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Unhealthy Ways to Argue

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Four habits to avoid in family disagreements with your teens

Attempts at communication between parents and teens can be extremely frustrating for both parties. Unfortunately, many families tend to use one or more of four common habits that bring further anger and destruction to the relationship. In other words, these four common habits are what we shouldn’t do when we have family disagreements. Let’s examine these unhealthy ways of arguing so we know what to avoid.

Four Destructive Ways to Argue

1. Continually withdrawing from an argument

Conflict avoidance or withdrawal doesn’t happen only in “dysfunctional” families; it’s common in otherwise healthy families as well. In our seminar survey of more than 5,000 adults, when we asked “How did you and your parents deal with conflict?” the number-one response was avoiding or withdrawing from it.

How about your family? Do you find that you and your teenager continue to bring up the same areas of conflict without resolving them? If so, these discussions probably end in hurt, frustration, or fear because the issues have not been handled adequately.

2. Letting arguments escalate into hurtful, name-calling fights

If you and your teen find yourselves starting to shout and call each other degrading, dishonoring names during an argument, the anger level will usually skyrocket. Nothing can make a discussion escalate out of control faster. Yet when we asked our survey respondents how their families had handled conflict, “Yelling and screaming at each other” was the third-most-common answer.

What usually starts this kind of interaction is the accusatory word you. For example, “You never … You always … You make me …” As this happens, you’re usually left with greater hurt and frustration. Furthermore, the fear level is now higher because you remember the increased pain of the argument. The result is more love-killing anger between those involved.

Usually following on the heels of an escalating argument is the third bad habit we need to avoid.

3. Belittling or invalidating each other during an argument

To invalidate someone is to make fun of him or attack his personhood. For example, during a conflict we might accuse our teenager of being stupid, uncaring, wild, immature, ugly, or something equally dishonoring. When this happens, it can cause emotional damage and sour the relationship.

Invalidation takes place when we try to cut someone at the core of her being, like saying something about her age, personality, appearance, or intelligence. To be invalidated can be extremely painful. Perhaps you remember a time when a parent, teacher, coach, or friend said something that hurt you deep inside, maybe not even realizing the depth of pain his comment caused.

Why do conflicts between parents and teenagers so often escalate into name-calling, yelling, and invalidation? One reason we need to understand is the intensity and variability of teenage emotions. It’s no secret that adolescence is a period of emotional highs and lows. Our teens may feel as if they’re on an emotional roller coaster: loving one minute and hating the next; feeling a sense of pride and then suddenly feeling shame. One moment the future looks bright, and then in the blink of an eye it’s hopeless.

The intensity and variability of emotions, especially in teenagers and especially during conflict, can cause a calm discussion to turn instantly into a raging war of words. It’s no wonder that you can expect to experience occasional escalation and invalidation.

One of the best ways to deal with escalation and invalidation during a conflict is to take a “time-out.” In other words, when emotions start to heighten, body temperatures rise, and words start becoming dishonoring, it’s time to take a break. Always agree to resume the discussion when everyone’s emotions have settled. As you utilize the time-out with your teenager, you will be modeling a great conflict resolution skill that he or she will be able to use for a lifetime.

Let’s now turn our attention to the final habit in arguing that can produce anger and become extremely toxic to the honor in your home.

4. Starting to believe that a family member is trying to hurt, frustrate, or cause fear on purpose

When we begin to develop a negative belief about someone, it can have permanent and ruinous consequences. What we believe about our children may come true, good or bad. Once we start developing a deep conviction that our teenager is stupid, clumsy, trying to drive us crazy, or going to get pregnant, we’ll actually hear or see signs of it even if it isn’t true. Confirmation bias is particularly destructive when it comes to parent-adolescent conflict.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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