Conflicts in marriage are inevitable. Husbands and wives view things differently, and marriage would be very dull if they didn’t. But out of these differences disagreements can arise, and from disagreements, conflicts arise that can result in highly emotional states of frustration and anger.
Often couples view conflict with horror, believing that it threatens their relationship. This misconception causes some to avoid conflict by refusing to acknowledge its presence, by running from it, and by forcing feelings underground. But ignoring conflicts does not solve them. In fact, serious problems sometimes develop when problems are bottled up inside and are not released. A few simple rules can lead to constructive problem-solving.
1. Choose the best time and place. It is best to keep current when handling conflicts, but if either of you is angry or unreasonable, then postpone the discussion. Don’t delay it for too long, however. And if your partner does not bring up the issue again, then you take the initiative to solve the problem. Guard against unnecessary interruptions when discussing major issues. You may want to take the phone off the hook and agree not to answer the door. If children are not part of the discussion, explain that you have an important issue to settle and ask them not to disturb you. If you can hand the problem constructively, it is not detrimental to allow them to observe and thus learn healthy methods of handling disagreements.
Try not to discuss major issues late at night. Decisions made late in the day when the body is mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted are likely to be emotional ones. A better plan would be to sleep on it overnight and arise an hour early.
Many well-organized families set aside a definite time each week as “gripe night.” This eliminates unpleasant conversation during meals and at other inappropriate times while allowing for issues to be discussed before they get out of hand.
2. Say it straight. State your feelings openly and respectfully through the effective use of I-messages. Speak directly, clearly, and concisely without anger. Include reasons why you hold your opinion. Explain how you think the problem can be solved and what is at stake. Speak in as calm and controlled a manner as possible, lower the volume of your voice rather than raising it.
3. Stay on the subject. Stick with one problem until you solve it. The more problems brought up at one time, the less likelihood that any of them will be solved. Make a rule that additional problems cannot be brought up until the first one has been dealt with. If necessary, prepare a sheet of paper titled “agenda for next conference” and jot down other issues. Avoid dragging up old scores and arguments. Agree that if the accusation is over six months old, it is inadmissible evidence.
4. Show respect. You may not agree with your mate’s position. You may be violently opposed. But you can still respect his right to have his opinion. Here are some nonos: no name-calling, no wild threats of divorce or suicide, no remarks about in-laws or relatives, no putdowns concerning appearance or intelligence, no physical violence, no yelling, and no interrupting.
Words spoken in anger can never be recalled. Nothing can erase the effect of a threatening ultimatum or bitter remarks spoken in anger. Speak and listen with respect.
5. List the solutions. When feelings have been described openly and constructively, you will see the issues at stake and work out rational alternatives. Brainstorm every possible solution regardless of how farfetched it may seem, but do not appraise them at this time.
6. Evaluate the solutions. Once all available information has been aired, the two of you can make an intelligent choice as to the course of action most likely to succeed. Go back through the list and share thoughts on the consequences as you evaluate each solution.
7. Choose the most acceptable solution. Commit yourselves to choosing the solution closest to meeting the needs of both of you or the needs of the one hurting the most. This choice may take a good measure of negotiation and comprise. Winning should not be the goal, because where there is a winner there must also be a loser, and no one like to lose.
Solutions can be reached by one partner yielding, by both compromising, or by one giving in to the other rather than just giving in. Take care to see that one of your does not always do the yielding. It takes two to make a conflict and two to resolve it. Giving in to another in the midst of conflict takes real maturity, because in effect you are admitting that your analysis of the situation was wrong and that you are now ready to change your mind.
8. Implement the decision. Decide who is to do what, where, and when. Once you reach a decision, remember that two persons often perceive agreements differently. When this happens, try jotting down the specifications in an agreement book that each party signs. This technique is effective with children, too, especially teenagers.
Only friendly negotiation can solve some conflicts. Often if one gives in, the other feels resentful and may be in a very bad mood for the rest of the evening—refusing to speak, getting very little sleep, and carrying the argument through to the next day. The other mate can be just as stubborn. Each feels justified in supporting his or her own decision. But does it really matter who is right and who is wrong? A couple that cares about each other should be able to work things out according to how important each one considers his or her needs at the time. A solution can be reached easier when each person is willing to see the problem from the other’s viewpoint.