When I was married I had poor conflict resolution skills. I was very selfish in my marriage. I thought that I was always right and this proved to be very challenging. I was a self-centered person that didn’t like to compromise. This left my marriage filled with conflict. One of my solutions when I would have conflict was to walk away; and no; that would not resolve anything. Another thing I did was the silent treatment. When I was married we could go for days without having a civilized conversation. With no communication few issues rarely got resolved. I lived my marriage like this for 8 years until I began to pay attention to my actions and how they were causing pain and suffering within my own home. There was a large gap between my ex wife and I. I wanted to learn how to shorten that gap and bring us closer together. I learned that I had to build a bridge to bring us back together again.
One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented person marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at rapid speeds 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, zest, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before.
But after being married for a while (sometimes a short while), what attracted you before becomes the thing gets on your nerves. You may argue over small irritations such as how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste or over major ethical 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 you two got together in the first place.
It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Your differences are to bring balance not separation. I want to share 5 things that can help build a bridge for you and your spouse to resolve conflicts.
You can never conquer what you refuse to confront. All of our differences are enlarged in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict; our selfish nature. Maintaining harmony in matrimony has been difficult since the beginning of time. Ever since Adam and Eve husbands and wives have had two opinions about the situations they deal with. Two people being married together and trying to go their own selfish, separate ways can never hope to experience the oneness of marriage that it was designed to bring. We are all self-centered; we all instinctively look out for number one, and this leads directly to conflict. Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something our selfishness. To experience oneness, you must give up your will for the will of another. Pursuing resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness for the sake of the team and partnership. There is nothing wrong with confronting your spouse about an issue if your goal is to resolve the issue and not just ague. Confronting your spouse with kindness and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility. Here are a few other tips I found useful to help confront your spouse about issues you may be facing.
Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?
Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Don’t hop on your bulldozer and run your spouse down. Approach your spouse lovingly.
Check the circumstances. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he or she is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children. Also, never criticize, make fun of, or argue with your spouse in public.
Check to see what other pressures may be present. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now?
Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify viewpoints.
Be sure you are ready to take it as well as dish it out. You may start to give your spouse some “friendly advice” and soon learn that what you are saying is not really their problem, but yours!
During your time of confrontation, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once. This is dangerous and will be over whelming to your partner. I hear husbands accuse wives of this often. Wives can sometimes hold on to a few issues and decide to bring them up all at once. If this is your method of dealing with issues this can push your partner away rather than drawing them closer. The idea to resolving conflict is to bring closure and move forward from the situation. When I worked in corporate America we would have staff meetings. Every once and a while a meeting would require us to address issues where someone may have dropped the ball. In these meeting we would address the issues and say things like “ Ok, going forward, how will this be handled.” Or we would put a check and balance system in place in order to alleviate any issues addressed. It was important for us to compartmentalize the issues and not lump everything into one bring problem.
If there is a pattern of behavior that keeps reoccurring than this is something different. Even in a behavior pattern its important to be sensitive to the issue. Still address the pattern from a place of resolve and moving forward. Stay away from words like “you always” and “you never.” Some behavioral patterns may require professional assistance from a licensed therapist or counselor. The key is staying on task and not making a gumbo of all the issues of your relationship in one setting. Address one issue at a time and stay focused on the resolution.
There is a difference between interest and commitment. If you are interested in resolving a conflict in your marriage you do what is convenient. When you are committed to resolving conflict in your marriage you accept no excuses only results. In a marriage you have to be committed to resolving the issues you have and not just playing the blame game. Focus on the problem, rather than the person. For example, you need a budget and your spouse may be reckless in their spending. Work through the plans for finances and make the lack of budget the enemy, not your spouse. Concentrate on conduct rather than character. This is the “you” message versus the “I” message again. You can assassinate your spouse’s character and stab them right to the heart with “you” messages like, “You’re always late you don’t care about me at all; you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” The “I” message would say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t let me know you’ll be late. I would appreciate if you would call so we can make other plans.” This is a good way to convey your feelings with out personally attacking your spouse. Pay attention on the facts rather than judging motives. If your spouse forgets to make an important call, deal with the consequences of what you both have to do next rather than say, “You’re so careless; you just do things to irritate me.” Above all, stay focused on understanding your spouse rather than on who is winning or losing. When your spouse confronts you, listen carefully to what is said and what isn’t said. For example, it may be that they are upset about something that happened at work and you’re getting nothing more than the brunt of that pressure. When you are committed to resolving your conflicts your focus is on results not excuses. As a married couple your focus is resolving conflict and staying together, not staying mad at each other.
Every marriage operates on either the “Insult for Insult” or the “Grace for Insult” relationship. Husbands and wives can become extremely proficient at trading insults about the way he looks, the way she cooks, or the way he drives and the way she cleans house. Many couples don’t seem to know any other way to relate to each other. Many times it’s not what you say but the way you say it.
What does it mean to return a grace for an insult?
To be gracious first means stepping aside or simply refusing to retaliate if your spouse gets angry. Changing your natural tendency to lash out, fight back, or tell your spouse off is just about as easy as changing the course of the Mississippi River. However the Mississippi River has changed its course under the right conditions. In this case those conditions would be how you communicate with one another.
It also means doing good. Sometimes doing good simply takes a few words spoken gently and kindly, or perhaps a touch, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. It might mean making a special effort to please your spouse by performing a special act of kindness. Communication is more than words; it’s also in your actions. Being gracious means seeking peace, actually pursuing it. When you eagerly seek to forgive, you are pursuing oneness, not isolation. Your communication in you marriage has to be HOT. Honest, Open and Two-way.
Compromise can be a bad word in many relationships. Compromise doesn’t mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It means that you value your relationship much more than your ego or agenda. No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail. With failure comes hurt. And the ultimate relief for hurt is the soothing salve of forgiveness and compromise. The key to maintaining an open, intimate, and happy marriage is to ask for and grant forgiveness quickly and compromise often. The best thing in marriage is to learn the habit of compromise. It is better to bend a little than to break a relationship.
Forgiving means giving up resentment and the desire to punish. By an act of your will, you let the other person off the hook. There is no love without forgiveness and no forgiveness without love.
One of the couples I interview for this book was married for 54 years. When I asked them what was one of the keys to a good marriage they told me that they could just give me one thing they would have to give me two. I was all ears to hear their answer. The husband leaned in close and told me to forgive and compromise. He said nothing is unbearable when you choose to forgive. You have to view forgiveness as a black card. A black card has no limit and can pay for anything. When you have that mentality there is nothing you can’t accomplish within your marriage. Once you make up in you mind that your partner will make mistakes and will do things that will rub you that wrong its easier to forgive. As we were talking the wife interjected her feelings and said that compromise was the oil in their relationship. It kept things moving. Compromise isn’t about winning and losing a battle. Remember you’re on the same team so there is not need to fight. Just compromise and the team will always when in the end.
Resolving conflict in a marriage is a learned skill. I had to learn the hard way and learn from my mistakes in my first marriage. There is a saying that says “You win some and you lose some.” Looking back over my marriage I have to change it just a little. “You win some and you learn from some.” I didn’t lose, I actually learned something. I made the choice to be better and no bitter to move forward and not stay stuck in my past. It was a painful but valuable lesson. What I learned shaped and molded me into the man I am today.