In marriage and really any relationship, it could be that if you win, you lose. Here’s how that goes: You have your mind made up about something that you want. Your spouse (an other person) has their mind made up on what they want. You demand your way. They resist and push back. You escalate your demand by getting louder by voice, actions or severity of words. And they stand their ground. Your next move is to guilt them. They finally give in. Or maybe they stood their ground and you lost your cool, you got angry, you had an angry outburst. Then they gave in. You won! But you lost!
You see, marriage is not a 100% / 0% situation; where one side gets their way. Marriage is not even 50% / 50%. But ideally, marriage should be 100% / 100% – where each side gets what they want, what they need.
If you exhibit power over as in the opening story, you may win that one conflict, but it will cost you. Over time, this pattern will chip away at the relationship until the foundation crumbles.
You see, in my post “The Number One Reason for Divorce”, conflict done wrong destroys. It drives one side (or both) into an opposite corner – they withdraw and become isolated. And as we saw, the doorway back to Intimacy (harmony/unity) is through conflict done right. And here is how we can take advantage of “Conflict” to use as a constructive tool.
Rules of Engagement?
Remember, in marriage, this is the one we love, the person we chose to do life with, the weapon we chose to equip us through the battle of life. It is this one person that we should have the deepest levels of communication (see my post “Five Levels of Communication”). So, we owe it to ourselves, our marriage and to our spouse – to go above and beyond and create the right environment. It is a shame that we truly hurt most the ones we love most. May it not be that way with you!
- To make forward progress and do conflict right requires us to be nice, being on our best behavior. Imagine you are a kid again and you and another are in conflict – and the teacher and both moms are in the room. Yes, this is how you should behave.
- Make a safe space. Honor your spouse – place a high value on them. Protect them from your angry side, you selfish side, your disrespectful side. Ensure you do your best to put these actions aside. Because your marriage is worth it!
- Agree that if you don’t make progress, if things are not moving forward – you will pause and come back later. Or if things do get heated – take a break. Nothing good can come of it at this point. Agree to revisit again at the next convenient time.
- If it’s late and you’re exhausted from the day, don’t engage. Agree to meet again to address. Of course, don’t let the sun go down on your anger – but remember there is a difference between conflict and anger. The right thing to do is to embrace the conflict in a positive way, without anger, because you both and your marriage deserve it!
Problem Clarity and Understanding
At the center of any conflict is a problem. What we need to do is to make sure that we both know the problem we are working through. Often times, we are not on the same page. Our idea of the problem could be different that our spouse’s idea of the problem. Simply coming to agreement about what the problem is may be enough to work through it. But if it is not, let’s get down to business.
- It is vital that we agree to what the problem is that we are facing.
- It is paramount that we the other persons perspective, their point of view, from their side. This is where we need to dig down deep. Our natural disposition is to be selfish and use the conflict to get our way. And we often hide behind a thin veneer of ‘I understand your point of view’, when really are just trying to get next logical argument out there.
- It is mandatory that we honor our spouse’s point of view here. If we belittle it or discount it, we are not honoring. And over time, guess what, we lose respect in your spouse’s eyes. Remember, we want a marriage that is great – with love and respect acting like glue to keep us together. We don’t want to win at the expense of the other.
List Out Potential Solutions
Scientists make many many observations before any interpretation is made. We have to gather a lot of facts to make a case in a court of law. The same things apply to doing conflict right in our marriage. We need to think through ideas or solutions and we need to do this together! If we make this a time where we provide a safe place to share and we continue to honor our spouse and monitor ourselves to avoid those bad behaviors, this time can be an exciting time! For it is here, that we get creative – to find other ways to solve our problems. So,
- Working together, make the big list of alternative solutions
- Each one cross off the solutions that they don’t feel absolutely wonderful in doing
- Focus on the remaining solutions since they are acceptable to both sides.
- And if there are none remaining on the list, go back to thinking about more alternative solutions. There must be more out there that you both have overlooked.
- If there are simply no commonly accepted solutions, then:
- Agree to not make a decision at this time.
- Agree to come back at a later time.
- Consider that making a decision on this issue is not healthy, since you can’t come to a common agreement that is exciting to both sides.
- Consider trying a short term solution – meaning, pick one that is closest to both of your agreed to lists. Agree to try for X number of days. Then re-evaluate at that time to see if the decision is permanent or if undo the decision.
I have been married since 1984. That is a lot of years. Conflict was hard when we were younger. As we grew, we came to understand that it’s really a 100% / 100% situation and not a fifty fifty arrangement. We learned to not take ourselves so seriously. We learned that really, we are too busy and lots of decisions that caused issues, we really could have simply agreed not to make. A lot of the content above is also reflected in the great book “Love Busters”. I hate the title, but love the book.