Conflict and resolution sound pretty tricky – like trying to bring together warring nations. These problems at international level can seem insoluble and complex, with little prospect for lasting peace. In our own relationships it sometimes seems so difficult to get out of a storm into calmer waters, but there are ways through.
Do any of these sound familiar?
‘We go around the same issues time and time again, and never get anywhere’
‘Why can’t she see my approach is best’
‘He is so stubborn – whatever I say doesn’t seem to cut any ice’
‘We often argue about really small things’
‘I daren’t bring that topic up again – last time it was a disaster and we didn’t speak to each other for two days’
Stepping back for a moment, any two people will have differences. We all need to learn to respect each other’s perspectives and then harness what each one brings.
I got married in my early 20s and saw myself as easy to get on with, flexible and open to others’ opinions. In the first year of marriage something apparently changed – topics that I could let ride during our engagement suddenly became life and death issues, going to bed after arguing involved hours of tossing and turning. We needed to find better ways – here are some of the things we’ve learned and tried to put into practice.
Recognising we are different – You may come from very different backgrounds, experiences, and personalities, but marriage isn’t just about compatibility – it prospers because of difference. If our goal is to grow our relationships, we’ll be able to put aside needing to get our own way.
Separate the issue from the relationship. What we are disagreeing about at any point in time doesn’t need to shake the foundations of our commitment. To be able to say ‘we are having a disagreement about e.g. how much we should save vs. spend, but the relationship is not under threat’ helps keep things in their right place.
Approach issues in a winning way– blame often triggers defensiveness or retaliation – try assertively owning and expressing your concern – ‘I feel worried about our finances’, rather than ‘you are spending too much’.
Often an argument over silly things shows that there’s something going on under the surface – I’m upset about my mother being ill, it feels like you don’t value me, … add your own triggers. Sometimes it takes time to tease the real issue out.
Some differences don’t get resolved – that’s OK. John Gottman estimates from his research that 70% of conflicts are perpetual. However, much you talk about an issue (e.g. how much time we should spent together or and with other people), you may never feel the same. That’s, because it’s related to personality differences or deeply rooted opinions. Here compromise rather than resolution can result in peace for you both.
Take time out when things get too heated. This holding fire is more about when to address the issue, rather than kicking it into the long grass.
Much more than in the early years of our marriage, I appreciate the differences between us and how when we listen to each other we have a much richer, fuller, more rounded relationship and better decisions. Dealing well with conflict and difference is a win-win.