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Couple share how learning to Argue Better helped their family life

Local family who have shared how learning to Argue Better helped their family life

A local couple share how learning to Argue Better helped their family life.

“We’re completely different people – I feel like we’ve just woken up.”

That’s how Katie and Declan Commins from Northumberland describe a free course that is being offered to families in the county on how to ‘argue better.’

The couple are sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others who may be finding that the pressures of family life are affecting their relationships - to give the free course and others like it a try.

Full of smiles and energy, 20-month-old Elijah has had a tough start to life that began even before he was born when he underwent pioneering foetal surgery to repair his spine after a routine scan revealed that he had Spina Bifida.

Now, following multiple operations and regular therapy sessions, he’s impressing medics with his progress and will hopefully soon take his first steps.

But the pressure of the last few years had begun to take a toll on his parents’ relationship, which was also impacting on Elijah and his sister Edith, five.

They were referred by their health visitor to a free course called Arguing Better offered by Northumberland County Council.

“It was all getting on top of us and we were not talking about what was going on with Elijah – or anything really. It just wasn’t very healthy,” said Declan.

“The course has done wonders for us and it’s also helped us open-up about his disability and how we are going to go forward as a family.”

Katie added: “When our health visitor mentioned a course called Arguing Better we thought ‘What? We’re not that bad, we don’t need that!’”

“But right from the start, we started to feel the benefits – not just for us but for our whole family.

“I think everyone should go on this course once in their life – we keep telling all our friends about it! Sometimes life gets in the way – it could be a new baby, a new job or financial worries - and you forget you need to talk to each other and listen.

“Our children weren’t coping very well with how we were reacting to certain things, so they are communicating with us better and we’re listening more to them.

“We’re completely different people – I feel like we’ve woken up.”

It was at the 20-week scan that, as well as finding out they were having a boy – the couple also received the devastating news that he had Spina Bifida, a condition that means a baby's spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb.

They were offered pioneering treatment in Belgium where medics would carry out surgery in the womb to repair the spine.

Katie said: “We chose the foetal surgery as we wanted to do all we could to give him the best chance in life. Everything seemed to go at a million miles an hour, there wasn’t a minute to breathe, lots of phone calls and skypes with doctors and then we were on our way to Belgium.

“The surgery went well, but he was born very early and since then, he’s had surgery on his spine and hips and he has physio and speech and language therapy – but he just takes it all in his stride, he’s amazing. He’s doing so well and we’re hoping he will soon start to take a few steps.

“We’re so grateful for this course, having that support through the stresses and strains of family relationships has been transformational for us.”

Vicki Collins, practice and project development officer who leads on developing the courses in Northumberland said: “It’s normal to argue – that's how you talk things through – but it’s the way you argue is imperative to solving issues and stop the feeling of going round in circles.

“When arguments become frequent, intense and poorly resolved they have a negative impact on you and your family.

“This course is not about telling couples what to do – it just gives them a space to talk about things and find new ways to react when things are stressful.

“Katie and Declan have been fantastic to work with and we’re so pleased it’s made a difference to their family.”

Arguing Better is one of three free Healthy Relationship courses offered by Northumberland County Council through its Family Hubs.

It’s part of its investment in early intervention, which aims to support families and help tackle issues early on before they escalate.

Guy Renner-Thompson, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Children’s Services, said: “Family life can bring lots of different challenges. These short courses are a brilliant resource that parents can access for free to learn coping skills to help manage stress and learn tools to reduce arguments at home which can negatively impact their children too.

“We are really grateful to Katie and Declan for sharing their story with us and we hope it will encourage others to take a look and find out more about the support available.”

Watch Katie and Declan talk more about how the course made a difference here.

There are two free ways you can access support for you and your family:

  • Accessing digital courses at home.

  • Talk through the courses with a trained practitioner. To do this complete the 'Request for Service Form.' This can be found in the link below.

There are three digital resources available for different relationships:

  • Me, You and Baby Too - aimed at expecting and new parents

  • Arguing Better - aimed at couples who are together

  • Getting it Right for Children - aimed at couples who are separating or have separated



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