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Why it’s critical to argue with your spouse in front of your kids

Is there anything more awkward than a whisper fight? When you’re visiting a couple and suddenly a conflict arises, whereupon they excuse themselves to the bedroom or water closet or pantry cupboard to spit venom at each other, sotto voce?

The idea is that muffled, whispered fighting that you’re supposed to pretend isn’t happening is somehow better than a loud out-and-out, but how? Everyone knows you’re fighting. Everyone feels weird about it. And while I’m not suggesting that everyone begins to air their dirty laundry at dinner parties and play dates, I think that there’s some value in having a good, old-fashioned out in the open fight, especially in front of your kids.

I used to try to shield my daughter from disagreements with her dad, until I realized I could be teaching her a lesson about unconditional love.

The idea of fighting in front of impressionable little innocents is such a counterintuitive idea that when I tell people that I fight with my husband in front of our daughter, you would think that I’d just admitted to forcing her to slam back tequila shots or pay rent, or otherwise grow up before she’s ready, but I’m actually not that big of a monster. Just hear me out.

For one thing, fighting in front of our child keeps us civil. When you think about it, people excuse themselves to brawl because things could potentially get nasty, and that makes sense; you don’t want your kid to hear you screaming or hurling profanities at each other. On the other hand, though, neither of those things bring anything of value to an argument and usually only prolong it. I will be the first to admit that I’ve wanted to call my husband all manner of creative names regarding which part of the body I feel he most accurately represents when I’m angry, but I’m not going to resort to that if my kid’s in the room.

Additionally, a kid’s going to keep you honest. While you should never relegate your child to the role of referee, no one’s better at sniffing and subsequently pointing out bullshit than a 7-year-old. There’s no point in me exaggerating a perceived (or actual) misdeed on my husband’s part if I know that my daughter’s just going to point out that it is physically impossible for me to have found dirty socks on the stairs “billions of times.”

Finally, and most importantly, there is conflict in every relationship, whether it’s with a partner or a parent. None of this will mystify my kid when she’s older, because she will see firsthand that an argument is not necessarily the death knell of a relationship. It’s important to both me and my husband that our daughter understands that a healthy relationship isn’t free of conflict, but it is free of abusive behavior.

She will know that a productive fight is never a violent one, or an uncontrollable one, or one where someone calls you a bitch, or you fling insults at each other. A fight is something that happens when you hit a bump; sometimes it’s small and sometimes it’s gnarly, but if the relationship is worth salvaging, you will stay civil and work at it.

Most of all, it’s important that my daughter sees how a fight ends. Sometimes it ends with hugs, sometimes with apologies and sometimes at an impasse. But it does end. There are a lot of things that I hope my daughter takes away from seeing me fight with my better half, but the biggest one is this:

Sometimes we don’t like what the people we love do. Hell, sometimes we don’t even like them. But there is space in this family to screw up — sometimes royallyand still be loved unconditionally.

More on conflict in relationships

Things that are oddly healthy for your relationship
How to argue the healthy way
Is arguing worth dying for?

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