When your married children argue with their spouses, getting involved is not only unnecessary, it can even make matters worse.
Parents love their children and want to see them happy in their marriages. However, even in the happiest marriage some conflict is inevitable; it’s the human condition. When children argue with their spouses, especially in their parents’ presence, the desire to intervene can be almost irresistible.
Don’t take a position
“First of all, it’s important to emphasize that parents don’t have to get involved in their child’s relationship,” explains Laurence de Saint Vincent, a marriage and family counselor. “Parents can provide support and help if they can, if and only if the adult child or the couple requests it.”
But what should you do if your child is involved in a marital disagreement? As a parent, this situation can be painful, and the need to help your child can turn into a form of self-defense. According to the specialist, taking sides doesn’t really help the couple to manage the conflict. When parents intervene to defend their child, it can be intrusive and actually make the situation worse.
For instance, when a mother sees her daughter-in-law arguing with her son, she may be tempted to speak up in defense of her son. As a consequence, the daughter-in-law might naturally have the impression that everyone is ganging up on her. In another instance, a wife’s parents might defend their son-in-law precisely to avoid the impression of playing favorites — and unintentionally upset their daughter.
In both cases, someone ends up getting hurt.
A difficult situation
The temptation is understandable, of course. “This is a very delicate subject. When the argument takes place in front of one of the parents, you could say that he or she becomes almost a hostage to the conflict taking place in front of their eyes. They’re caught up in it in spite of themselves,” notes Laurence de Saint Vincent. “You can ask what’s going on and offer to help,” he continues.
However, we must always keep in mind that when a married couple is having a conflict, it’s the couple who should decide how to resolve it, and they must choose whether or not to ask for outside intervention from a family member or marriage counselor.
Because witnessing domestic disputes is so unpleasant, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask the couple not to argue in front of everyone. Or if possible, to leave the room and give the couple some privacy. “That would be the middle position to take. Say, ‘I can see this isn’t going well, so I’ll step aside and let you work things out.’ Of course, at the end of the argument, it’s possible to check that both are doing well without interfering in their relationship,” explains de Saint Vincent.
But how can you manage your emotions when your child is being verbally abused by their spouse, and is suffering as a result? Parents will be strongly tempted to step in and say, “How dare you talk to him like that!” However, Laurence de Saint Vincent advises parents to pay attention to their emotions and resist the urge to defend their offspring.
If resisting the urge to intervene proves impossible, the counselor points out that it would be “smarter to ask more open-ended questions: Do you really mean what you’re saying?”
Laurence de Saint Vincent concludes, “The parent is entitled to intervene in the dispute only in the event of violence.”