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Why Generosity Matters in Your Marriage

Hint: It impacts how you feel about each other.

You know that couple. The one who has been married for many years and seems just as madly in love today as when they said, “I do.” You know who I’m talking about. Do you ever sit back and ask yourself how they do it? I do. If you could sit down and talk to them, you might be surprised if they told you that it takes more than love. That kind of love takes effort. It takes intentionality. But there is one other component present… generosity. 

What is generosity in marriage?

The National Marriage Project defines marital generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly.” It’s giving without expecting anything in return. Giving with no strings attached. Their survey of 1,365 married couples explains that generosity is small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection, and a willingness to forgive each other’s faults.

This doesn’t mean we view marriage as 50/50. If you’re married, you know you have to give way more than 50%. You’re all in. 

It means that we give generously, not to receive. It’s giving without expectation. Maybe that means you go above and beyond with the household chores. When your spouse has a rough day or a work deadline, you take on more responsibility around the house. You don’t expect them to repay you. Your actions are genuinely rooted in love.

According to Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project, generosity in marriage is “signaling to your spouse that you know them, and are trying to do things for them that are consistent with your understanding of them.” 

Why generosity matters in marriage…

In an interview with the New York Times, Wilcox frames it this way: 

“In marriage, we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, childcare and being faithful, but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate. Living that spirit of generosity in a marriage does foster a virtuous cycle that leads to both spouses on average being happier in the marriage.”

Researchers found that spouses who show generosity view their marriage as more satisfying. These spouses were the ones who gave, not received, the acts of kindness and appreciation. When we shower our spouse with selfless acts, we’re more satisfied with our relationship. 

Does this mean that more generous spouses have a happier, more satisfying marriage? Is the secret being more generous? Maybe. It sure doesn’t hurt! 

Researchers did find a correlation between generosity and marital satisfaction, but they couldn’t pinpoint which came first. Does being more generous lead to more satisfaction? Or is it the other way around? 

I can’t answer that question (and they couldn’t either), but both are a good thing. What matters is that these spouses genuinely love and care for each other.

So, where do you go from here? 

You can express radical generosity toward your spouse. You don’t have to shower them with gifts or a trip to a tropical island. (Although, who doesn’t love both of those?) You can start today with small gestures. In marriage, it’s the little things that mean the most. Make their coffee. Send a text to show your appreciation. Show genuine affection. Forgive them. 

Ready to get started? Ask your spouse to finish this phrase: “I feel loved when you…” Then find ways to be generous in making them feel more loved than ever.

Great articles to help you be more generous with your spouse:

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

But we’re only just friends!” or “I have to talk to Karen in Accounting for work!” These can be the typical responses from people having emotional or “virtual” affairs. According to several sources like psychologists Kristina Coop Gordon and Erica A. Mitchell at The University of Tennessee Knoxville, data indicates that emotional or “virtual” affairs are rising. Big time.

So, how do you protect your marriage from an emotional affair?

It’s worth noting that with so many people working strange hours from home and using texts, phone calls, Facetime, and Zoom, the separation of work and home life has become muddled. Emotional affairs crackle across electronic devices as conversations easily slide from a work project to personal problems, usually innocently at first.

Working from home can be contributing to the rise in emotional infidelity in another way. You may be spending a lot more time at home with your spouse. This can quickly lead to conflict, taking each other for granted, or just plain boredom—making you more susceptible to an emotional affair without even knowing it. Some researchers are concerned this surge in virtual emotional affairs could lead to a surge in sexual infidelity when things get back to “normal.”

Many couples are on guard against sexual infidelity but don’t give as much thought to emotional infidelity. This is dangerous for several reasons:

  • Emotional affairs often escalate to sexual affairs.
  • Emotional affairs are often easier to justify because they blur the lines between co-worker/friend/someone you have an inappropriate connection with.
  • Connecting emotionally with someone other than your spouse means disconnecting emotionally from your spouse. That spells all kinds of trouble.
  • Co-workers, exes, and “friends” are just a click away.

