It’s no surprise that many couples adopt a parenting style that relies on not disagreeing in front of the kids – presenting a united front helps to send a clear message and reduce the chances for children to play one parent against the other to get what they want.
But when a relationship is in the process of breaking down, arguments can be more commonplace, even when the kids are around, and often go unresolved if the parents are no longer amicable enough to compromise.
These unresolved, highly visible arguments can have a big negative effect on young people in the household – and can lead to them blaming themselves if your marriage ends in divorce.
Writing in an article for the BBC, Professor Gordon Harold of the University of Sussex explains that it is not inevitable that arguments will have lasting negative impacts on children, but that when handled correctly, they can actually hold some positives too.
“It is normal to argue or disagree sometimes, and in fact children respond well when parents explain or resolve – in an appropriate way – what an argument was about,” he writes.
“Indeed, where parents successfully resolve arguments, children can learn important positive lessons which can help them navigate their own emotions and relationships beyond the family circle.”
Resolving arguments does not necessarily mean salvaging a romantic relationship that has already broken down – it is possible to overcome isolated disagreements, without remaining married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting.
This is an important thing to recognise, as often finding dignity in divorce relies on appreciating the other person’s point of view on certain issues, rather than assuming that you will be opposed when it comes to concerns like how best to look after the kids.
As Professor Harold points out, children don’t just pick up on loud public disagreements – they are also highly perceptive to general airs of awkwardness, parents who don’t speak to each other, and even when an argument has taken place without them present.
Mediation exists to help bridge the gap in these and similar situations, so that you can resolve isolated disagreements before they can start to have an undue effect on the welfare of yourselves and your family.
Crucially, mediators can also engage young people in the process – so that far from blaming themselves, children can come to see themselves as part of the solution, and know that although the divorce is going to go ahead, their views will be taken into account and it does not mean a negative relationship with either parent in the future.