Conflict is inevitable in marriage, because a man and a woman have very different brains and therefore have differing viewpoints on a host of topics. Spouses who desire a great marriage require the skills to negotiate through conflicts. How do you handle the conflict in your marriage? Have you and your husband learned the way to “fight fair?” Have you learned to “resolve conflicts” successfully?
In order to create a great marriage and keep it great, we need to rethink the goal of conflict resolution. We learned during our own marital coaching that the goal in any conflict is not necessarily to resolve the conflict, but rather, to stay in love. For us, this was a revolutionary concept! What’s the point of winning when the unpleasantness of a fight causes spouses to lose love for each other? If the result is a win/lose, one spouse will gain at the others expense, and the marriage suffers.
There are many problems with fighting in marriage. One problem is that fighting doesn’t solve the problem; rather, it causes more problems. Arguing and fighting make us love each other a little less each time it happens, so these must be eliminated from marriage.
Have you noticed that it takes two people to fight? If one of you can avoid getting drawn into a heated discussion, half the problem is solved. The moment the discussion starts to become unpleasant is the time to say, “This is becoming unpleasant for me; I need a break from it so I can calm down.” This habit, like any new habit, takes discipline and practice.
What if your spouse won’t allow you to leave the scene to calm down? Worse yet, what if your spouse digs in with hurtful words or goads you? It would be understandable, in the heat of the moment, to strike back. But it won’t solve any problems. The goal is to stay in love and this requires that we stop doing and saying things that hurt each other.
When conflicts arise, remember that each spouse will have a point of view valid to the individual. Each spouse should try and understand where the other is coming from, avoiding forcing one’s own opinion on the other. Keep calm and pleasant. If you start to feel emotional, take a moment to step away and calm down, and only when calm, continue the discussion.
Sometimes, my husband and I don’t speak the same language. I don’t mean that one of us speaks English and the other Spanish; I mean that my meaning doesn’t get across to my husband. I will ask him a question and, inexplicably, he will answer a different question that I didn’t ask. I will try and explain it a different way, but he still doesn’t understand. Then he will explain and I won’t understand. The best thing we have learned to do, even in this case, is to notice the moment the discussion becomes unpleasant and stop it there. We want to preserve the love we have for each other, even when it means we aren’t going to come to an agreement for a while. We’d rather be in love with each other than to completely resolve all our differences.
You might be wondering, “What about the conflict we have? We can’t just leave it; we must solve this dilemma.” The short answer is to learn the art of marital negotiation, but that will require much more space than I have here. Meanwhile, avoiding destroying the love you have for each other.