Unhealthy Ways to Argue

By Focus on the Family
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
DavidPereirasVillag/iStock/Thinkstock
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.

Taken from The DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships: Discover the Key to Your Teen’s Heart published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1998 and 2005 by Gary Smalley and Greg Smalley, Psy.D. All rights reserved.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.