Arguments, disagreements and conflict happen in every relationship.
There are many ways to manage marital conflict. What works for one couple may not work for another.
But there are fundamental principles that must be understood in order to build a healthy marriage.
We went to the internet to find out what top experts in the marriage and relationship field have to say about how to manage marital conflict.
Here is a list of the experts we studied:
- Dr. Rob Pascale and Dr. Lou Primavera [Psychologist, Authors]
- Philip J. Swihart, Wilford Wooten [Focus on the Family]
- Tim and Joy Downs [Authors]
- Deb DeArmond [Author, Relationship Coach]
- Dennis Rainey [Author, Family Life]
- John Gottman [The Gottman Institute, Author]
Below I list the principle they discuss, an excerpt from their work, and a few comments to elaborate on the principle.
Regardless of the tactic, strategy or method you use to resolve conflict in your marriage, these concepts are the foundation you must build upon.
A house can’t be built on mud or sand. It will collapse.
A healthy marriage (even one with conflict) must be built on thse solid concepts of conflict resolution.
Let’s dig in…
#1: Know the Real Issues in Your Relationship
“We argue about everything. We fuss so much that I’ve forgotten what the real issues are.”
I heard this from a woman crying out for help to fix her marriage. The tension had mounted to the point that she wasn’t even sure what issue really needed to be addressed.
Does this sound familiar?
We can’t effectively deal with our issues until we know what the real issues are. That’s not always easy to determine. Emotions get in the way of logic (most of our issues are emotional rather than logical anyway) and we end up fighting about something that is a peripheral issue (something on the sidelines) and not the thing that really needs to be addressed.
Dr’s Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera talk about the importance of knowing what the real issues are in a conflict.
They use an example of a wife’s request for the husband to take out the trash.
“[An] apparently simple problem can actually be the result of much larger issues. A husband doesn’t take out the trash when asked and that makes his wife angry.
Such a problem should be easy to solve. Just take out the trash and the problem is gone.
However, it’s usually not that simple. Emotions are at the heart of virtually all marital problems, even those that appear to have no emotional underpinnings. There might be underlying reasons why he doesn’t take out the trash. Maybe he thinks his wife is too controlling, and not taking out the trash when asked is a way of expressing his independence. She may view his attitude regarding her request as a sign that he doesn’t want to help or support her.
Acknowledging the role of emotions is an important first step to improving many relationships. From there, it makes sense that to solve any problem requires that we deal with the emotions that are behind the problem.”
You may argue that your arguments and perspective is not ‘emotional.’ True maybe, in one sense of the word.
However, emotions are the fruit of what we believe.
“[Our] emotions, and the thoughts and behaviors that spring from these emotions, are the product of what we believe. The idea that our belief systems are the triggers of our emotions is a fundamental principle behind Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed by psychologist Albert Ellis.
Ellis argued that what we believe comes in between what we see or hear, and determine how we react emotionally. It’s not the task of taking out the trash that causes the emotional reaction, but rather what taking out the trash signifies. How we interpret an event causes us to react in a certain way, and our interpretation is determined by our beliefs. According to Dr. Ellis, it’s not the events of the world that cause our emotions, but rather the significance we attach to those events.”
We can’t resolve conflict until we address the real issue behind the conflict, which is usually connected to our belief about what the issue represents.
In the example they use, until the husband believes his wife isn’t trying to control or criticize him, the conflict will continue.
“When our wants, needs, or expectations are satisfied, we feel good about our relationship. However, when they’re not met, they become a source of contention. Unmet needs, wants, and expectations are really what make us unhappy in our marriage. It truly doesn’t matter who takes out the trash. However, it does matter what we believe our partner is communicating to us when they don’t.”
It’s only when we address the underlying belief-emotion connection will we see progress in conflict resolution.
Read the full article here:
#2: Acknowledge and Address Them; Don’t Bury Them
In order to resolve conflict, we first have to acknowledge it and address.
But there is a way to do this that is constructive and not destructive.
