Is it even possible to locate one human we wouldn’t mind being stranded with on a deserted island for the rest of our life? Or, shut in with, for months on end during a worldwide pandemic?
Is there any way we could find another human being who is so completely perfect for us, that they would never drive us crazy under less than ideal circumstances?
This is the myth of marriage!
We fixate on the idea that our marriage isn’t working well because we are with the wrong person.
We want a best friend, a passionate lover, a nurturer, an entertainer, a housekeeper, and someone who can help us through every stage along life’s path. Our partner is always falling short of our expectations, and this leads to conflict in relationships.
In uncertain and highly stressful times like these, it is especially important to adopt productive communication habits that will lead to the outcome we say we want- peace, a loving home, a healthy sex life, and maybe even occasional romantic gestures!
The problem is that our patterns of managing relationship conflict do not actually move us towards our goals.
Is your marriage a partnership for life, or a life sentence? You have more control over which direction it goes than you might think.
If you are tired of marital conflicts, don’t worry. In the following section are given key steps for conflict resolution in marriage.
1. Give something up
We are well versed in the concept of compromise, but our thoughts go first to how to negotiate the best deal for ourselves. In the midst of an argument, we dedicate our energy to convincing our partner that our position is right.
Instead, for conflict resolution, start by offering something that you are willing to give up in order to reach a compromise.
You will be modeling generosity, rather than keeping you both stuck in your own positions.
2. Reward vulnerability
We say that we want our partner to open up and speak freely, but when they do, we sometimes can’t resist taking advantage of the “one-up” position.
Our partner takes a risk when they show us their vulnerability, and they are trusting us with something precious.
When our partner comes forward with some brutal truths, we can snap into a defensive mode.
If we indulge our impulsivity and go in for an attack, rather than honoring their bravery, then we will simply shut them down. Being aggressive towards our partner when their guard is down can also very quickly amp up the intensity of a fight.
We understand that children need positive reinforcement, but we all do. When your partner is vulnerable, take care of them and reward them for it.
Rewarding vulnerability is not only a key to conflict resolution, but a path towards a more intimate and meaningful connection.
3. Listen deeper than the words
If we get bogged down in winning the argument, we will miss the emotional message behind our partner’s words. Instead of getting lost in the verbiage, try something different.
It seems that our partner is furious about rice left on the counter, but what is going on here? Are they overwhelmed with life today?
Listen to the emotion, and express empathy, rather than trying to prove your innocence. You may get some refreshing results in your attempt for conflict resolution in your relationship.
4. Be wary of using the words ‘always’ and ‘never’
It’s important to express what you need, but be selective about the words you use. It is most productive to start with your own feelings and experiences rather than making accusations.
“You always” and “you never” are inflammatory words in arguments.
Keep the discussion to the current conflict rather than digging back into past resentments.
You know your partner well enough to know what pushes their buttons. Don’t give in to the temptation to push. Steer clear, if you are aiming for conflict resolution.
5. Practice self-compassion
Our partners reflect back to us our own image without the polishing of an airbrush. The next time you feel your blood pressure rise, take the time to investigate the actual source of your anger.
Imagine that your partner is mad at you for working too late. You snap back that they should stop being so “needy.”
On some level, you might realize that you lashed out at them so harshly because you feel guilty for the ways you haven’t been prioritizing the relationship.
Deep inside, you are beating yourself up, and your partner has become the target.
Rage flares up when we are forced to take an honest look at our own shortcomings. Often, we are driven to attack our partners because our inner critic is coming after us.
If we can distract ourselves by blaming the other person, it feels as if we can drown out our own insecurities.
When we are more compassionate towards ourselves, we are less defensive about our imperfections and better positioned to take responsibility for our part in the conflict.
When we are able to forgive ourselves for where we fall short, we find space to be more loving towards our partner.
6. Practice gratitude
Research shows that practicing gratitude is healthy and can elevate our mood.
It is also beneficial for relationships to remind ourselves regularly of what we most value in our partner. And don’t just think about it: tell them!
The pandemic is a time when we are all faced with life’s fragility and the ways we are ultimately out of control of many aspects of our lives.
As scary as it is, imagining how we would feel if something were to happen to our partner can be a way of grounding us in a deeper appreciation of what is right in front of us.
We are reminded that all that is guaranteed is the present moment, and we take in all the glorious messiness of being imperfectly tangled up with the life of another human being.
No matter who we choose as a partner, we are going to have times when we secretly wish that we could just switch our mate out with someone else. Someone easier. Someone more fun. Someone “perfect for us.”
If we are focused on changing our partner, we will just be met with frustration and push them further away. Instead, move in the direction of becoming the partner you long for.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
I get to know each couple and use techniques from a variety of modalities, such as Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) and the Gottman method, according to what the couple seems to be needing at this time. I help the couple to slow down and learn how to more deeply listen to one another in order to help them with communication challenges in and out of sessions. I also help each individual partner to identify vulnerable spots behind their anger and resentment, in order to be able to know their trigger spots, enabling them to learn how to be intimate in a more satisfying way.