“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. However, the presence of conflict does not necessarily mean your marriage is unhealthy, its how you fight and handle conflict that is the issue. In an argument when emotions are high it can often lead to “dirty fighting” which is defined as a fight that “alienates or hurts a spouse” (Clinton & Trent, 2009). But sometimes couples need to argue. Worthington (2005), argues couples can argue productively without toxic communication but the key is for couples to reconcile and forgive each other at the end. If the conflict is resolved the marriage can become stronger. Just like resistance weight training at the gym builds stronger muscles enabling you to lift heavier weights, a resolved conflict can build a stronger marriage enabling you to better handle marital challenges in the future. Resolved conflict builds your faith in stability of your marriage and can increase intimacy. A resolved conflict can also give you confidence that you can resolve the next conflict. Here are a few Christian marriage counseling guidelines to help you achieve resolution more efficiently and effectively:
Seek to Listen
Listening helps each spouse to feel understood and supported. Take turns being the listener and speaker. Repeat both the words and feelings of speaker’s message to verify if the message that was received was the message intended by the partner. For example, “I hear you saying…Is this correct?” It’s hard not to interrupt, but seek to understand and listen before you respond.
Put yourself in your partner’s place and look at the situation from his/her perspective. Appreciate each other’s experience. How would you want be treated if you were in their place? Let your partner know you are trying to see the conflict through their eyes.
Approach Conflict with a Problem Solving Mindset
Just like a business has a mission statement to guide their practices; marriages need core values to help guide them to success. Having a core value of committing to resolve and reconcile every conflict in your relationship creates unity even in the midst of conflict because you know you are both working toward the same goal. Remember you both are on the same team!
Steer Clear of Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt & Stonewalling
Dr. John Gottman calls these harmful communication strategies the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” because they impede the couple’s ability to resolve negative feelings. Using these four communications is like pouring kerosene on a fire; it’s going to intensify conflict and wound your partner. Criticism sounds like, “You never do anything right! You are so stupid.” Defensiveness sounds like “What do you mean I never help out around the house! I cook and clean for you and your children every day.” Contempt involves put-downs, disrespect and derogatory remarks such as “You make me sick!” Trent and Clinton (2009) call attacking your spouse’s character “hitting below the belt” because this type of communication is meant to intentionally insult or hurt the person not resolve conflict. And lastly stonewalling means you shut down and stop participating in the conversation there by punishing your spouse and escalating the conflict. These are lethal weapons in conflict and create much damage.
Do not use Threats
Threats put up barriers to intimacy and safety. Threats also break down bridges of communication.
Stay Away from Blanket Statements, Generalizations & Judgments
For example saying, “You never or you always.” Exaggerations prolongs and intensify conflict and are rarely true. Be specific and honest as possible and speak the truth in love.
Blaming your partner will cause him or her to go into defensive mode. Many couples think they can mind read because they have been in relationship for a time and therefore they think know what their spouse is thinking or feeling. Don’t assume, but ask questions before you arbitrarily conclude that your spouse is reacting negatively to you. Check the facts first.
When to seek Christian Marriage Counseling
In marriage, you and your partner can expect to face conflict – it is an inevitable part of your relationship. The trick is not to avoid conflict, but to learn to use it to grow and deepen your bond in marriage. If you and your spouse want to discover the joy of using conflict for personal and relational growth, consider seeking the help of a professional Christian marriage counselor. Counseling offers a great opportunity to explore the roots of conflict and the ways that you and your spouse can best love one another in the tense moments of disagreement. A counselor will use proven therapeutic techniques and Biblical principles to help you love one another through conflict and learn to use the experience to grow in your marriage.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.net David Castillo Dominici – Young couple standing back to back having relationship difficult and couples fighting