In this article, Philip Swihart and Wilford Wooten, authors of ‘The First Five Years of Marriage’ advises couples to get the issues on the table quickly; don’t let them fester.
“Simply suppressing your differences is not an appropriate way of dealing with the problem. Many couples try to sidestep or hide their conflict because disagreements can be painful. But conflict resolution, though it may sound complicated, is well within the reach of clear-thinking husbands and wives. It’s a skill that requires the commitment of both spouses and can be refined with dedication and practice.
If you want to resolve conflicts in a healthy way, make a determined effort to confront issues as they arise. The longer a disagreement stews, the bigger it becomes. So take action swiftly; as the Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26).”
After the issues are out, it’s important to move forward with kindness and forgiveness.
“After the two of you have expressed your viewpoints and come to an understanding, share your needs and decide where to go from there. Be willing to confess and ask forgiveness from your spouse if it’s obvious that you’ve been in the wrong. And always keep in mind that maintaining the relationship is far more important than winning the argument. Finding a solution that benefits both spouses lets everybody win. Fighting isn’t healthy, but conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, when conflict is handled correctly, it can be a tool for strengthening relationships.”
Never forget that your marriage is your most treasured relationship. Therefore, always seek to resolve any and all conflict in a way that maintains the health of your relationship.
#3: Avoid These Four Stages That Exacerbate The Issues
When couples can’t seem to navigate the issues surrounding their struggles, they tend to fall into four stages of unresolved conflict.
These four stages of conflict only exacerbate the issues and increase discord. See if you are guilty of any of these:
“Four stages of marital conflict that increase marital discord:
1. Have It Your Way.
Couples who are newly married and haven’t learned how to successfully resolve their differences tend to try to settle things by avoiding confrontation. They give in to each other without ever discussing the heart of the problem. If you find yourself giving in whenever you have an argument with your husband, eventually you will find that you are tired of this pattern and will begin shifting your attitude toward the next stage.
2. Have It My Way.
After couples have exhausted themselves by ignoring their own needs, they often turn the opposite way and begin demanding that their needs are now met. A wife who has kept her opinions to herself may suddenly realize that this has contributed to her misery and may start voicing her thoughts and attitudes at every opportunity. But unfortunately, this stage doesn’t work either as husband and wife begin butting heads.
3. Have It Our Way.
The third phase involves compromising and negotiating with each other. At first, the couple may be enthusiastic at their newfound communication style, but eventually the eagerness fades. About this time in a marriage, couples are facing more time demands and stresses from their parenting responsibilities, financial concerns and hectic schedules. Between an ineffective conflict resolution style and the growing pressures of life, couples may start to doubt their compatibility during this stage.
4. Have It Any Way You Want.
This stage marks a sense of resignation. Couples in this stage are exhausted over the unending conflicts and might even feel hopeless that all the unresolved issues will ever be worked out. If you find yourself in this stage, you need expert marriage guidance.”
These four stages are the ‘what not to do’ when confronted with conflict in your relationship.
Yet, sometimes know what not to do helps you discover what you should do. It’s the process of elimination.
#4: Control Your Emotions and Refuse To Manipulate
Source: 4 Steps to Deal with Conflict in Your Marriage
Author: Deb DeArmond, marriage coach and relationship expert
One of the biggest problems with working through conflict is the desire to control and manipulate.
Let’s face it, we want our way. As we’ve seen, this can be destructive instead of constructive.
Deb DeArmond is an author, speaker and relationship coach. She advises couples to let go of the need to control your spouse and focus on managing your own emotions, behavior and attitude.
“Keep this rule in mind: This conversation is not about me controlling you. I’m here to control myself. Even if you never verbalize this, don’t forget it. Your hands are full managing your own behavior. You can recalibrate the tone and direction of the conversation if you remember this principle.
If your spouse struggles with managing his or her emotions during conflict, you may be tempted to try to do it for him or her. Remember that your first priority is to give your spouse insight into how his or her behavior affects you.
