It's interesting because I am not very clear on where I stand on this issue...and I guess it has to do with what kind of "fighter" you are? My husband and I taught a Marriage Course at our church for years, and one of the things that was included in this wonderful material was an evaluation of "fighting" strategies that couples often use (sometimes without even being aware that they are doing it) when they are in conflict. One strategy is that of the "RHINO" and the other is that of the "HEDGEHOG" (from Nicky and Sila Lee's The Marriage Course/ Brompton, England). Neither strategy is healthy because whereas the rhinos charge and are often very aggressive in their tactics during confrontations in the marriage, the hedgehogs roll up in little balls with all their prickly spines sticking outward and are no better at dealing with the issues at hand than their counterparts.
I entitled this blog post "stop fighting in front of your children" because I read that title on a post from someone on Twitter and it jogged my interest. I understand the concept of keeping your arguments as a couple out of the immediate family environment when children may see Mommy and Daddy upset with each other and not understand what is going on. There is definitely an unsettling, disturbing anxiety that can surface as a result of witnessing constant, unresolved conflict between the two people in the family that are supposed to love each other! That can definitely have a ripple effect for your kids, especially when they are little and not privy to the intricacies of relationships. Despite the fact that some conflict can actually be healthy, a young child will only see the emotions on the surface and immediately interpret those interactions as "scary" and upsetting. They don't miss much - we found that out. They can even sense a "cold shoulder" without needing to witness the precipitating altercation.
On the other hand, there is nothing better for older children than to understand that sometimes adults, and even parents, can disagree on something, hash it out and come to some agreement or understanding on the other end! Moreover, if they witness the sweet "making up" hugs afterwards, It can be a healthy role modeling opportunity that can teach your children how to "fight fair" as long as you do fight fair! Unfortunately, if you are screaming, throwing things, using abusive language, hiding in the bathroom, crying and not getting anywhere in your conflict...that is not something you want on display for your children to experience on a regular basis!
So, I guess it really does come down to the one question: do you fight fair? Do you express your feelings in an honest, non-hysterical manner and hear out your spouse, committed to resolving the issue no matter what it takes or how long it will take? We used to teach a word picture (again from the Lee's Marriage Course) that had couples picturing their issue out in front of them as they sat next to each other on a couch. That word picture enables a husband and wife to tackle their issues as a team, realizing that they really are on "the same side". That is also something that couples can model for their kids. However, If you are not on the same side then sometimes you have to agree to disagree!
This is not to say that your children will never witness a full-blown battle between husband and wife/ dad and mom! It happens. But better to take those to a nearby park bench to hash out until the disagreement is put to rest. At the very least, a step away from the heated argument may serve you well in being able to resolve it without the emotion of the moment...and it may save the scene from being witnessed by impressionable little ones who will feel the ripple effects no matter how hard you try to keep the conflict under wraps.
Our children are so observant and so impressionable. They are impacted by our interactions in ways we aren't even aware of...so if in doubt--> take it out (of the house) unless you can truly learn to fight fair and in a healthy way! If you haven't learned already, maybe it's time! You'll be glad you did...