I’ve been trying to help people work out their differences since 1995.
And I’ve come to one conclusion.
Most people are scared of conflict. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce.
We’ve all had that experience of interpersonal, family, work, and love relationship conflicts gone south.
So, it makes sense that parents don’t want to go there in front of their kids.
If I don’t trust that I can work through a conflict with my partner in front of my children, why would I want to show them one of my major insecurities?
But I’m here to challenge this limited way of thinking for a few reasons.
First, let’s examine what happens when you chose not to fight in front of your kids.
As parents, we have to ask ourselves, “When I hide behind closed doors or stuff my feelings down, what does this teach my children?”
I think the answer is obvious. It teaches them to do the same: hide out in shame and allow their insecurities to run this part of their lives.
Thus, we teach our kids to avoid difficult conversations or hide them behind closed doors with no effective strategy.
I think any smart person can see where this is headed…
If we allow our shame to drive the bus as we pretend everything’s fine, where do they learn how to manage conflict?
They fumble their way through conflict at school where peers teach them how to navigate it, which will most often be by finger pointing. Or we put it on teachers, who are already maxed out, to somehow teach our kids to be socially and relationally literate. Or they let celebrities, pop stars, or Snapchat guide them.
So, it’s important to realize whatever we don’t teach at home we are farming out to society, the media, pop and peer culture.
Ironically, even if we would rather our children learn about relationships and conflicts somewhere else, they are still getting a daily download from us on how to relate to other people.
Whatever we model to our kids every single day, including blame, avoidance, and shutting down, will be the biggest predictor of how they behave in their relationships later in life.
We can run but we can’t hide from this simple fact.
So, I encourage all the parents out there to embrace the concept of “Relationship Homeschooling.”
Relationship Homeschooling means that—like it or not—we are teaching our kids about the most important part of our lives, by how we live every single day.
But there is a silver lining if you are an avoidant parent and it involves one simple move.
Ask for help.
Think about it.
When your child is struggling in life, do you want them to struggle in a silo, in isolation, and without support? Or do you want them to have permission that it’s okay to ask for help?
If you want the latter then guess what you’ll have to do?
Your kids won’t ask for help and will continue to hide their relational ineptitude like you are. Good job mom and dad: teach them how to hide their pain and insecurities and go it alone.
Is that really what you want?
If not, then I challenge you to step up and step into learning how to navigate conflict and when you don’t know how, ask for help.
My wife Ellen and I put together 10 “rules” or agreements you can get in place as “preventative care” in your relationship.
Here are a few of them.
1. We agree to learn how to say yes to conflict. The goal is not to never fight. We want to bring stuff out. Let’s get that out. When we say yes to conflict, we open the door to more honest communication and truth telling. On the other side of conflict is a deeper connection. You cannot and will not have a good solid lasting relationship without learning how to deal with the shit the comes up between you and your partner. To me, this is choiceless.
2. We agree to the practice of “no blame.” (the biggest place couples get stuck). Rather than say “When you did behavior X, I felt Y….” See everything as an opportunity to take responsibility and learn about self, and other. Reserve your blame for inside your own head so you can get underneath it. Don’t blame them outwardly.
3. We agree to speak with care and respect. When we get heated, no matter how intense it gets, we agree to demonstrate respect and care. No yelling or screaming or speaking in a way that scares the other person. No sarcasm or making fun of each other either.
4. We agree that If we start an argument, we’re going to finish it. In other words, I agree to “stay-in-relationship” with you until we are complete with the fight. Space and breaks from talking are allowed, but I will always return to you to finish what we started until we both feel the issue is resolved. Attachment brain specialists agree that the sooner you can repair the better.
5. We agree to learn how to repair effectively until we are both satisfied and spend whatever time it takes to do so. When one of us distances or shuts down and times goes by, I understand it’s my responsibility to repair whatever breach has occurred by owning my part, listening deeply to you, getting your experience and completing our disagreement.
Come up with your own agreements, so you have a shared reality about conflict and fighting at home.
When we don’t get in the driver’s seat and take proactive steps like this, we are at the whims of our childhood reactivity and historical patterning.
Ironically by taking steps like this, we can save our kids from an expensive therapy bill later in their life.
Need more help with conflict? Start by learning here.
Author: Jayson Gaddis
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron