At some point you will experience conflict in your family and especially your marriage.
If you are you like me, you have an hard time thinking about family pictures without thinking of conflict but I learned long time ago getting the picture is worth feeling the conflict!
Most of us naturally avoid conflict. At least we think we do. But what we don't realize is that avoiding conflict doesn't mean you are not experiencing conflict. It is either surface or under the surface.
Conflict is usually not pretty. It can feel dangerous to our brain and can be filled with tension. Other people might experience conflict as avoidance or withdrawal. Either way, you are experiencing conflict as something as painful and something you want to avoid.
I want you to know that your avoidance of conflict might be keeping your marriage from becoming better. Conflict is not bad, it is how we deal wth conflict that can be damaging.
In marriage, conflict comes with the package of being married. You are merging two people's ideas, values and perspective. The merging of these ideas can sometimes result in arguments and angry interactions that can be stressful and feel unhealthy.
Many couples see conflict as a sign that their relationship is in trouble. This belief is understandable yet unfortunate. Conflict is not negative; instead, it’s an inevitable part of marriage that will be managed in either a healthy or an unhealthy way.
Leading marriage author John Gottman has spent his lifetime observing married couples. In his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, he states, "If there is one lesson I have learned from my years of research it is that a lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship."
Sometimes we mistake low conflict as a level of happiness in marriage and we believe the if “we never fight” that this is a sign of marital health. But I might be a sign that your relationship is stagnate or you are not connecting. We grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences.
That’s how we become more connected and vulnerable with each other. Healthy conflict can help your marriage grow and evolve. If handled right, arguments have the potential to create greater understanding and trust.
How you handle the conflict in your marriage can be an indication of an healthy or unhealthy marriage.
John and I recently had an disagreement. Honestly at the time, I did not think - "yes, this is going to be an opportunity for us to become closer!" The conflict felt painful and not fun. But the conflict is never the issue. The issue is how we handle the conflict and John and I have gotten pretty good at handling conflict and is this case this disagreement did lead to further understanding and love for each other.
When conflicts arise, couples usually need a cooling off period, some space from the disagreement. This can also be tricky because that can differ from person to person. My husband would like to resolve all conflict right away and I'm someone who needs a longer period of space. After nearly 30 years, he has learned to be patient with my need of a longer period.
Once you both have some time to cool off, it is important to come together and create a safe place, where you can discuss the conflict. Ignoring the conflict doesn't mean the conflict went away, or was resolved, it just means you are further disconnected emotionally.
In order to create a safe place, each spouse needs to feel unconditional love. These means you both feel free to open up and reveal who you really are while trusting that the other person will still love, value and unconditionally accept you.
In other words, you feel safe with someone when you are confident and trust that he or she will handle your heart – your deepest feelings, thoughts, desires, hopes, and dreams – with the utmost care.
Discussing the conflict is the key to learning to understand and to trust each other. In our recent disagreement, John and I were able to have an amazing discussion in a very vulnerable way and as a result we were taught a greater insight about each other's needs.
It is hard to be vulnerable, even with somebody you adore but if you can get used to the feeling of vulnerability the fruit of vulnerability is an deeper connection. We ended the discussion feeling more connected and at one. The conflict we experienced gave us an opportunity to become more unified.
How to Handle Conflict in your Marriage:
Allow some time to pass before discussing conflict - cooling off period.
Don't ignore the conflict, not discussing it only furthers disconnect you.
Create a safe place to discuss - focus more on listening to one another, validating how each other felt.
Examine this conflict to see if this is a marriage pattern that might be ineffective.
This is a discussion to learn from each other, not prove who was right or wrong - it is usually safe to assume you were both right and wrong!
Always emphasize your gratitude and love for each other at the end of the discussion.
Over my 29 years of marriage I have learned how valuable conflict resolution can be. It brings problems to light and helps us become more connected by dealing with them vs. ignorining them or avoiding them. When you can discuss the conflict in a safe space you really learn to appreciate each other's differences and realize that you can become unified and one, even with differences.
The lovely thing about dealing with conflict is the more you deal with it the better you get at it. You start anticipating future conflicts and and resolve these conflicts at a quicker rate. This leads to a much higher level of marital happiness for both of you.
If you want to learn how to handle conflict better in your marriage, book a free personalized Marriage Strategy Session. You can't avoid conflict but you can become more confident on handling conflict and the result will be a much happier marriage.