Q: My wife and I don't fight that often, but when we do, it seems to escalate quickly. I think we're both at fault. One of us says something snide, and the other responds with something that's a bit angrier and a bit louder. Then back and forth it goes. How do we nip this in the bud?
Jim: I think most couples know exactly what this is like; you don't necessarily mean to escalate things, but it happens. A few years ago, I interviewed a relationship expert for our radio broadcast, and he called this "climbing the crazy ladder."
Fighting as a couple is like racing up an emotional ladder. The thing about ladders is you can go up fast, but coming down quickly is a lot harder. In other words, once a disagreement has escalated into a heated argument, it's much more difficult to calm things down.
Also, it's really unstable at the top of a ladder. The problems between a husband and wife don't get easier to resolve when a disagreement escalates into a heated argument.
As couples, we not only need to stay off the crazy ladder for the sake of our marriages, but we also need to do it for our children if we have them. There's plenty of research that shows children suffer lifelong repercussions when they're exposed to chronic, poorly handled conflict.
The best advice is not to go up the crazy ladder in the first place. Learn how to stay calm, discuss your differences rationally, and resolve your problems in a way that strengthens your marriage instead of weakening it. The first step might be the willingness to say, "Honey, we're climbing the crazy ladder again." We have many resources to help at FocusOnTheFamily.com. You can even contact our staff counselors for advice and assistance.
Q: Our two daughters (ages 13 and 7) fight and bicker all the time. We've talked many times about the need to be kind, loving and forgiving. They always promise to do better next time, but nothing ever changes. How can we help them overcome this sibling rivalry?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: I think most families deal with sibling conflict at some point. It happens with my children -- usually at the most inconvenient times! Overcoming sibling conflict takes consistency, focus and time, so keep these three things in mind:
Stay calm: This is difficult when children are bickering; it's "ninja level" parenting. Breathe deep and remember that you're teaching them how to handle relationships and resolve conflict -- skills we all need as we mature. Take time to understand each of your daughters' perspectives. Their age and personalities factor in, as well.
Listen and Teach: Carefully listen to your children, help them identify the real issue between them, and involve them in finding solutions and setting consequences. The agreement in our home is, after five minutes of fussing, the kids have hired me for $1-a-minute to help them sort the conflict. We work on taking turns listening, practicing empathy ("What's it like to be with me?") and asking, "What do I really want?" They're learning to self-reflect and put themselves in the other person's shoes. It's not always perfect, but this is an unnatural skill for all of us.
Provide consistent limits: If the children are rude, mean or physical, you have to intervene with consequences. I know several families who do this: Whoever is being a bully must clean the toilets, signifying that the issue needs to be flushed out of the home. There are many other options for consequences, from time-outs to losing privileges or toys (with the opportunity to earn them back).
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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