Everyone goes through periods of family conflict. They can be called dry spells, hard times, the dark months, or the beginning of the end. They can be caused by troubling mental health issues like depression or alcoholism or simply the growing apart of individuals who were once deeply in love. Whatever the cause, and whatever the name, any intimate relationship of substantial length is likely to experience them—but the conflict doesn’t have to control the family, divorce lawyers say. With tips from the legal experts who’ve seen more than one divorce sail through family court, getting help early is key to resolving conflict and reducing the harmful impact it can have.
Family conflict visits us all, regardless of whether we’re separated, considering divorce, or simply co-parenting, and having a good idea about how to handle the stressful situations that come up can mitigate the hurt that our kids internalize when we argue. Divorce lawyers know that statistically, families who seek out third party help—from a counselor or a mediator—sooner than later are likely to have better outcomes, both in court, if the couple files or divorce, or out of it, if they can resolve their issues.
Self-control is another major tool for minimizing the scars our children bear from our disagreements. It can be hard not to fall back into old patterns, especially if our families of origin were likely to name-call or engage in knock-down, drag-out fights, but studies have shown that refraining from name-calling, blaming, shouting, putting down, and other forms of verbal attack can have a tremendously protective impact on our kids as we resolve our differences.
Divorce lawyers have said that beginning by “making a mutual commitment to behavior change” is the first step in protecting the kids from the trauma that a messy divorce can inflict on them. Acknowledging the problems as real, and making a commitment to address them, to the best of our abilities, in a way that is civil may be difficult when denial and excuses are easier, but it is a sign of strength that your children will remember.
Taking the conflict away from the children—physically—is another good idea divorce lawyers who’ve seen it all want to share with us. Getting a babysitter for those nights when we need to hash it out and keeping our voices controlled show them that we won’t let them be collateral damage in the battles we wage with each other.
It’s a good reminder that no matter how our partners have hurt us, when we hurt them back and our kids see it, we’re hurting our children. “When you hurt the other parent, you are hurting your kids,” the professionals say, and if that’s okay with us, there may be deeper issues at work with which we need more intensive professional help.
No matter how angry or disenchanted we are with our partners, it is possible for us to behave in a way that communicates support to our kids while we resolve our differences with their other parent. We shouldn’t wait to get help when we need it; let’s protect our kids before it’s too late.