I’ve been counseling couples in marriages for almost eight years. I am always amazed at the pain involved in relationships. Mostly, I never fail to be fascinated in every single case with the resilience that God gives us concerning a marriage union. When I look at all the reasons the marriage union dissolves, what seems to be the common denominator is how well couples do (or don’t) handle conflict.
It is not how well individuals get along, not how much fun they have together that will make or break them. It is that terrible word that many fear as much as speaking in public, conflict. While couples are in the giddy stage of being so in love they often remark, “We just get along so well together and we have so much fun together.” Little do they know that lurking ahead may be a huge detour sign that will throw them off the road into the ditch of frustration.
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An actual study by the University of Denver several years back reflects this opinion. Research done with couples reveals that how well couples handle conflict is a 90% indicator of whether or not they will stay together. Given this fact, it is really sad that couples are not more prepared to communicate through conflict in a healthy manner.
Most of us learned how to handle conflict from our family of origin.
This is actually the worst place we could learn about navigating times of disagreement. For some families, conflict is simply not allowed. I call these homes, “cheerleader homes.” In these atmospheres everyone is required to put a smile on their face, buck up, and be happy. No negative emotions or discussion about anything upsetting is allowed. “Why, they never even had a fight!” is a common comment I hear from people surprised at the news of a divorce of someone they know.
We also have the opposite example of conflict resolution in families of origin. In some cases, kitchen plates flew through the air, caustic and loud expletives were thrown back and forth while children ran for safety. Growing up in these homes, people learn fast that conflict is terrible and dangerous. Therefore, they want nothing to do with it at all, ever again.
There are a few percentages of healthy homes where children learn that conflict is actually a way to resolve problems. People growing up in this atmosphere do not fear or avoid conflict. They are able to navigate the waters without shutting down and walking off or manipulating the outcome by having a louder voice.
Every marriage should have a basic understanding of managing conflict in a healthy manner. Hearts can stay in tune with each other instead of partners becoming enemies on opposite sides of the fence. Here are some tips to help couples understand conflict in their marriage.
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1). Reframe your definition of the word conflict. Think of conflict as problem resolution that can bring positive outcomes for both parties. Do not think of conflict in terms of being bad or as a battle you must win.
2). I teach couples to have the attitude: “I care about me. I care about you.” Even going into a conflicting situation helps if you have the right mindset. As much as possible, problem resolution should be a win-win outcome for all.