Dr Amy, I have 2 adult children and have patterned some unhealthy conflict resolution behaviors. When I see my daughter struggling with her boyfriend to resolve a disagreement it pains me. Do you know of any good tools or resources for young couples?
I'd like to personally welcome you to the modeling unhealthy behavior club. Membership is very exclusive, and includes every parent who ever walked the planet.
Children are sponges, especially when we wish they weren't. Even when they're babies, and haven't yet developed the cognitive function to absorb their surroundings, or the words to make sense of conversations, they use their senses to absorb the moods and stress levels of their environments and primary caregivers. Fortunately, parents don't realize to what extent, or they'd never get a moment of rest!
I believe preverbal messages are strongest, since they are imprinted on young minds **blank slates** without context or a cognitive framework to understand.
Luckily, children are resilient and adaptive. They can learn from their own mistakes and the errors of others and develop healthier ways of interacting.
You don't say what "unhealthy conflict resolutions" your daughter and her bf have. Communication is often at the root of conflict. We come to this through generations of habit. For many kids, family is the primary source of understanding the world. Our family "rules", spoken and unspoken, are the laws of the universe to younh minds, and were particularly so in generations before daycare and preschool.
Does our family treat and speak to each other with respect, even when differing?
Do we lose our tempers and say things we wish we hadn't?
Do we apologize when we've been wrong?
Are we violent and do we scare each other?
Do we leave when we're mad or do we shut the other person out?
Are we kitchen sink arguers? (Do we fight not only about the issue, but throw in every conflict we've ever had including the kitchen sink?)
Are we passive-aggressive?
Do we refuse to admit our mistakes?
Are we abusive?
Do we hold grudges?
Do we blame others for our problems?
Do we shame?
Do we never fight and sue press our conflicts, allowing them to fester unspoken?
Do we avoid conflict?
Are we destructive or self-destructive?
Are we manipulative?
With the above list, one might believe healthy conflict to be impossible.
The most important, first step you can take to help your daughter is to make sure, in no uncertain terms, that she knows how to define abusive **physical, emotional, sexual, monetary, mental** behavior. Her safety in all of these realms is most important.
The following links are for teenage relationships. I listed them because the basics are important for adults and minors. There are elderly people who don't recognize unhealthy or abusive relationships, so the basics are the same regardless of age.
If your daughter can identify more specific areas where her relationships, please write back.
Dr Amy PsyD, LSW