People in close relationships actually become more similar to each other over time. This is not that surprising, but still gives us some interesting ways to think about our relationships.
Another interesting finding is that we are wired to mimicry. Infants as young as six days old mimic their parents emotions. This is a fundamental way we, as humans, learn to act, behave and feel. I think this is especially important when we think about how we fight around our children.
This is how most adults fight when they are in front of their children:
[Scene: In the car on the way home from dinner at the in-laws]
“I can’t believe you want to do that! It is so disrespectful to me.”
“Well, I can list a number of things that you do that are also disrespectful to me, so don’t even go there with me.”
“We should talk about this later.”
[From the backseat] “What’s wrong?”
[Several minutes of tense silence. Arrive at home.]
“Go get ready for bed your FATHER and I are going to have a little talk.”
[Mother and Father retreat into the other room, tense and upset. They emerge 30 minutes later. Tired, but no longer tense.]
“Ok, time for bed.”
[Child says tentatively] “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, of course! Sweetheart!”
In a weird sense, the child missed ‘the best’ part of the argument…how to work it out. When I ask teens or children how their parents fight, they can almost always tell me how the fight starts but not how it is resolved because parents go into the other room to ‘work it out.’ Kids need to hear this. The research about becoming similar to those around you is especially relevant here.
Consider this: The way you fight with your partner is how your teenager will most likely fight with their future spouse. If they do not see you go through the motions of anger, discussion, compromise and making up they do not know how to find resolution themselves. If you engage in constructive problem solving, your teen is likely to mimic that as well–including in their fights with you!
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but having discussions or fights in front of your kids and show how they are resolved actually helps them learn how to compromise.
This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research.
C. Anderson, D. Keltner, and O.P. John, “Emotional Convergence between People over time,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84, no. 5 (2003).
Sunderland, Margot. Science of Parenting: Practical Guidance on Sleep, Crying, Play, and Building Emotional Well-being for Life. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2006. Print.