When Parents Argue

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on December 01, 2020

Does it seem like your parents argue constantly?

Say you're in your room relaxing, reading a magazine, and listening to your iPod. In another part of the house, you hear a conversation. It starts softly, but gradually gets louder and more intense. You turn up the volume on your iPod as you hear all-out shouting. There's the bang of a fist on the countertop; the crash of a dish on the floor. More loud words, angry words, even cursing. Your stomach becomes a knot, and you think, "There they go again!" Your little brother comes running into your room, tears in his eyes and fear on his face. You hold him until things quiet down.

This kind of scenario happens more often than you think. Sure, it's normal for parents to argue now and then. Parents can disagree about many things, from finances to how to raise children. Some disagreements might be big, like over whether to move to a new town or take a new job. Some seem small, like those about what's for dinner or whose turn it is to take out the trash.

In most all families, arguments happen. But violent arguments like the one described above are upsetting.

What Happens When Parents Argue?

Most of the time, parents can disagree with each other and still manage to talk about it calmly. Other times, parents disagree strongly and they argue. Someone has called arguments "fights using words." The old saying "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" simply is not true. Words can hurt.

When parents argue, it's normal for teens to worry. When parents yell, young people feel afraid, sad, and upset. Sometimes arguments use silence -- when parents express their anger at each other by not speaking. Silent arguing can be just as upsetting as loud arguing.

Sometimes the argument is about the children. This might cause teens to feel like they are to blame. But parents' behavior is never the teen's fault.

What Does It Mean When Parents Argue?

In addition to feeling guilty about their parents' arguments, young people often fear that their parents don't care about each other anymore. They may fear their parents will get a divorce. Even though divorce is common, arguments don't necessarily mean that the parents don't love each other any more or that they're going to divorce.

Most of the time when parents argue, it's because they are tired or stressed or have had a bad day and lost their patience. Almost everyone loses their cool every now and then.

Sometimes when parents argue, they act just like children. They get upset. They cry. They yell. They may say things they don't mean.

Sometimes an argument can be over nothing, and happens because one or both of the parents is not feeling well or is stressed from work or other concerns. Many times, the parents don't even know what's bothering them. They just lash out at whomever is closest.

How Do Teens Feel When Their Parents Argue?

Teens can feel unprotected when they see their parents upset and out of control when they argue. Their world seems to be falling apart. They may cry and get stomachaches. They worry. They might have difficulty sleeping; they may not want to go to school. They may even feel ashamed and withdraw from their normal activities or friends.

It's not unusual for teens to worry about one parent or the other during an argument. They might feel like one parent is being abused because the other parent is yelling at them so much. They may also worry that one parent seems so angry that they might lose control and that someone may get physically hurt.

What Should You Do When Parents Argue?

When your parents argue, the best thing to do is to stay out of the argument. For instance, go somewhere else in the house, or go outside. It's their fight, and it is not your job to be an arbitrator or referee!

After things have calmed down, tell your parents how much their arguing upsets you. They may not be aware of how their fighting affects those around them.

If you feel the arguing is out of control, talk to a trusted friend, a teacher, a school counselor, a close relative, or your health care provider. Someone else should know what's going on, because you don't want the arguments to become so out of control that someone gets hurt.

There are also professional therapists and counselors who can help adults -- and families -- work through problems. They can help family members learn to listen to each other and to talk things out without losing their tempers. It takes time, but it does work.

In a family, everyone has to try to make life better for the others. Sure, arguments and disagreements happen. They happen every day. But with patience, understanding, and persistence, families can overcome most any problem.

Show Sources

SOURCES: web site: "When Parents Fight." web site: "When Your Parents Fight," "What Should I Do if My Family Fights?"

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