We've been hearing for years now that bickering with your spouse in front of the kids is upsetting, awkward and, in some cases, even emotionally damaging for them. But let's be honest, it still happens. The bright side? A new study is here to make you feel a little less guilty about it all. Apparently, family arguments aren't as damaging as once thought. In fact, they might actually do your kids some good.
Skeptical? As Science Daily reports, the U.S. study closely examined the argument habits of 50 couples, first giving them a topic to discuss that frequently caused some contention at home. They then took saliva samples from each person after the argument was over, to see how much cortisol (a stress-related hormone) was released. In the end, they found that "the more intense the conflict interaction was rated between the couples, the stronger the physiological stress response to the conflict."
However, those who reported seeing a fair amount of arguing among their parents or other families during their childhood had a significantly lower stress response during their adult arguments. This, says Dr. Lindsey Aloia, who led the research at Rollins College in Florida, appears to suggest that witnessing arguments early in life can help people better manage the stress of arguments in adulthood.
"Conflict experiences can be beneficial, by alleviating tension and avoiding conflict escalation, reducing communication apprehension and contributing to closeness within the relationship," she asserted.
Of course, this new research conflicts with everything we thought we knew about familial arguments. (Namely, that it increases a child's risk for depression, anxiety and distress later.) But there was one caveat: The research suggests that individuals who experience lower stress responses during arguments might actually be more prone to arguing as a result, because bickering isn't as upsetting to them. So maybe the whole thing is just one vicious cycle?
In the meantime, Aloia and her fellow researchers have a lot more to look into before any definitive conclusions can be drawn — specifically, what kinds of arguments are more or less beneficial to have in front of kids. After all, there's a big difference between spirited debates at dinner and full-on verbal abuse.