We've all done it. Let our anger fly and throw a barrage of spiteful words at our partner in front of the kids. Even behind closed doors, we know they can hear everything, so why do we do it?
‘Children are like emotional Geiger counters,” says E. Mark Cummings, psychologist at Notre Dame University, who, along with colleagues, has published hundreds of papers for over twenty years on the subject. ‘Kids pay close attention to their parents’ emotions for information about how safe they are in the family’, Cummings says. ‘When parents are destructive, the collateral damage to kids can last a lifetime.’
So what are we supposed to do without the fear of scarring (and scaring) our children for life? Is there a solution, even after divorce, that we can deal with our ex with shared custody? Cummings believes there is. As he, along with Kathleen N Bergman and Kelly A. Warmuth, address in their publication, The Benefits of Marital Conflict: Evolution, Family, and Society, certain conflict can be positive.
'Conflict can be beneficial to development if that conflict is constructive. Unlike its destructive counterpart, constructive conflict is characterized by adaptive approaches to disagreements, such as problem-solving, compromising and apologizing (when appropriate). Most important, parents who argue constructively work towards a solution.'
So what I've been told that works for countless couples is to write down what you want to say first so you can re-read and work out if it's clear and fair. If your ex's response takes you off track, don't respond immediately (count to ten). Stop, think (of the kids), respond calmly (that might be hard), and repeat. Good luck!