It's not how great you get along...there is another glaringly obvious reason marriages fail.
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.
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.
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.
3). Know your spouse’s heart. I just finished counseling a couple married for 26 years. Working with them, we started looking at the places in their soul that harbored pain. They were amazed to find out how little they knew about each other. Knowing your spouses’ source of pain from childhood will help you understand their communication style better. Do they avoid connection and conflict? Do they yell and insist on their own way? There are deep- seated reasons they respond in this manner to conflict. It would be good to find out the core heart-level things going on with your spouse if this is the pattern for them.
4). Schedule discussions that involve serious topics. This small tip alone can save you hours of hurtful communication. I advise many couples to schedule a “business meeting” for their marriage. During this meeting time, the really difficult subjects that need resolved can be tackled. Meeting your husband or wife at the door when they walk in from a work atmosphere full of conflict is probably not the best time to resolve a problem.
5). Ditch the word “perfect.” News flash! Your spouse isn’t perfect. Your spouse might not always see your side or agree with you. Your spouse will disappoint you. If you want a perfect spouse, you will have to wait until they get to heaven.
6). If you must change everything you must love nothing. Accepting your spouse on a heart level will keep you from getting caught up in the “if- onlys.” If only he/she were a better communicator. Learning to resolve conflict can be a way that God refines both of you. As you grow in this area and begin to have victory, you will see what a great team you are together. Oh and did I mention? Probably the two of you will begin to learn about grace as you resolve problems together.
If your marriage is suffering gaping wounds because of you and your spouse’s inability to manage conflict, it is highly advised you seek professional guidance. The conflict in your marriage does not have to take it down. There are new ways to handle and resolve problems so that both parties feel heard and affirmed. Having a marriage where conflict has positive outcomes is a gift we can give each other, our children, and our God who calls us “to be at peace with all men.”