Here are five ways to protect your marriage from an emotional affair. Pay attention.

  1. Invest in your spouse and your marriage. Schedule routines that keep you communicating and connected. Get creative—schedule a stay-at-home date night and dress fancy for your favorite dinner. 
  2. Have an honest talk with your spouse about boundaries that will protect your marriage. This isn’t about your “rights” or even trust. It’s about what your spouse needs to feel secure in your love. Include electronic devices in the conversation. Check out these resources for this ongoing convo: Help! My Spouse HATES to Talk About Boundaries! and 4 Steps for Setting Good Boundaries.
  3. If you have come close to or crossed the line, have friends for your marriage who ask you the hard questions and keep you accountable if necessary.
  4. If you can’t avoid someone altogether, keep everything professional, to a minimum, and your spouse in the loop.
  5. Seek professional marriage help if necessary.

Stay connected to your spouse. Do your marital work with them. Don’t let conflicts or disagreements turn into bitterness or resentment. Handle that stuff quickly

Where you invest is where you’ll get your returns.

If you’re both working from home, don’t take this opportunity for granted. Flirt with that hottie at your home office! Schedule times to have coffee breaks together, “working” lunches, and maybe even some activities in the afternoon that would make HR blush. 

You got this!

5 Ways to Protect Your Marriage

Am I Having an Emotional Affair?

Warning Signs of an Emotional Affair

Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

How to Move Past an Emotional Affair

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How to Move Past an Emotional Affair

Rebuilding trust will take some effort.

Your marriage has been blindsided by an emotional affair. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of betrayal, shock, and hurt. One of you is struggling with thoughts and feelings of confusion, guilt, and sadness. How can your marriage move past this? The good news is, your marriage can not only move past this emotional affair; it can grow stronger because of this difficult circumstance—but both spouses need to be willing to to navigate the aftermath well, both individually and together.

The Spouse Who Had The Emotional Affair

Maybe you weren’t even sure you were having an emotional affair. You might have slid down the slippery slope of innocent friendship to emotional dependency and intimacy with someone who’s not your spouse. Maybe there were issues in your marriage that made it easier for you to begin to disconnect from your spouse and build a relationship with someone else. Maybe this is all about you and the little spark you got from the novelty of someone new and the secrecy of your interaction with them.

Bottom Line: You were doing marital work with someone who wasn’t your marriage partner. You crossed the boundary of faithfulness, exclusivity, deception, and betrayal.

Please read this account of how this individual was able to move past an emotional affair and how their marriage survived and grew stronger. ★ Note the steps that were taken.

[Information in brackets is mine.]
  • I admitted it: Shame can only exist in secret. When I was able to voice what was really going on, all the complexities of why I allowed it to go as far as it did and how I had realized the line had been crossed, the shame that surrounded the entire situation dissipated. [This is the first step. Friendships that are innocent don’t have to be kept a secret from your spouse and are nothing to be ashamed of. Come all the way clean with your spouse.]
  • I stopped it: I wrote my ex co-worker a lengthy email telling him our friendship had crossed a line and that I felt it was unfair to ourselves and our spouses to continue it. I let him know that I had told my husband and encouraged him to tell his wife and take time refocusing on his marriage too. [Inform this person that your relationship is over. Full stop. Your spouse might want to read your email or listen via conference call. This is one of the first steps in rebuilding trust with your spouse.]
  • I set personal boundaries: Hindsight is 20/20, so I was able to look at my mistakes and create a guide for boundaries in future opposite-sex friendships.  Such as, I will never write another man something that I wouldn’t want my husband to read. [Your spouse will likely have input for the boundaries to protect your marriage. Be willing to do whatever it takes.]
  • I reinvested in my marriage: Obviously no marriage is perfect. There is always work that needs to be done. With my energy and attention refocused on my husband, we grew stronger, together. [This is the key. Your marriage is in the ICU. The “what came first” question doesn’t matter. It’s time to reconnect with your spouse and pour your energy and attention into your marriage.]

