Every married couple carries the same dark secret. It doesn’t matter how religious you are or what part of the world you were born. And this secret is so bad that it makes sense we are utterly embarrassed by it. For some couples more and some couples less but everyone acts like a complete terror to their spouse.
Setting aside genuine abuse, marital fights are a common part of life. They aren’t good. They’re something we need to sort out and there’s something most of us miss when talking about it. The effect it has on our children. Research universally shows the more couples fight the more serious damage we do to our kids. Academic performance takes a nose dive. Anxiety and depression increase. Developing friendships becomes more difficult. Self-compassion is compromised leaving shocking levels of self-contempt. Worst of all, the severity of our fights increases the chances our children will end up getting a divorce. It’s unfair this dark secret of marriage should be so damaging. The good news is it doesn’t have to be.
In tackling this problem, it’s helpful to know children see themselves as the star of their own story. Others, including parents, are side characters. They add flair to the plot but it’s the child’s own actions that push the narrative forward. Obviously, this way of seeing things isn’t true but it’s useful. From a developmental standpoint, this reduces life’s complexity. The simplicity of, “I caused this,” makes life easier to understand. It also creates a huge blind spot. It motivates children to take on all the blame even if what happened is outside their control. This high level of responsibility taking includes our own marital mistakes.
Luckily, there’s another truism in our favor. Our kids trust us. By explaining what happened we remove the crippling guilt from their little shoulders. “Mommy and Daddy love each other and have worked things out. It’s not your fault we were fighting. It was our fault.” By making it clear, “It’s not your fault,” we can almost entirely erase the devastating fallout. It even has a de-fragilizing effect. It enhances our children’s resilience and sense of security. We might not be able to stop all marital fights but this strategy keeps those fights between mom and dad.