According to a study done by the University of Michigan, a particularly “toxic pattern is when one spouse deals with conflict constructively, by calmly discussing the situation, listening to their partner's point of view, or trying hard to find out what their partner is feeling, for example—and the other spouse withdraws.”
Not facing head on and dealing with conflict in the marriage is like sealing the fate of what should be a lifelong commitment. We don’t think when we marry that we will be called on to step outside our level of comfort and engage in conflict BUT no marriage is conflict free and no marriage survives conflict avoidance.
Janice and Ed had been married for two years when Ed began to withhold intimacy. Janice, a communicator and problem solver set out to talk with Ed and find a solution to the problems in the marriage. Ed, a man who shied away from all conflict closed down.
Janice new that problems festered if left alone. Ed thought that problems disappeared if ignored.
For years Janice attempted to communicate with Ed. She read books on communication in marriage. She broached the subject in a way that would not put Ed on the defensive. In return Ed spent years walking away from Janice’s attempts to solve the problem.
Janice and Ed are no longer married. She is still a communicator and problem solver; he is still someone who avoids conflict. I’m not sure which side of the fence is worse to be on. Someone who wants to solve problems married to someone who wants to ignore problems or someone who is attached to a wife who wants you to engage in something that you find terrifying…conflict.
What is the dynamic in your relationship when it comes to solving conflict? Do you deal with conflict constructively or do you withdraw?
How to Deal With Marital Conflict in a Positive Manner:
1. Make Your Marriage a Safe Place:
Both spouses should feel it safe to share their wants and needs. When your spouse attempts to communicate a concern with you don’t respond with put downs or tirades. More often than not a spouse withdraws from conflict because they don’t feel safe engaging in conflict.
2. Be Willing to see Things From Another Perspective:
Making the effort to see the situation from your spouse’s perspective helps you gather more information about the problem or conflict. Have you heard the story about the blind men and the elephant?
Six blind men were discussing exactly what they thought an elephant to be, since each had heard how strange an elephant was, but none had ever seen one before. So the blind men agreed to find an elephant and discover what the animal was really like.
Each man feels a different part of the elephant. One touched the tail, one the ears, one the tusks and so on. Based on touch they came up with different opinions of what an elephant was and in turn they argued, based on their individual perceptions of what an elephant was.
Each man’s perception was based on what part of the elephant he had touched, not the entire elephant. The same can happen in marital conflict. We argue a point based on our own idea of what the problem is and how it should be solved.
You don’t have the complete truth of the situation until you hear and attempt to view it from your spouse’s perception. There is never just one way of looking at a problem, there are always different perspectives and solutions to problems come when you take into account all perspectives.
3. Sharpen Your Listening Skills:
You can’t solve marital conflict if you don’t know what your spouse is feeling. You can’t know what your spouse is feeling if you aren’t listening to what he/she is saying. Most of us enter into conflict from a defensive position. We are concerned with defending our point of view instead of listening to all points of view.
Healthy marital communication is not only about sharing your feelings and thoughts. You have to be listening to what your spouse is sharing also.
4. Be Willing to be Vulnerable:
This is by far the most difficult position to take when engaged in conflict. It is human nature to fear rejection and being open and vulnerable to our spouse puts us in a position of possible rejection. You need to ask yourself, “which is more important, my fear of rejection or solving the marital problems?”
The key to allowing yourself to be vulnerable is to know, without a doubt that you are worthy of being heard, loved, respected and trusted. Yes, you take the chance of being rejected or belittled but being transparent in your marriage is the only way to solve problems or discovering whether or not you are married to someone who truly cares about you and your feelings.
5. Be Willing to Admit You Are Wrong:
For some winning is the goal, not solving marital problems. Admitting you’re wrong, when you’re wrong breeds an environment of trust and tolerance. People with good self-esteem and humility have no problem admitting to a mistake. Doing so promotes positive change in the marriage and helps your spouse feel more secure in admitting when they have made a mistake. It is about humility and promoting humility within the marriage and on a person level.