I would only add to that excellent advice that you need to apologize to your spouse, ask for their forgiveness and express your commitment to them and your marriage.

If you want to move past the emotional affair, communicate your willingness to do whatever it takes to rebuild trust and your relationship. ☆ You may need professional help to break out of the fantasy world you created and to deal with the addiction-like dynamics of your experience. You may also need professional help to reconnect with your spouse and to pour yourself into your marriage. 

Emotional affairs can be just as shocking and damaging to a spouse as a sexual affair. Your spouse might bounce back and forth between hurt, anger, and normalcy. Be open to their needs, whether it is to answer questions or be alone. Understand it will take more than words and it will take time.  

You need to be open to and compliant with any accountability related to your phone or other devices as you begin to rebuild trust. You need to accept any other accountability that your spouse deems necessary, including whatever else they need to feel secure, heal, and continue to rebuild trust (even if you think they’re going overboard or being unreasonable). They are probably navigating severe anxiety and hypervigilance. This is not the time to try to negotiate; it’s the time to live out true self-sacrificial love. 

This is when you need good friends who are for your marriage and accountability.

YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)

The Spouse Who Was Betrayed By The Emotional Affair

You didn’t make your spouse have an emotional affair. Know this, believe this, feel this, but it is also true that affairs do not happen in a vacuum. There is always a context to infidelity and betrayal. The marriage and the affair are usually connected. 

Often, the marital context allows for a better understanding of the emotional affair. As marriage therapist Esther Perel points out, “The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.” As the therapist puts it, “The betrayed spouse, to one degree or another, can be one dimension of the infidelity—just like narcissism, low self-esteem, addiction, or a mid-life crisis can be a key for understanding your spouse’s [emotional] infidelity.”

But make no mistake, your spouse chose to have an emotional affair. Probably in a series of little choices. It all could have been avoided by choosing to ignore a text, to not eat lunch with a coworker, to unfollow someone on social media, to not divulge things to someone that only a spouse should hear. They could have chosen to work on your marriage.

At a minimum, you should know the following:

  1. Who the emotional affair partner was.
  2. How long the affair lasted.
  3. How often they met.
  4. Where they met.
  5. How they communicated. (Email, secret texting apps, phone or burner phone, etc.)

If the marriage survives, this information is essential to avoid future affairs and for appropriate accountability and to put boundaries in place. Take time to think about what would be most helpful for you to know. Sometimes when affairs are uncovered, the betrayed spouse says they want to know every single detail of the relationship, only later to discover that all that information wasn’t really helpful.

Understand that men and women generally view emotional affairs differently. In fact, according to a survey by VictoriaMilan.com, an online affair dating site (the U.K.’s AshleyMadison.com) for people who are already married or in relationships, there are some clear distinctions between how men and women view emotional affairs.

Here’s what they discovered:

  • 72% of men said sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs.
  • 69% of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
  • 76% of women said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair
  • Only 35% of men said they would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair.
  • 80% of men said they would forgive an emotional affair.
  • Only 30% of women indicated they would forgive an emotional affair.

According to this and other research, women are much more unforgiving of emotional connections while men are much more unforgiving of physical ones. Again, understand that, in general, men and women look at emotional affairs very differently

This is important to acknowledge as you work toward understanding what happened, heal, rebuild trust, grow in security, and strengthen your marriage. Take care of yourself so that you are physically and emotionally healthy and whole.

When you’re ready, you need to offer and communicate true forgiveness. Be open and willing to change as an individual and in how you relate to your spouse. You can’t “dance the same dance” anymore. This is your new, second marriage even though it is with the same spouse. Be intentional about making it strong and healthy!

Expect good and bad days, ups and downs, three steps forward and two steps back. Healing as an individual, healing for your spouse, and healing as a couple is a process. Don’t be discouraged by bad days or setbacks. Have a friend who is for your marriage who can keep you accountable, and you can be honest with and vent to. 

