Your Marriage Needs Conflict. Learn To Get It Right.
Does anybody actually like conflict?
We all know a few people out there who seem to like the extra drama in their life, but those generally aren’t people we try to hang out with too often. In most relationships, if disagreements arise or things get too tense, we can just walk away and give ourselves some space. This isn’t true in marriage.
If emotions rise over a particular topic one evening, this is the still the person you’re going to see as soon as your head pops off the pillow the next morning. While it might be tempting sometimes to go sleep on the couch or even move out for a few days, chances are good that you’ll stick around and try to make it through that awkward breakfast, hoping that everything will feel a little better later in the day. It might be uncomfortable, but conflict is an inevitable and healthy aspect of any relationship. It’s how we learn about one another, how we learn to show grace and let go of grudges, and discover what it looks like to accept another person for who they truly are (and to be accepted for who we are). In other words, conflict is a fantastic exercise in learning how to love more like Jesus.
We don’t always handle it in healthy ways, though. Dennis Rainey, in his book, Preparing for Marriage, identifies four different styles of how people deal with conflict. Take a look and see which style you tend to resort to most often.
1. Fight to Win
For some, conflict is always a competitive sport. It’s about winning and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the other person is wrong. It’s a win/lose scenario. The trouble with playing offense and defense in a marriage is that you puts you on opposite teams, and when one person loses, the relationship loses.
Forget fighting, this person wants nothing to do with the conflict. As soon as things get uncomfortable, they’re out of there. They shut down and either give the silent treatment or pretend the disagreement never happened. It may seem like there is no hope of resolving the conflict to them, so they don’t even bother trying.
Have you ever encountered someone who seems to say, “I’m sorry” just little too quickly? In order to avoid escalating the confrontation, this person will simply accept responsibility and give in to the other person’s perspective or demands. For them, feeling safe and accepted in the relationship is of prime importance and they are willing to sacrifice relational depth in order to keep the boat from rocking too hard.
Attempting to balance the aggressiveness of the fighter and the passiveness of the yielder, this person doesn’t shy away from conflict but dives in, knowing that there is an opportunity to come out the other side stronger. Here, the relationship itself is more important than winning and is worth the temporary discomfort of working through an issue.
This approach is generally the goal, but even here, it is important to be sensitive and approach resolution with patience. Contrary to the advice of “never go to sleep angry,” it generally isn’t a good idea to stay up all hours of the night until things feel better. Our capacity for rational thinking dips in the evening and it’s okay to hit pause, let emotions cool down, and see how things look in the light of the next day. As long as you’re intentional about coming back to the issue, taking a break from the conversation is a healthy practice.
Which of these styles do you tend to gravitate towards? How about your spouse? It’s easy to see how the differences could create interesting dynamics in a marriage. What would happen if a fighter marries a yielder? Or two withdrawers marry each other?
While it appears as though there are three wrong styles and only one right one, it is, of course, not quite that simple. Sometimes, withdrawing for a period of time is a great way to calm down and collect your thoughts. The person who yields has made an important discovery – no matter the conflict, we always have something we can say “I’m sorry” for. Dare I say that there may even be a time when one person is clearly in the wrong and a little fighting-for-what’s-right might be appropriate (best not to assume this too often)?
Take some time to talk through these four styles with your spouse.
How have you seen each style demonstrated in your relationships?
What are some examples of when you’ve resolved conflict in a healthy way?
What is a simple step you could each agree on to make your next conflict more productive?
Regardless of the need for conflict, it certainly can suck the life out of a relationship if it happens too often. Psychologists have known for a long time that the negative moments in life have a way of imprinting themselves on our minds much quicker, and much deeper, than the positive moments. Because of this, it’s important to balance the moments of tension with plenty of moments of positivity, encouragement, and laughter.
The good times help us build a strong enough relational bridge to handle the weight of our inevitable conflicts.
Relational expert, John Gottman, has discovered that it’s not enough for positive and negative moments to balance each other equally, though. His research has revealed an ideal ratio:
“That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative
interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage
has five (or more) positive interactions.”
In other words, go have some fun together and find ways to laugh more often! This will make the times of conflict seem much less threatening to your relationship
This February, the MarriedPeople team at WMBC wants to help you create some more of these positive interactions and rediscover the power of dating for your marriage. Check out our events page to see all the opportunities available to you.
Praying for you and your marriage,
Dan Doerksen and the WMBC Team