OVER THE CAUSE OF MARRIAGE, ARGUMENTS ARE INEVITABLE. HERE IS HOW TO HANDLE STRIFEáîðüáà; ñïîð; ññîðà; íåñîãëàñèå PRODUCTIVELY.
I know a couple who fight like cats and dogs, but they are wildly in love with each other. What’s more, they have one of the healthiest marriages I know. Does that shock you?
If it does, get ready for some bigger surprises. My 30 years as a psychologist have slowly taught me a difficult-to-believe fact: the amount of conflict in a marriage only determines the speed at which the marriage is moving toward greatness or toward destruction.
If you want to sit still in your marriage, rule out all conflict. If you want your marriage to crash and burn, let conflict rage but refuse to learn the skills necessary for managing it. Well-managed conflict is like a stairway that can lead you to higher and higher levels of marital greatness.
I get nervous when couples come to me for premarital counselling and say they’ve never had a single argument. They are complete strangers to a crucial part of married life. They don’t have the slightest idea about their combined skilfulness to handle that part of marriage that brings so much potential for positive or negative change.
If any couple thinks they are not going to have disagreements, they are tragically self-deceived and headed for trouble. Almost 50 percent of all divorces take place within three years of the wedding day. Think of that! Couples get married, encounter conflict, and give up – all within three years.
There are two points about this that I find disturbing. First, these couples must have been profoundly unaware of how challenging it is to make a marriage work, and they were certainly unaware of the number of conflicts that would arise.
Secondly, they must have been alarmingly ill-equipped to handle their conflicts.The management of conflict is a complex but entirely learnable skill.Unfortunately, these couples never developed this skill, at least not to the required level of proficiency.
Let me make this point clearly:
Conflict is a necessary part of every marriage for as long as that marriage lasts. If there is no conflict, or if conflict suddenly slows down or levels off, it is a sign that something is wrong with the marriage. There are countless reasons for no conflict, but they all indicate a reduction in that part of a marriage that gives it the potential for growth and change.
WHY IS CONFLICT SO IMPORTANT?
To have a great marriage, there must be two authentic partners. Authenticity involves the full and free expression of each person’s true self, with all of its uniqueness. When both people are fully authentic, their complete agreement of everything is highly unlikely. Some conflict is inevitable.
I remember a quote I read 20 or more years ago. Ruth Bell Graham, wife of the renowned evangelist, was asked if she and Billy always agreed on everything. “My goodness, no!” she said. “If we did, there would be no need for one of us.”
What Mrs. Graham implied is truly profound. A relationship doesn’t need both of its partners if they are exactly the same. The wonderful thing you do for your marriage is to share that part of you that is different from your mate. But as sure as you share your differences, there is bound to be conflict. This is the kind of healthy conflict, though, that gives you the opportunity to expand your marriage.
Here’s an example: If you like country music and your spouse loves classical, the two of you face a challenge. Every time the subject comes up, you can each deliver a few critical remarks designed to make the other person’s musical preference look silly. Or you can hate every moment you listen to your mate’s music.
There’s another option, however. You might say something like: “You know, Honey, you love classical music, and I love country. I suspect that we could come to appreciate each other’s musical tastes if we worked at it a little. I would really like to do that. What do you think?”
Therein lies a marriage-building strategy designed to expand the boundaries of your corporate lives and to increase the musical-interest range of your relationship.
Imagine a marriage in which one person wants everything about their lives together to be precisely the same. This simply wouldn’t be much of a marriage; it would merely be two people living one life. For the person whose uniqueness was ignored and never incorporated, there would inevitably be a sense of not counting much, an intense feeling that his or her ideas, tastes and preferences were unimportant, unnecessary and unwanted.
Conversely, a marriage in which each person brings ideas, attitudes and approaches – even to the point of creating disagreements – is a marriage that will build on the best that both partners have to offer.
The bottom line is this: Conflict that is mismanaged can destroy a marriage. It can turn the whole relationship into a battleground where the only winners are sure to be eventual losers – and the losers are sure to be filled with resentment.
If the couple decides to eliminate all conflict in the name of maintaining peace, there will be a terrible price to pay. The individuals’ uniqueness is likely to become more repressed and stifled. They will have to develop a mask to hide their frustration. This kind of relationship is bound to become cold and distant.
When two people find themselves together for a lifetime – both with an abundance of thoughts, feelings, opinions and interests – they have a chance to build a magnificent marriage. Blending the uniqueness of one partner with the uniqueness of the other takes great skill, but a potential for a totally new corporate identity with maximum breadth and depth is an incredibly valuable goal to pursue.