Ben and Stacy had been married for less than a year. They were struggling with conflict – conflict that made them question whether they had made the right choice to marry. They were both worried and anxious about their future together. What if their conflicts only got worse? What kind of life would this mean between them? How could they bring children into this situation?
Ben and Stacy didn’t know how to manage conflict effectively and in a manner that would allow them to experience working together successfully as a team. Family experiences contributed to their individual patterns of handling conflict, which typically resulted in intense arguments and a profound sense of disconnection. They needed to learn new, more effective patterns of handling conflict.
In the process of getting to know each of them and their relationship, I found out that they had no premarital preparation and had had a very short courtship. They were in their mid to late 20s and were members of a faith community which guided them through their courtship, engagement and marriage. However, the guidance did not include training in relationship skills that would help them with both the short-term preparation for marriage as well as the longer term adjustments necessary for a satisfying, life-long marriage.
Following the Relationship Enhancement® skills training approach used at National Institute of Relationship Enhancement® and its Center for Couples, Families and Children, we first worked on interrupting Ben and Stacy’s destructive patterns of conflict. They learned how to stop their negative conflict patterns and how to take a time-out to regain their composure. Ben and Stacy then learned how to talk about their issues in a skillful and respectful manner that allowed them to stay engaged with each other so that they could address and resolve their issues in a more cooperative manner. This involved learning how to express themselves more fully to each other and how to really listen so that they would understand each other at a deeper level.
Ben and Stacy immediately found that they had fewer out-of-control conflicts and they felt more connected and optimistic about their future. They also found that they didn’t have as many differences as they thought and the ones they did have could be worked through together in a spirit of cooperation to find solutions that could work for both of them and their relationship.
Learning to manage their emotions and conflicts more effectively and learning how to stay connected while dealing with their differences were essential to re-establishing the positive outlook Ben and Stacy had when they married. They left NIRE’s Center for Couples, Families and Children with renewed hope for their future and working on their next project – buying a house and then filling it with children!