Couples butt heads all the time, because conflict is a normal part of life. For some people, heated arguments are simply a way to communicate. But even the most dramatic arguers may think twice about fighting in front of the kids. Do babies know when you're fighting, for instance? Even very young children pick up on these tensions from an early age.
You don't need a study to tell you that babies soak in all kinds of information about their environment. But this level of awareness may even impact infants as they sleep. According to a 2013 piece in Psychological Science, sleeping infants who were exposed to emotional arguments from their parents showed greater sensitivity to stress. In other words, even a little background conflict may alter your baby's brain function and development. Furthermore, a 2011 study in Child Development reported a connection between unstable parental relationships and sleep problems in babies as young as 9 to 18 months of age. And as noted in the Huffington Post, even babies who are only 6 months old may understand when their parents are distressed. Granted, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of parental fights on infant development, but these studies get at the idea that such arguments may be damaging.
But what is a parent supposed to do with this information? Your life before kids was probably stressful enough, but now? Jeez. You're caring for a newborn's never-ending needs and running on zero sleep. It's no wonder arguments break out like flash fires. Seriously, the only thing that can project perfect happiness all the time is a toy.
That said, it may be time to rethink the ways you and your partner express disagreements. You don't have to resort to screaming arguments or pretending that everything is fine when you're really seething. There is a healthy middle ground. You can work toward fighting fair by addressing small things as they arise and avoiding contempt and ridicule. Again, cut yourself some slack, too: chances are you and your partner are both pretty frazzled by the demands of infant care. It's OK if you fall back into old argument habits sometimes. But if you can work toward calmer conflict resolution techniques instead of a cycle of blow-outs, both you and your baby will be happier for it.