Study: Marital conflict affects kids; not all conflict has negative effects

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Being realistic about the sacrifices necessary in marriage has helped Garcia delineate between what is important and what isn't. "When you're young, you're so passionate and dramatic about everything," Garcia said. "You get lost in a petty argument over the fact that he didn't listen when you asked him to grab orange juice at the store."

Garcia and her husband try to focus on reasonable solutions, rather than letting the problem fester. "I'll say, 'Look, you keep forgetting this and it's really irritating me. What can we do to resolve this? Do you need me to text you on the way to the grocery story? What can I do?' "

Embrace conflict

"No two people in the world, no matter how made for each other they feel, will ever agree about everything at all times," Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, psychologist and marriage and family therapist in Massachusetts, wrote at PsychCentral. "It would be quite boring if they did."

Go after the issue, not each other, Hartwell-Walker wrote. Name-calling and "character assassination" create an added problem of hurt feelings. Defensiveness, too, can only escalate the fight.

Hartwell-Walker suggested finding points of agreement that help to gain common ground. Get curious, not defensive. Ask for more information, examples and details. There is usually a basis for a spouse's complaint. When complaint is equaled by curiosity, there is room for understanding, Hartwell-Walker wrote.

Other strategies include listening respectfully and talking softly. Listen, by acknowledging the feelings of the partner and showing focused attention and verbal assent, Hartwell-Walker wrote. Make concessions as well. Giving a little can make room for the other person to do the same. Finding a workable solution often involves a compromise that isn't always exactly 50/50. It's not about scorekeeping, Hartwell-Walker wrote. Finding a solution is often more important.

"Friendly fighting means working out differences that matter. It means engaging passionately about things we feel passionate about, without resorting to hurting one another," Hartwell-Walker wrote.

The status of a parental relationship — married, separated, divorced, etc. — is far less important than the quality of the relationship, Christine Carter, happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents," wrote in an email to the Deseret News. "Conflict is the primary factor that determines relationship quality."

How you begin a conflict is important, Carter wrote on a blog for Greater Good. Start with an appreciation and an "I statement," such as "I appreciate how much time you are spending at work; I know you are putting in long hours for our family and I'm grateful for that. I want you to be able to relax at the end of the day. The problem is that I also want to relax; I felt angry and resentful tonight when you didn't help me clean up the kitchen."

The first three minutes of a conflict can determine how it will end — whether in suggested solutions, constructive resolutions or raging tempers released — in 96 percent of all cases, according to leading marriage and parent counselor, John Gottman.

Garcia and her husband don't see any harm in her children witnessing the squabbles between her and her husband. "That's reality," Garcia told the Deseret News. "If they can see mom and dad disagree, even while holding hands and then find a way to resolve it and be OK five minutes later, they will gain a more realistic and healthy view of marriage."

And they have, from what she has seen. Garcia often overhears her boys mimic phrases to one another during a conflict. "My older boy will say to his brother, 'You know what? Whatever. I need some space,'" Garcia said, laughing as she recalled saying the same thing to her husband the day before.

Email: rlowry@desnews.com

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