Don’t blame and focus on their affair partner. This is understandable but completely counter-productive, can re-traumatize you, fuel intrusive thoughts, and impede healing. 

Find resources that work for you. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional counseling for yourself and marriage counseling for you both. 

★ Only about 15% of marriages break up directly because of infidelity and end in divorce. According to counselors, couple’s therapists, and marriage coaches, whether the marriage will survive is based on how each spouse responds to the emotional affair.

Some Other Helpful Resources:

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

What Is Emotional Intimacy in Marriage? (And Why Does It Matter?)

Being close with the one you love has major benefits.

Many things don’t really matter (or at least shouldn’t matter) in marriage. If a dinner gets burned every now and then, it doesn’t matter. One person likes the beach and the other likes the mountains? I can speak from personal experience: doesn’t matter. 

One cheers for the Yankees and the other for the Red Sox…well, some conflict resolution may be necessary. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter

But emotional intimacy… boy, does it ever matter. And here’s why. 

Intimacy in marriage is the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. There’s a lot packed in this definition, but what you need to know right now is that emotional intimacy is an ongoing pursuit. Why? Because there’s always more to learn and understand about the person you love the most—plus they are constantly growing and life throws different circumstances at them. (And you, too.)

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s going on inside your spouse (and being understood in the same way). It’s knowing all their feelings, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, fears, motivations, and desires. It’s gaining a better sense of what drives your spouse, what moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your spouse.

Unfortunately, many couples get stuck in a cycle of operating with a severe lack of emotional intimacy. 

That’s what happened to Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland. The first two years of their marriage were utter bliss. Intimacy seemed to come naturally: staying up at all hours of the night talking, being in each other’s presence as much as possible, and of course, lots of newly-married sex. 

However, real life started to creep in as the busyness of work, the drama of in-laws, the stacking of bills, and the arrival of children took center stage. Emotional intimacy was no longer so natural. There were fewer opportunities to spend time with each other; they no longer spent the weekends enjoying chili dogs at the Tastee Freez like they used to. When Jack and Diane did talk, it was either about their schedule or finances or shuffling the kiddos from one place to another, but never anything deeper. Disagreements quickly grew into all-out fights. It was difficult for Jack or Diane to feel safe in the relationship, and there was often the feeling of walking on eggshells when they were in the same room. 

Fortunately, Jack and Diane started reading wonderfully helpful marriage tips from First Things First (shameless plug…) and learned that emotional intimacy can be built up again, but it takes being intentional. Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective—an invested student of each other. Emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside. 

And they figured out, by golly, emotional intimacy matters. Why? 

Couples with emotional intimacy experience a greater connection and enhanced communication. 

Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say: 

  • Whenever we talk, it feels like I’m heard, even if we don’t agree. 
  • When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect. 
  • He doesn’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem, unless I ask for it; he simply listens to try and understand what I’m feeling. 
  • When we have a disagreement, it doesn’t feel like we’re on opposing sides necessarily; it feels like we’re on the same side trying to solve the same problem. 
  • We’re busy, but we do find time to carve into our schedule to just spend time with each other. That’s important to us. 

Couples with emotional intimacy

  • Have a stronger sense of trust and security. Knowing and being known chips away at the need to wonder how much you can really rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just being yourself.
  • Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding what goes on on the inside (and why it goes on) gives you a better appreciation and compassion for your spouse, warts and all. When that’s a two-way street in a relationship, it’s a beautiful thing. 
  • Have a stronger physical intimacy. If you were to look up the research, you’d find that emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a strong effect on each other. I like to think of it like pedaling a bicycle. One pedal is emotional intimacy and the other physical intimacy. When you push one pedal forward, it will bring the other around to be pushed. Repeat the cycle (see what I did there?) and you quickly gain momentum and acceleration.

The great thing about understanding more about emotional intimacy in your marriage is you come to understand it’s never too late to make it matter and take it deeper. It’s within your power. And with some work (such as these exercises), you can begin to build a strong emotional intimacy with the one you love the most. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

READY TO HAVE AMAZING, MIND-BLOWING SEX?

