As I wrote yesterday, in any close, loving relationship there will be conflict. How you manage or mismanage the conflict that arises in your marriage will both reflect and determine the health of your marriage.
From the book Lists to Live by for Every Married Couple, the ways to mismanage conflict are
- Avoid [the problem or the person]. It seemed funny at the time, but if it’s true it is actually very sad. A man wrote recently that he realized that when he and his wife talk to one another a fight errupts. To keep from fighting, they no longer talk. The house might be much quieter now, but these people are only fooling themselves if they think this is an acceptable form of conflict resolution.
- Threaten. A surefire route to mismanaging conflict is to threaten the other person with divorce or physical harm. It is equally debilitating to threaten to harm yourself. This is a form of manipulation, not an attempt to resolve conflict.
- Blame. When we feel wronged, we see only what the other person did wrong. “You are to blame for how I am feeling right because of what you did [to me].” In reality, the only person who has anything to do with how you feel is yourself. In order to truly resolve conflict, you must express how you feel without casting blame.
- Dig up the past. The time to talk about what happened at your sister’s wedding 2 years ago was right after your sister’s wedding 2 years ago, not now. Your spouse cannot defend his or her actions from 2 years ago or even 2 months ago. If you are upset about something that happened recently, by all means discuss it rationally, but do not bring up events of the past that have no bearing on the discussion at hand.
- Belittle. As was written in yesterday’s post, in order to manage conflict you must focus on the problem, not your mate’s character. Belittling a person is normally a defense mechanism for when you don’t know how to express your feelings or you want to take the focus off of yourself and place it on the other person.
- Explode. Resolving conflict requires the ability to talk and to listen. A person who explodes may be able to talk, but he or she is not in a position to listen. In order to truly resolve conflict, husband and wife must both be rational and open to hearing what the other has to say.
- Manipulate. If the goal of solving a conflict is to get your way at all cost, you are dabbling in destructive, manipulative behavior. The long-term cost of manipulating your spouse is mistrust and resentment.
- Have to win. The goal of conflict resolution is to come to an agreement you and your spouse are both happy with. If you have to win, you have missed the entire point of being married.
- Refuse to make up. A person who refuses to make up is a person whose pride is standing in the way of a bright future. Or, as my husband says about bitterness, a person who refuses to make up is a person who is drinking poison hoping the other person will die. If you refuse to make up even though your spouse has done all he or she can to fix the situation, you are the one drinking the poison. If this is the case, seek help from a professional counselor. There is more at stake here than this particular conflict.
On a brighter note, from the same book, here are 4 ways to manage conflict that will keep you from getting knocked out in the 7th round (condensed from A Love That Never Fails by H. Dale Burke):
Keep short accounts. This serves to minimize the pent-up emotions that lead to anger.
Think before you speak. If you dump the whole emotional load first, without thinking, you’ll spend more time than you care to imagine cleaning up the mess.
Describe how you feel. Preferably in a controlled tone of voice; you’re likely to create a cooler atmosphere.
Seek resolution quickly. Anger left to fester becomes a deep emotional infection that only gets worse as time passes.
This has been a heavy week, hasn’t it? Sadly, many couples do not know how to resolve conflict. Those who do have healthy marriages and see conflict as a way to grow and mature as a couple. Those who don’t often feel defeated in marriage and in other significant areas of life.
Next week we’ll pursue this topic further and discuss the who, what, where, when, why, and how of apology.
Get a copy of The Five Languages of Apology and get a jump-start on next week’s discussion.
Yours for the celebration of marriage,
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