Since we are currently teaching through a series at our church on marriage and relationships, I thought it would be fun to do a series of blogs on the topic. Here are some practical keys to handling conflict! (Notice I said "handle" conflict and not "avoid" conflict. No marriage is perfect, because YOU'RE IN IT! But you can learn to resolve issues without destroying each other!)
1.) LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROBLEMS AND TENSIONS!
A lot of the things that we fight over in marriage are actually just tensions that arise because of the difference between us as men and women and our own personality differences! My wife and I have had some big fights over some pretty insignificant things! Those aren't problems... they are tensions and they will never go away because they are hardwired into who we are as people. Instead of trying to SOLVE those tensions... you need to learn to MANAGE them. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and try to understand why they think that way. It will relieve the tension, even though nothing has changed but your understanding! The Bible says this...
Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Great marriages have learned to assume the best about their partner - and they are very generous in that assumption!
However, if it is a real problem... a barrier that is keeping your relationship from moving forward and growing... then DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM. Don't try to manage problems - SOLVE THEM! Go to counseling, have the difficult conversations, ask the difficult questions, and work hard at solving whatever issue is keeping you stuck!
2.) OFFER AND ACCEPT DAILY AFFECTIONS!
How you treat each other when you are NOT fighting will determine the length and intensity of your conflict when you ARE fighting. It sets the tone for what your conflicts will be like. Whatever you lack in your marriage day to day will be magnified during conflict! Great marriages are not built on a few special moments throughout the year, but in the hundreds of affirmations of affection every single day! So what are you doing daily to show your spouse affection? The Bible says:
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans 12:10)
3.) ESTABLISH POSITIVE RITUALS!
What are the things that you do over and over throughout your day, week, or month that are points of reconnection? Do you have coffee together before the kids wake up? Do you have a standing lunch date? Do you have a favorite show that you cuddle up to and watch together each week? Do you have a date night? Do you have a specific time that you call each other each day just to check in and say hi? These little rituals establish points of reconnection - and if you are in conflict - moments of repair!
One of the best rituals that you can establish is a simple hug and kiss each time that you leave each other and return to each other. After nearly 13 years of marriage & 3 young children, I know from experience that this can become a routine and lifeless peck on the cheek that you check off your list each day, so to keep it fresh, try to make it last for 6 seconds before you break it off! Ladies - no stopwatches! Guys - don't try to round second base! This simply slows you down enough to actually look into each other's eyes, embrace, kiss, and reconnect! GREAT RITUAL!
4.) REGULARLY SHARE SOME LAUGHS!
A healthy relationship is a light relationship. If you are constantly acting like Debbie Downer, that is a doom for your relationship! If your marriage never has any breaks of fun and laughter - IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE!
Enjoy some moments of laughter together! Those moments are release valves in your marriage - and they can also be repair moments when in conflict! I can remember many times where my wife and I were arguing over something stupid, and something funny would happen with our kids, or we would catch each other's eye in the middle of the fight, and both just start laughing at our own stupidity! Mark Gungor in his book "Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage" says: "Humor is the secret weapon for defusing conflict and making marriage flourish!"
5.) AVOID HARSH START UPS!
You can always determine the outcome of your conflict based on the first 2 minutes of interaction! What words are you using and what is your tone? If you are coming at your spouse full speed ahead with torpedoes loaded because you KNOW you are right, then regardless of the issue, they will be defensive and rightly so! The Bible says...
You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)
So, if you have a legitimate issue that needs resolved... follow the plan laid out in this verse:
QUICK TO LISTEN = Get understanding regarding your partner's way of seeing things!
SLOW TO SPEAK = Choose your words carefully because often in the heat of the moment, we say things we wish we hadn't!
SLOW TO GET ANGRY = Control your emotions. If necessary, go cool off for an hour and then come back together to discuss the issue. You will be in a better position to solve the problem or manage the tension without destroying each other!
I hope you found this helpful, and can apply a couple of these things to your marriage even this week!
PS - Next week... "What Men Wish Women Knew"