Every couple fights.
Research shows that these conflicts fall into two categories: those that can be solved, like what movie to see on Saturday night, and those that can't be solved, like how to spend money. Unfortunately, almost 70% of conflicts fall into the irresolvable category.
Since we know we're going to fight, it's important to learn to fight right. Studies reveal that how a couple fights matters more to the health of their relationship than how much they fight.
A couple with children has an additional pressure on their fighting style, because they owe it to their kids to maintain a certain level of civility, even if they'd take a no-holds-barred approach in private.
Here are some tips about how to fight right in front of children:
1. Don't get physical -- obviously, not hitting, but also no throwing things, breaking things, or slamming doors.
2. Don't criticize your spouse with sweeping generalizations, like "Your father never thinks about anyone but himself." Instead, criticize specific actions, like "It really annoys me when your mother forgets to put gas in the car."
3. Children are highly attuned to their parents. Don't think they won't notice the "silent treatment."
4. Don't ask your kids to tattle on a parent, or to choose a side.
5. Don't expose your kids to inappropriate information about finances, sex, previous behavior, job worries, etc.
6. Obviously, sometimes you will fight in front of your kids. Try to do so only if you're going to resolve the fight in that conversation. That way, you show your kids that people can fight and come to resolution.Even better - and I'm making a big effort to do this when I fight with the Big Man when our children are around - is to joke around and be affectionate, even during a fight. This is practically impossible, but when I can manage, it makes fighting much more pleasant for me and the Big Man, as well as for our daughters.
* There's been a lot of interest in the one-page discussion guide for book groups. Because so many people mentioned that they're reading The Happiness Project with their church group, or in a spirituality book group, and the like, I wrote another one-page discussion guide that focuses on the spiritual aspect. If you'd like either discussion guide (or both!), email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.