It’s best done with an attitude that conveys, I’m here to give you helpful information about me and how this affected me. And I’m certain if you knew how this makes me feel, you’d never want me to experience that. This approach gives your spouse the benefit of the doubt, which limits perceived offenses and moves the relationship forward.”
You will rarely go wrong if you keep your spouse in focus as you work together to resolve marriage issues.
#5: Understand Your Difference and Accept Your Spouse
One reason we have conflict is because we are different. No brainer, right?
Truth is, our differences both attract us to each other and repel us from each other at different times.
Resolving conflict requires us to understand our differences, and accept our spouse in spite of these differences.
This demands that we adjust our attitudes, actions and expectations about our spouse.
Family Life (this is adapted from Dennis Rainey’s book, Staying Close) deals with this issue in an article titled, ‘6 Steps to Resolving Conflict in Marriage.’
Here’s what they say about understanding our differences:
“One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented individual marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at breakneck speed seem to end up with spouses who are slower-paced. It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did. Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before.
But after being married for a while (sometimes a short while), the attractions become repellents. You may argue over small irritations—such as how to properly squeeze a tube of toothpaste—or over major philosophical differences in handling finances or raising children. You may find that your backgrounds and your personalities are so different that you wonder how and why God placed you together in the first place.”
It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Just as Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept His gift to you. God gave you a spouse who completes you in ways you haven’t even learned yet.
Sounds simple huh? We both know it’s easier said than done.
So, how did they navigate these choppy waters?
Here’s their advice:
“Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. We have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives, and we’re still seeing it work daily. We have not changed each other; God has changed both of us.
The answer for ending selfishness is found in Jesus and His teachings. He showed us that instead of wanting to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must serve. Instead of trying to save our lives, we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves.
In short, if we want to defeat selfishness, we must give up, give in, and give all.”
Not all conflict is the result of selfishness. But many are.
If we can identify our motives, then seek to love unconditionally and live selflessly, we will create a healthy marriage.
Read the full article here:
#6: Understanding the Two Types of Conflict
Source: The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work (Check Price)
Author: John Gottman
According to researcher John Gottman, marriage conflict usually falls into one of two categories.
Problems are either Resolvable or Perpetual.
Resolvable problems are ones that couples learn how to deal with. They don’t always go away, yet they learn to keep them in their place and approach them with a sense of humor. They work through them in a positive way.
Perpetual problems occur when they hit gridlock.
Gottman gives a checklist of the characteristics of gridlock.
“The characteristics of a gridlocked problem are:
- The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner
- You keep talking about it but make no headway
- You become entrenched in your positions and are unwilling to budge
- When you discuss the subject, you end up feeling more frustrated and hurt
- Your conversations about the problem are devoid of humor, amusement, or affection
- You become even more ‘unbudgeable’ over time, which leads you to vilify each other during these conversations.
- This vilification makes you all the more rooted in your positions and polarized, more extreme in your views, and all the less willing to compromise.
- Eventually you disengage from each other emotionally.
Gottman doesn’t leave us without hope.
He says, ironically, the way out is exploring your dreams.
Sounds silly. Here’s what he writes:
“All you need is motivation and a willingness to explore the hidden issues that are really causing the gridlock. The key will be to uncover and share with each other the significant personal dreams you have for your life. I have found that unrequited dreams are at the core of every gridlocked conflict.
I like how Gottman sums this up:
“In other words, the endless argument symbolizes some profound difference between the two of you that needs to be addressed before you can put the problem in its place.”
Wrapping It Up
There are many methods to approach and deal with marriage conflict. Different techniques work for different couples.
Underlying all the successful techniques and strategies are these six principles.
Here’s what we saw:
1. Know the Real Issues in Your Relationship
2. Acknowledge and Address Them; Don’t Bury Them
3. Avoid These Four Stages That Exacerbate The Issues
4. Control Your Emotions and Refuse To Manipulate
5. Understand Your Difference and Accept Your Spouse
6. Recognize the Two Types of Conflict
These principles give you the tools to how to manage marital conflict.
It’s your turn. I’d love to get your feedback.
Leave me a comment and weigh in on this subject.
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