Read Excerpt: 'NurtureShock' by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

What this means is that a parent who pauses mid-argument to take it upstairs – to spare the children – might be making the situation far worse, especially if they forget to tell their kids, "Hey, we worked it out." Cummings has also found that when couples have arguments entirely away from the kids, the kids might not have seen any of it but still are well-aware of it, despite not knowing any specifics.

Cummings recently has shown that being exposed to constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children – if it doesn't escalate, insults are avoided, and is resolved with affection. This improves their sense of security, over time, and increases their prosocial behavior at school as rated by teachers. Cummings noted, "Resolution has to be sincere, not manipulated for their benefit – or they'll see through it." Kids learn a lesson in conflict resolution: the argument gives them an example of how to compromise and reconcile – a lesson lost for the child spared witnessing an argument.

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