A better sex life is totally possible.

Your marriage goes through ups and downs, highs and lows, crazy passion and mundane routine-filled days. But sometimes you can get stuck in that monotony. Not only does your sex life go out the window, you may find conversations are lacking and that you’re both just generally not connecting with each other.

Discover Deeper Intimacy in Your Marriage offers simple, practical strategies to help you reignite the passion and connection with your spouse in 5 intimacy-building modules.

How To Build Empathy In Marriage

These 5 steps can get you started in no time.

Have you ever whipped up your favorite batch of homemade cookies to find out in the first bite that you left out that one key ingredient that makes all the difference? Empathy is that key ingredient to a great recipe for a healthy marriage that you don’t want to forget. 

A large body of research tells us the practice of empathy is essential to a thriving, happy, healthy marriage. However, many people reduce the idea of empathy to it being just “touchy-feely” or something that some people are born having, but others not so much. 

What exactly is empathy, and can you have it for your spouse if you’ve never experienced what they have experienced? 

There are many definitions out there for empathy; some have described it as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I like the definition that U.C. Berkeley researchers Levenson and Ruef give: empathy is the ability to detect accurately the emotional information being transmitted by another person. The keywords here (in my humble opinion) are detect accurately. The goal of empathy in marriage is to understand as closely as possible what is going on in your spouse’s mind and heart at the moment. And keep in mind this is a skill that you can learn, not an inherent trait that you’re born with. 

But real marital empathy doesn’t stop with simply understanding. Empathy is an action. We find this reflected in an explanation of empathy given by Dr. Paul Ekman, who separates empathy into three parts. Cognitive empathy is what we just talked about; it allows us to imagine how someone is feeling and say Wow, that must be really tough.

Emotional empathy goes a little further to allow ourselves to actually feel what our spouse is feeling (even though we don’t have the same experiences).  It’s the same mental processes at work as when you shed tears watching a romcom or feel sadness when you witness someone who’s down and out. The thing is, you can control whether you attempt to feel what the other person is feeling. Which is good news for spouses (like you) who want to build more empathy in their marriage. 

But the third part of Ekman’s empathy triad is compassionate empathy. It balances the first two parts so that we can take empathetic action. This empathy triad, according to Ekman, keeps the whole person in mind, making empathy a work of both mind, heart, and behavior.

So here’s what this may look like in marriage. Your spouse comes home from a stressful day at work to find the kids still haven’t taken care of the dirty dishes in their rooms that they were told a thousand times to put in the dishwasher. You listen to them and try to non-judgmentally understand how they’re feeling (even though the thought of lingering dirty dishes doesn’t particularly bother you). You allow yourself to feel at least a little bit of the frustration they feel. And out of compassionate empathy, you extend a hug, thank them for all the hard work they do. Then you go upstairs to goad the ankle-biters into gathering up the fungus-laden dishes so your spouse doesn’t have to for the 1,001st time. 

Considering this trilogy-approach to empathy, how do you build empathy in your marriage? Here are some steps for couples to take: 

