Conflict in marriage is both inevitable and perfectly normal. There’s a reason so many comedians have bits about arguments with their partners. It’s relatable.
The first fight I remember having with my husband happened while building our wedding registry. We were having fun using our scanner guns at Bed Bath & Beyond (because that’s how you did it in the early 2000s), imagining what our future home together. But when we reached the wall of As-Seen-On-TV knick-knacks, without warning my happy fiancé’s face fell and in complete seriousness he asked, “I’m going to have to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, aren’t I?” Confused by the sudden change in mood and gravity of his tone I responded defensively, “well yeah, as life-long vegetarian I’m certainly not doing it and that’s the guy’s job anyway.” We left the store fighting and spent the car ride completely silent. Though ridiculous, we weren’t going to solve things standing amid the towel towers, but we could have managed the conflict if we’d had the right tools.
In truth, 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. (Feuerman) Between varying personalities and differing backgrounds, there are some things that will never be resolved. However, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate conflict, it’s learning how to manage it. Based on the studies of Dr. Gottman, constructive conflict management includes the development of the following five skills:
1. Soften Your Startup
How a partner raises an issue in the first three minutes of the conversation is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. (Lisitsa) As Dr. Gottman’s research has shown, discussions inevitably end on the same note they begin. Start softly in tone of voice and choice of words. Use “I” statements and do not place blame. For example, you can describe what you see in the situation without making accusations.
2. Accept Influence
Your spouse has good ideas and important opinions which should be recognized. Show respect for their thoughts and perspectives by finding something you can learn from them. You don’t have to agree on everything, but allowing your partner to influence you goes a long way in creating good will and trust.
3. Make Effective Repairs and De-Escalate
In conflict, repairs are any attempt (in word or action) to prevent negativity from spiraling out of control. “Use scripted phrases like ‘Let me try again,’ ‘I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,’ and ‘I’m sorry‘ to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.” (Jacob) Sometimes the simple act of making repair attempts isn’t enough. “Knowing your spouse by understanding their needs, especially in the context of conflict, will help you devise ways to more effectively de-escalate an argument.” (Khalaf)
4. Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner
Sometimes attempts to repair and de-escalate aren’t effective; the other person must recognize and accept the attempt. If you find you or your spouse feeling emotionally flooded or falling into the Four Horseman of Relationships, it’s time to take a step back. Put the conversation on hold for at least 20 minutes while each of you takes time to calm down. Take a walk, listen to music, read a book, soak in the tub, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind.
Compromise is an art. It takes skill, patience, and the realization that it never feels perfect. But if both parties feel understood, respected, and honored in their dreams, then you are on the right path. (Gottman) There’s a reason this is number five in conflict management. It won’t be possible if the situation is escalated and you and your spouse are unwilling to accept the other’s view point. “So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.” (Jacob)
There will always be arguments in marriage. It’s inevitable, no matter who you are married to. And the majority of those disagreements may never be resolved. However, if you practice these five skills and learn positive and healthy conflict management, “then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.” (Jacob)
OTHER POSTS YOU MAY LIKE:
Feuerman, M. (2017, November 9). Managing vs. Resolving Conflict in Relationships: The Blueprints for Success. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/managing-vs-resolving-conflict-relationships-blueprints-success/
Jacob, A., & Jacob, A. (2016, September 30). Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/conflict-normal-natural-part-happily-ever/
Khalaf, D., & Khalaf, C. (2017, March 17). How to Make Repair Attempts So Your Partner Feels Loved. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/make-repair-attempts-partner-feels-loved/
Lisitsa, E. (2012, December 17). Manage Conflict: The Six Skills. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/manage-conflict-the-six-skills/