“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
– Romans 12:18
Conflict is an unpleasant state to find yourself in, no matter what the situation. But the idea of facing conflict in your marriage can be downright paralyzing, whether you’ve been married for years and have developed bad fighting habits, or you’re newlyweds and disagreements are relatively new territory.
The good news is, conflict can actually be good for your marriage. Fighting a good fight has the power to create a deeper level of connection between you and your spouse. If you have the right tools, the two of you can use conflict to strengthen your marriage.
Prepare for Battle Together
The sooner you equip yourselves to deal with conflict in healthy ways, the better. Coming up with a game plan for handling disagreements will prepare you to handle them well.
It can also be helpful to engage in exercises that help you understand where you stand and rate the depth of your disagreement on particular topics. Our Conflict Card can help you do that. It’s a simple tool you can use during a disagreement or debate to ask one another, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly do you feel about this?”
Since a lack of objectivity escalates conflict, the Conflict Card provides the perspective you need to choose your battles wisely.
Over time, take note of hot-button issues that strike a chord with each of you. Take some time to explore what topics are most likely to generate disagreements; these things could range from in-laws to extracurricular activities, money to work schedules.
Be aware that when conflicts surrounding these hot topics arise, you’ll really need to be on your A-game. Prepare beforehand to approach and respond to these topics in a non-reactive, rational way.
Keep Conflict Non-Toxic
Knowing what behaviors and attitudes to avoid in conflict will help you to keep your disagreements from getting destructive. Preventing toxic behaviors from taking hold in your marriage early on will pay huge dividends over the decades of life you’re going to spend together.
Dr. John Gottman from the University of Washington in Seattle found, through his research, that there are four major destructive behaviors that lead to the breakdown of a marriage. Avoid these behaviors, and your chances of long-term marital success will multiply exponentially.
Speaking or behaving in a critical way toward one another ties the problem directly to your spouse, rather than presenting the issue as something you can work together to resolve. If you have a messy house, it’s destructive to say things to your spouse like, “You never clean up after yourself!” or, “You always leave junk lying around! Can’t you clean up once in awhile?”
Avoid being critical by using “I feel” statements to keep the problem from becoming about your spouse, like, “I feel like I’m living in chaos because the house is a mess. What can we do to make it better?” Learning how to complain without making your spouse feel like the problem is the key to resolving problems without making a mess of things.
Once a problem is assigned to your spouse, they’re likely to become defensive. Instead of the problem being something that could easily be resolved with a little teamwork, the problem is suddenly your spouse themselves. A defensive attitude arises when your spouse feels that you are attacking them over the problem at hand.
If you avoid being critical, your spouse is less likely to become defensive. And if you’re prone to becoming defensive yourself, recognize that you can’t make the argument go away. Instead, take a step back, take a deep breath, and calmly ask your spouse to reframe the issue by looking at the big picture so the two of you can put your heads together and solve it.
We are contemptuous when we take criticism a step further by diagnosing or belittling our spouse. “You always make us late,” is a critical statement, but, “You always make us late because you’re irresponsible and you have no respect for anyone else’s time,” is contemptuous. Remarks like, “You’re a regular genius,” and statements that make your spouse feel beaten down are other examples of contempt in action.
Allowing yourself to become contemptuous toward your spouse is a definite nail in your relationship’s coffin, so make a daily effort to create meaningful, positive interactions with your spouse. Deliberately speak kind words to your spouse, even during conflict. Focus on what you love about them, and you’ll find that your affection increases as contempt (or other destructive attitudes) begins to decrease.
Emotional withdrawal is a fast-track to unresolved disputes in your marriage. When you stonewall your spouse, you shut down, leaving the marriage on an emotional level. If you stonewall your spouse, you’ve allowed your heart to harden toward them.
No matter how upset you are during a fight, resist the urge to check out. Whatever you’re going through, you still need one another, and you’ll be better able to overcome your disagreements if you keep communication open and honest. Be safe and approachable for one another even in the heat of battle, and you’ll come out stronger on the other side.
Ready to See a Real Fight?
Watch us in action on the Fight Night Live Simulcast February 12, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. Pacific. We’ll be applying these concepts, plus showing you examples of how they play out during the course of a BIG fight. You’ll get to see us demonstrate what to do–and what not to do–and walk away with insights you can apply in your own marriage.
Fight Night Live is for newlyweds and “oldyweds” alike, and is designed to provide you and your spouse with the tools you need to fight fairly and resolve conflict in a constructive, healthy way. Click here to find a participating location near you.