Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dealing with conflict in marriage

This past Sunday, my husband and I brought our children home from church, put them down for naps, and proceeded to have a huge argument. As in, both at times talking very passionately (I wouldn't quite say yelling), both at times crying. You might think, "That's strange, why would she write about fighting with her husband?" The thing is, in the past my husband and I never argued. If there was conflict, it was briefly brushed over if at all, and it was put away. Although the idea of never arguing with your spouse may at first seem nice, the reality is that when conflict isn't addressed, it just sits there, simmering under the surface until it explodes. Two years ago, this happened in my marriage.

While putting the pieces of my nearly-imploded marriage back together, I read a quote that said one of the top indicators of divorce is unresolved conflict. The fact is that unless you live in a world where you are the only one you ever see, there will be conflict in your life. There will especially be conflict in a marriage, where you are spending a great deal of time with the same person, who has different feelings, opinions, and ideas than you. What you do with that conflict is one of the biggest indicators of how satisfying your marriage will be.

Now, I am certainly no expert on dealing with conflict since, as I just mentioned, I have only been actually dealing with it for about two years now (out of the 13 that we have been together), but what I do know is that it must be done. When my husband and I have an argument, there are some things that we always try to do. First, we try to not get defensive. This is harder for me, and it drives my husband crazy. During our argument on Sunday, my husband actually said, "Okay, I feel myself getting defensive, and it drives me crazy when you do that, so I am going to step back and start over." He literally lowered his shoulders, took a breath, and started over.  Second, we try to approach things in a non-attacking manner. I wouldn't necessarily said that we do the "When you do this it makes me feel..." approach that most therapies say you should, but we try to talk in a non-threatening way and just really say what the issue is. Also, we don't stop the conversation until we both have said all we need to say, even if it means talking about multiple things. And finally, we try to truly move on from the conflict. We have both said what we need to say, figured out what needs changing if anything, and we leave the conflict there. This is harder for me than it is for my husband. He is always ready to hug and be fine when we are done talking, but I take a little longer. On Sunday, I actually told my husband, "I'm fine, I don't have anything else to say, but I'm not ready to be kissy with you yet." He chuckled and said, "Okay, thanks for telling me that." After a little while, we were both ready to smile at each other and move on.

This has been a big challenge for both of us to learn, since we are both conflict avoiders, but it has done wonders for our marriage. Conflict can actually be good for your marriage if you use it to improve your relationship instead of bring distance between you.


Monica Tillery said...

This is such a wonderful post! All too often people think if you fight with your spouse it means you don't have a happy, healthy marriage. Thank you for sharing!

Monica @ theatypicalhousewife.com

Megan Elzey said...

Thank you :) I agree. Most of the time people don't want to talk about arguing or having conflict, because they think it will look like they have a bad marriage. In fact, the ones that have the arguments and deal with the conflict appropriately are the happiest (of course, there are also those who have a lot of arguments and deal with conflict INappropriately, and that's a whole other story).

Kim said...

Good insights. The only thing I would add is to keep the fight about today's problem and not what he's been doing for the last 10 years.

I've learned that if one of us starts a sentence with "you always...," the argument usually escalates or we start tuning each other out.

After 14 years, we've finally figured out that the past belongs in the past. We can only deal with what's happening today, so there's no point in bringing up yesterday's news. Just that small adjustment in thinking has made our arguments a lot briefer - and more productive.

Megan Elzey said...

Kim, I agree with not saying something like, "you always..." We try to talk about things in a non-threatening manner. Even when we do get upset about something, as in our last disagreement, we still try to keep from making the other person having to feel defensive.

kris said...

I used to be proud to say "we never fight", well, that got us into trouble... great post Megan, so true. Too bad it took what it did to get this reality out in the open....