This week, we promised to share a list of things to do when a conflict arises in your marriage. It is going to be a long one but if you make it to the end, you will be glad that you did.
Give each other the benefit of doubt
Agree within yourself that you made a conscious decision to spend the rest of your life with your spouse because of so many reasons including the fact that you felt he/she is reasonable, loving and lovable. Based on this premise, you should always assume that they will never intentionally hurt you. You need to trust that your spouse has your best interest at heart and is not out to get me.
Define the enemy
Your spouse is not the enemy; the issue is the outsider that needs to be dealt with. Focus on trashing the issues instead of calling out your spouse.
Genuinely seek to understand their point of view
Most times, our communication is affected by our upbringing and level of exposure which shapes the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Apparently, ‘people often hear what they expect to hear rather than what is said and jump to an incorrect conclusion’. Sometimes, our mind replays similar experiences and reminds us of what happened the last time this type of conversation came up and without allowing the conversation to play out, we jump into defence mode to shield ourselves.
We must condition ourselves to listen to what the other person is saying not to what we think they want to say, understand their point of view including what makes them think the way they think and keep our prejudice about our spouse in check. By doing this, we will gain perspective, deeper insight and respond differently.
Watch your words, tone, and body language
Everything communicates something, your words, thoughts and intended actions are received based on your choice of words, tone, or mannerism. If you can eliminate the use of abusive words when you disagree, your disagreement will remain civil and are unlikely to spiral out of control. Words are seeds, if you sow the wrong seeds, you will not like the harvest. Our words should give life to our spouse and marriage. What you say and how you say it are both important. Your facial expressions can be interpreted as demeaning or disrespectful. You may need to choose silence to save your marriage if you know that you can spit out words that can break or mar the other person. Marriage is forever, so time is not an issue, in this situation, don’t be in a hurry to say what you feel like saying, take your time. Remember, be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger!
Respect predefined boundaries
If you have pre-defined boundaries, respect them. Keep in mind some of the dos and don’ts that you agreed to in your state of calm. If you have agreed never to do or say certain things no matter what, exercise self-control and don’t drag your marriage through that mud. If your spouse confided in you about a weakness or struggle, do not use it against them under the guise of anger. If you do, you will lose their trust and even if you reconcile, they are unlikely to open up to you in the fear that you may do it again.
Keep your hands to yourself, there is no baby in the room
I use this line very often with my children and it seems out of place when talking to adults. But sadly, a lot of disagreements have ended in a fistfight. No matter how angry you are, never throw a fist, it is disrespectful, unloving, and immature. If you must lock your hands behind you, walk out to cool off, do just that but never reduce your spouse to a punching bag. Conflict is not an excuse to become animalistic. Even when countries go to war, they still end up on the dialogue table to resolve their difference which war doesn’t seem to fix. Don’t go to war against your spouse, it is contrary to the vows that you took to love your spouse as yourself and become one in every sense of the word. Only a mentally challenged person will beat themselves, when you throw a fist at your spouse, you throw a fist at yourself.
There are so many common-sense reasons why you should never stoop to throwing punches – you may hurt the person beyond repair, limit your ability to live and have an enjoyable life after that; it may cost you everything and it is not consistent with your vow to love and protect.
Keep the issue contained
Deal with each issue as it arises, piling up or rolling over issues complicates things. I shared last week that we agreed to obey the scripture that says ‘you should not allow the sun to go down on your anger’ literally. By not carrying over issues, we kept the issue contained, avoided keeping malice and allowed ourselves to start each day on a bright note. It also ensures that issues did not blow out of proportion simply by allowing them last longer than required. Harbouring one negative thought for too long opens you up to a rollercoaster of emotions and imaginary worst-case scenarios that could lead you to act out a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Take a chill pill– To put a lid on the disagreement, take a breather which could involve a few minutes to cool off enough to have a decent conversation. We know a couple who decided to express their thoughts during a conflict in writing. The process of writing has a calming effect. Your first draft is usually ballistic but as you read it to yourself over and over again, you will realise that the version that makes it to your spouse is likely to be a lot more reasonable. I know not everyone is a writer, but I know that time spent in healthy reflection tends to help you cool off, emphasis on the word ‘healthy’. Healthy will involve reminding yourself of all the things that have worked for the two of you and all the times your spouse has been such great support to you. Reflecting on the things that you are grateful for will speed up the calming down process that triggers a return to a steady state. However, if you indulge in unhealthy thoughts, your anger will stay piping hot. In the movie, ‘The Vow’, I recall one of the female characters saying that she chose to stay not because of the one thing that her husband did wrong but for the many other things he did right. If you married a well-intentioned person, which I hope you did or plan to, then you should be able to find many right reasons to choose peace, not war.
Keep things between the two of you, Yes! resisting the urge to gist about every quarrel could do more good for you. Third-party involvement was a no-no for us from day one. Even the most well-intended intervention has a way of creating a dependency. Suddenly, you feel like shipping your problems to another person, instead of working it out yourself. Bringing in other people into your space opens a once simple issue for interpretation by others who tend to come with their baggage from past experiences. Sometimes, in their attempt to protect you, they tear the marriage apart. Some issues will require external intervention, those should be an exception, but most issues need just you and your spouse.
“Every marriage has embedded in it, the capacity to resolve every issue that arises if both parties are equally committed to upholding peace”
Do not allow bitterness to take root in your heart– when you bottle up frustration, you will eventually explode. When you feed bitterness by keeping the wrong company, watching the wrong movies, listening to the wrong kind of music, reading the wrong literature, it begins to take root and redefine you. You slowly move from beauty to beast and suddenly, your spouse begins to feel you are now a different person. It is subtle but evident in the bloodshot look in your eyes, in your cold responses, in your venomous words. Anger left unattended changes you and changes everything.
We all relate with other people in the church, at work or in other social settings, even when we disagree with them, the best of us, do it respectfully. In our places of work, we consider the consequences of bad behaviour and we choose to behave with decorum. No matter the level of provocation, we try our best to use the right words, we agree to disagree and resolve to end unproductive conversations. If we can be civil and humane and treat people who sometimes, we do not like with respect, we should treat the ones we professed to fall madly and deeply in love with, with much greater respect. You can agree to disagree, you can laugh over some issues, you can let sleeping dogs lie, you can declassify a quarrel, you can choose peace over and over again.
Conflict will arise, you will get angry, in fact, sometimes, your love and admiration for your spouse will grow deeper after a bout of anger is managed properly. No matter the scenarios, choose to respect the human being in front of you, he or she is a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose that is bigger than you and your marriage. By giving each other an environment that enables you both to grow, you both evolve into what God created you to be.
Exercise your ability to choose differently
We can each choose our response in any situation. Marriages that work are made up of two individuals who daily make choices for the marriage when faced with a conflict situation. Choosing to love differently, choosing to fight differently, choosing to speak differently, choosing to think and act differently no matter the odds. They actively choose to see the end of the conflict and refuse to let the conflict see its end.
Prepare yourself for when a disagreement arises, keep in mind that you will have confrontations, you will disagree but when it happens, choose to fight fair. Being prepared will position you to choose a better response and utter the outcome.
We pray that you and your spouse will experience God’s best for your marriage. We are rooting for you, not just us, a crowd of witnesses cheering you to the finish line. Your marriage will not become a statistic, You will finish strong!
Our final words, think of every conflict as a growth opportunity for your marriage. So when the storms of life come knocking at your doorsteps, Grow through it.
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