Think about the fact that two completely separate and unique individuals with different personalities, different backgrounds and different needs, have now decided to blend their lives in this adventure called marriage. Some sparks of disagreement and conflict are surely inevitable. Sooner or later you will probably offend and irritate each other as you face the day to day stresses and challenges of life. So don’t despair if there is conflict and problems in your marriage – know that it is normal and you can learn to handle them effectively together. In fact, problems that are handled well tend to draw you closer to one another.
Actually, if there is very little or no conflict in a marriage relationship, it probably means that one partner (or even both) is not being honest and is suppressing their own personality in order to keep the peace at any price. This is a very high price to pay and it does not result in a healthy marriage. On the contrary, it is healthier to accept that problems and conflicts are a fact of life, and that in themselves, they are not destructive.
However, the way you handle your problems is what will determine how destructive or constructive they are. The way you chose to handle the problems in your marriage will have one of two results; either it will drive a wedge between you and cause isolation, or it will strengthen your love and bring you closer to one another. The following pointers will help you to move in the direction of the latter outcome, namely reconciliation and greater intimacy.
Here are seven pointers for using marriage problems to strengthen your relationship:
1. Honesty is essential
Both of you need to be fully committed to be completely honest with each other and also with yourself. When your spouse senses that there is something bothering you and asks, “What’s wrong, Honey?” it is not helpful to say “nothing” when there obviously is something wrong. The longer you stuff things down and deny your real feelings, the worse they will become. Then one day when the pressure builds up too much, there might be a nasty explosion which causes much more damage than if you had just expressed your concerns right up front. Honesty means being open and transparent to the point of painful vulnerability. But honesty must also be balanced with love, sharing your feelings clearly without condemning or blaming.
2. It is more than 50-50
A healthy relationship cannot be built on a 50-50 arrangement or philosophy. Each partner needs to be one hundred percent committed to the relationship which means being willing to go beyond halfway to help and support each other when needed. This kind of true love does not keep scores and does not even think about who is giving the most. Incidentally, it is essential that both partners come to the party – if only one is always giving hundred percent while the other just takes and demands, the relationship will eventually break down.
3. Express your feelings appropriately
Body language and nonverbal factors play a huge part in how we express ourselves. Some of these can be very destructive and unhelpful when you are trying to resolve a conflict, for example yelling and screaming, or slamming doors and throwing things around. On the other end of the spectrum, silence, denial and stonewalling are equally counterproductive.
If feelings are running high it is better to take a cooling off time and then come back later and talk things through when you are able to do so calmly. Try getting alone first and venting your feelings – maybe you could write it all down, or go somewhere safe that you can scream or cry. Then when you sit down with your spouse you can express your emotions appropriately, using clear and honest words. If you are angry, frustrated or disappointed, talk about your feelings using “I” statements (eg. I feel sad) rather than “you” statements (eg. You make me sad).
4.Use the three step approach for confronting
Nobody likes being confronted, and in fact doing the confrontation is very difficult too, but essential unless you want to slip into the “peace at any price” trap. When something has happened and you need to confront your spouse, it is helpful to follow this simple rubric so that you can stay on track and not get drawn into side issues: firstly state exactly what happened; secondly explain how you were affected; thirdly say how you would have liked the situation to be handled. By keeping to these three simple steps you can make sure that you focus on the matter at hand.
5. Learning to forgive is key
The only way to overcome conflicts successfully is to forgive. This brings comfort and healing so that you can be reconciled and carry on with renewed strength and a deeper intimacy with your beloved. Forgiveness means giving up resentments and the desire to punish or get even. By an act of your will you decide to let the other person off your hook and start on a clean page with them. When both husband and wife can ask for forgiveness and grant forgiveness to each other quickly and willingly, the beautiful dance of marriage can proceed gracefully.
6. Beware of the bombshells
As already stated, problems and conflicts are normal and to be expected in every marriage. However, there are three things which can really blow your marriage apart, and unless there is serious intervention and a determination to change completely, the marriage may not survive. These are the three A’s: adultery, addictions and abuse. If you are struggling with any of these in your marriage, please get professional help as soon as possible. The longer you allow these destructive problems to continue, the less your chances will be of salvaging your marriage.
7. Look at your history and learn from it
Whether we like it or not, when we get married we bring with us an invisible, silent recording or pattern from our history, and specifically from what we have learnt from our own parents’ marriage. No marriage is perfect and perhaps you did not have a good example to follow when you were growing up. The way your parents treated each other is what you have learned instinctively about interacting within intimate relationships. So it is necessary to take a good look at your history and consciously decide what good points you would like to keep and what weaknesses you would like to avoid. And in this way, together with your spouse you can rewrite a better heritage for your own children.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
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.