makes it resolve itself anyway.
In the early days of my marriage, I wish I would have known that married people can disagree sometimes but still love each other and be happy, and that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be really darn good.
What is your approach to arguing in front of your kids? How is it similar or different to your parents’ approach?