Our Relationship.... And Parenting Through Conflict

This NebGuide is one in a series of six addressing the personal and working relationships between family members.

Kathy R. Bosch, Extension Specialist, Family Life Education
Current Contact: John D. DeFrain, Family and Community Development Specialist

Even the most compatible, passionate, energetic and loving couple will have conflict at times. Conflict itself is not bad. It is the way people deal with conflict that may cause problems. If conflict does not serve a purpose or solve a problem, it can cause disruption and chaos. However, couples who do not have open conflict probably ignore issues that need attention. Couples with a strong relationship can handle conflict, negotiate and resolve some problems, and agree to disagree on some issues.*

Fair Fighting

Children should not be purposely used as an audience or for support during parental fights. However, children can learn some valuable skills when watching their parents “fight fairly.” What does “fighting fairly” mean? Check to see if you are using some of the techniques in “fair fighting.”

    Not putting each other down
    Not devaluing each other
    Not being demeaning
    Not calling names
    Not withholding discussion or affection
    Not losing your temper
    Not getting physically hostile
    No verbal abuse
    Talking rationally
    No blaming
    Looking at both sides
    Allowing some time to deal with the conflict/problem
    Taking some time to cool down
    Determining the main cause of conflict
    Dealing with conflict instead of avoiding or ignoring it
    Having mutual respect for each other
    Being willing to share your feelings
    Listening to the other person
    Asking for your partner’s opinion
    Caring about your partner’s feelings
    Standing your ground for beliefs and values you hold dear
    Recognizing that some difficult problems will not be solvable
    Disagreeing only over the things that really matter
    Taking care of yourself
    Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy foods
    Having a friend or counselor to talk with
    Being honest
    Tackling the problem and not each other
    If necessary, being willing to get some help from a third party

Choose When Children Should Hear or Be Involved

Children have a special knack for hearing things through walls and around corners! Make sure you have most of your heated arguments in private. However, there may be some occasions when you choose to involve your children in the discussion. Remember, though, that children should not be treated as adults or given adult responsibilities or concerns. You are the parent and therefore responsible for taking care of your children. Conversely, pretending things are always okay is not the best way to go either. Use your common sense. Children need to feel loved and secure and want to know that their parents love them and love each other. Children also need to learn how to handle conflict.

Self-check on Couple Conflict

When love and mutual respect are present in a partner relationship, you will not intentionally devalue or hurt the other person. Occasionally, you may say or do something that hurts the other person. Be willing to say you are sorry for what you have said or done. It will be helpful for you to do a self-check on how you handle conflict.

Conflict need not be avoided because children are present. When witnessing their parents disagreeing, children can learn how to appropriately deal with problems, conflict and anger. This is an opportunity for parents to role model techniques that demonstrate love, respect, commitment and trust between family members. Problems and conflict can be managed effectively so partners do not hurt or devalue each other. Partners will enhance their relationship when they tackle and resolve problems that can be resolved, agree that some issues may not be resolved, and respect each other throughout the disagreement or conflict. In addition they will be teaching their children valuable skills that can be used throughout life.

*Note: The partner relationship discussed in this series of NebGuides is assumed to be healthy with no abuse or mistreatment present. In the case of partner abuse, this information does not apply. In order to rehabilitate, the abuser must willingly seek counseling and therapy. Parents always must look out for the best interest and safety of minor children. If abuse is present in the relationship, the interests of the abusive partner should not be put above the well-being of dependent children.

For help call the Nebraska Statewide Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 876-6238 or National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 (voice) and (800) 787-3224 (TDD).


Bosch, Kathy and Strasheim, Cynthia, (2007). Supporting Stepfamilies. University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Gottman, John Mordechai, (1994). What Predicts Divorce? The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes. University of Washington; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, New Jersey.

Hyde Martin, Mary, (1991). Rural Task Force Resource Packet: Reflections of Rural Realities. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Oregon.

Marotz-Baden, R., Hennon, C., and Brubaker, T. (1988). Families in Rural America: Stress, Adaptation and Revitalization. National Council on Family Relations, Minnesota.

Shoup Olsen, Charlotte, (1997). CoupleTALK: Enhancing your relationship. Kansas State University.

Shoup Olsen, Charlotte, (2001). Basic Family Communication. Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Smith, Charles, (2001). Basic Parenting. Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service.

This publication has been peer-reviewed.

Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Publications Web site for more publications.
Index: Families
Issued January 2008

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