  • Listen. Not to judge. Not to fix. And not even to retort. Listen simply to grasp what your spouse is feeling with as much accuracy as possible. Listen closely to your spouse to understand their feelings in the same way you’d listen to a teacher to understand how to do calculus. 
  • Validate. You may listen and think, Gee, I’d never get so riled up (or excited, or sad) over this. Avoid judging your spouse’s feelings based on how you would respond in the same situation. Instead, acknowledge to yourself that these are their feelings (and not yours). Respond verbally to your spouse with legitimizing replies like, “Wow, that must be frustrating,” or “I can see how you’d be excited about that.”
  • Share. Namely, your spouse’s emotional response. This may take some conscious effort on your part, especially if they are emotionally responsive to a situation in a way you wouldn’t. Truly put yourself in their shoes. See the world from their eyes. Allow yourself to experience any part of the anger, frustration, excitement, happiness, or whatever feeling they are expressing to you. (Even for the most stoic person, the more you put this into practice, the easier it becomes over time.) 
  • Act. Take what you’ve come to understand from the previous steps and respond in compassion. When you come to understand accurately the mind and heart of your spouse in a given situation, it’s easier to be in tune with what they need at that moment. Keep in mind that this very well may not be the time to “fix” their problem. A helpful trick I’ve learned is to ask my spouse, “Is this a time you want me to listen and help you figure out a solution, or would it be more helpful to listen and simply try to understand?” More often than not, she simply needs an empathetic ear and a compassionate response. 
  • Practice vulnerability. Here’s the thing: empathy begets empathy. What I mean is, it’s a two-way street. Empathy is best built when both people in the marriage open up about situations, feelings, and thoughts they simply want the other to better understand. That’s the beauty of it: the practice of empathy helps you to know that you can open up to your spouse and they’ll be non-judgmental and supportive. And they can be open with you and you’ll respond in the same way. Trust is reinforced. The marriage is strengthened. And all because empathy is that one ingredient that makes the difference in the recipe. 

Empathy is an all-important ingredient for a healthy marriage, but building it takes time. Empathy grows with momentum, especially if it hasn’t been expressed very much previously. However, you might find that if you pay close attention to the above steps, it doesn’t take long for the momentum to get rolling pretty quickly. 

Read other blogs to learn more about empathy here:

What to Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

How to Stop Resentment

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

Why are you fighting?” That’s the question one little girl posed to her parents at the dinner table as they were in the midst of a heated discussion about what needed to happen after dinner. How do you talk with your children about why parents fight? 

It’s pretty much a given that parents will get sideways with each other in front of the kids. Sometimes it’s about something ridiculous and other times it’s something of a more adult nature. Here’s the thing: whether it is something small or something that really matters, how you fight impacts your children. Children do not like conflict. 

Witnessing your parents have an argument can be very scary and unsettling for children of any age. Here are some tips for talking with your children about why parents fight.

  • Check your own emotional temperature. It’s very important to be emotionally-aware for yourself and for your child. Before you talk with your child about the reasons parents might fight, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re emotionally ready for it. For instance, right after a fight might not be the best time to have the discussion. When you take the time to cool down before approaching your child, you are practicing emotional regulation, which is a very important skill for both you and your child. When you talk with your child, be specific about the emotions they might be feeling right now. They could be experiencing fear, sadness or worry, among other things. Helping them to put names to what they are feeling will help build their emotional intelligence. It also helps them learn how to process through an experience.  
  • Keep it age appropriate. Everyone experiences conflict from time to time. Remind them about the time they didn’t want to share their toy with their sibling or when they were angry with one of you for not letting them do something. That’s a disagreement, too. Sometimes parents fight when they have different opinions about things, they are upset about something from work or they are tired, have a lot going on, or aren’t feeling well. Help them see that healthy disagreements are normal in families.
  • Discuss feelings and tone of voice. There are times when parents argue that their tone of voice sounds mean, angry and loud. These moments can be very stressful for children. Literally, researchers have measured cortisol (the stress hormone) in children’s bodies and have found that even infants respond to their parents’ fighting. This could be a time when you apologize for the way you expressed your emotions and use it as a teachable moment to talk about how what we say and do when we are angry or upset with each other impacts everyone in the family. We all make mistakes. The goal is to learn how to do things differently the next time you have a disagreement.
  • Reassure your child that you love them and that your desire is to work things out. If possible, let them see you resolve the issue together. If you are fighting about an ongoing issue that is creating significant angst in your marriage, be careful what you share with your children as you do not want to say things that are untrue or will paint your spouse in a bad light. You might tell them that you are asking for help to solve your problem if you cannot resolve it on your own.

Fighting scares children. As a parent, helping them to see that disagreements are part of being in a relationship and letting them know that just because parents are fighting, it doesn’t mean they are going to get divorced can help settle their anxiety. Teaching and modeling what healthy conflict looks like decreases drama in your home. It also prepares children for healthy relationships in the future.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***