Marriage Basics: Coping with Conflict
Love is easy. Resolving conflict is not.
Look around you. Our political parties are incapable of resolving their differences. Neighboring countries in the mid-east can’t even sit down together and discuss their troubles. Our relationships are no exception. Like being stuck in a gridlock traffic jam on I-5, our marital engine comes to a grinding halt when we disagree.
What are the common sources of conflict in relationships? The big five are Sex, Money, Children, In-laws, and Household chores---not in any particular order.
Love is simple. Living together is not.
Bob wants to spend money on a new boat. His wife wants to buy a new stove.
Mary is a saver. Bill is a spender.
Joe wants his kids to go to religious school. Sarah doesn’t.
Tom is strict with the kids. Hannah is lax.
Dianna likes to make love way more frequently than her husband.
This list is endless. Sometimes lucky couples may just have one big area of conflict. Less fortunate spouses can have several topics of divergence. My wife and I get along famously--except we had huge differences about many areas of parenting. It took years for us to sort them out--and by then the kids had left home!
Here are some ways of addressing differences:
- Take them head on. I know it’s tempting to avoid conflict, sweep differences under the rug, or walk around them. But they are not going to go away. These differences of everyday life will be like a thorn in your side. Make the decision to address them, even if you feel hopeless that you can resolve them.
- Don’t discuss these issues when you are angry. The worst time to discuss a complex issue is when you are mad. Most likely you will say something that will escalate the discussion into a shouting match. It is impossible to resolve these concerns when you are angry.
- Send each other written proposals for change. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about emotional issues face to face. Each person is liable to “react” to the other person, rather than to “respond” to their ideas. Write up a proposal, send it by email, and ask for a response by email. Send messages back and forth until you are ready to sit down and talk.
- Don’t use text messages to resolve big concerns! Fifty characters at a time are generally not enough communication to solve problems, but can be enough fuel to ignite a fire! Save texting for unimportant brief communiqués.
- Don’t give up. The secret sauce in labor negotiations is simple. Don’t stop talking until you make a deal.
- Give a little, get a little. I know this is hard. I am pretty stubborn myself and usually think I’m right. Take a deep breathe, swallow your pride and compromise. If each person moves in baby steps towards the other person, you will find yourself closer to each other than when you started.
- Think before you speak. Words are very powerful. Once you say something, you can’t take it back. You can apologize for saying it, but it is not like an email you can recall.
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