Q: I'd be interested in hearing your take on managing "little spats" in marriage. Sometimes my wife and I get into minor disagreements that escalate quickly. I think we're both at fault. One of us says something snippy, the other responds a bit angrier and a bit louder, back and forth it goes. Is this normal?
Jim: I think most couples know exactly what this is like. We certainly don't 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."
Disagreements in marriage (or any relationship) can be like racing up an emotional ladder. Here's the thing about ladders: 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.
Not to mention that you're usually unstable at the top of a ladder. Issues between a husband and wife just get harder to address when tensions (and vocal tones) rise.
So we need to stay off the crazy ladder -- not just for the sake of our marriages, but also for our children if we have them. There's plenty of research showing that kids 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 remain calm and discuss your differences rationally. Resolve your problems in a way that strengthens your marriage instead of weakens it. The first step might be the willingness to acknowledge the situation: "Honey, we're climbing the crazy ladder again."
Focus on the Family offers many resources to help -- including a staff of professional counselors. See FocusOnTheFamily.com or call 855-771-HELP (4357) to arrange a free counseling consultation.
Q: My child seems stressed all the time. What can I do to help?
Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: It's normal for your child to feel a wide range of emotions such as fear, anger and worry. But when these emotions begin to affect your child's behavior and habits, there might be more significant problems.
Stress and anxiety are different but also cousins. In general, anxiety is characterized by persistent worries that don't ever seem to go away. On the other hand, stress is your child's natural and common response to situations they see as threatening or overwhelming.
Consider these three steps to help your stressed child.
Listen and Validate
Make sure to listen to what perceptions are in your child's "thought bubbles" -- thus causing some feelings and emotions. As you listen, most likely their feelings will make sense because emotions simply follow their thoughts. As you listen and understand, validate where they're at in the moment.
Recognize that you can provide important lessons on how to handle stress in healthy ways. I recommend developing a stress management menu to use when the child is feeling stressed. This menu can include taking a walk, reading, exercising, drawing, etc. Help them learn how to manage stress instead of being overwhelmed by it.
This is where you get to pair your creativity with how your child best receives love and affection. Sometimes physical touch (like a hug) communicates support better than words. Other times, your child might simply need you to listen to them as they share their feelings.
If you think your child needs more help coping with increased or chronic stress, call our counseling line at 855-771-HELP (4357). And to learn more about creating a mentally healthy home for your family, go to FocusOnParenting.com.
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.
INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.