Marriage is often like moving into a 500 square foot apartment with someone after living in a 2,500 square foot house by yourself. Suddenly everything is thrown under a microscope. All the quirks you loved about your spouse begin to rub you the wrong way and it can feel like the honeymoon has come to an abrupt end. Conflict in marriage can happen no matter how long you’ve been married. The way we deal with conflict is usually learned from what we’ve experienced and witnessed growing up. In this post I will share some of the ways we have learned how to deal with conflict in marriage in a healthy way and also some preventative measures.
During our premarital counselling, we learned that people usually deal with conflict by either shutting down and giving the cold shoulder or by fighting and attacking. Over the last three years, here is what I’ve learned about myself and how I deal with conflict: I shut down. Not in an “I’m ignoring you” kind of way but in an attempt to shrink myself down until I disappear. When faced with conflict, my brain’s natural response is to stop working so even if I wanted to fight, my brain goes blank. Growing up, when I wanted to communicate something that I anticipated would turn into an argument, I wrote it out in a letter.
I’ve never been great at standing up for myself. Because my brain often shuts down when faced with conflict, I have a history of allowing the other person run me over with their words. Knowing this has been critical in helping Matt and I work through conflict. I know that when conflict happens, I need space to breathe and put my thoughts together before coming back and dealing with it. This has helped us avoid causing further damage with our words because it stops Matt from assuming I’m ignoring him and allows us time to cool off. Without further ado, here are some tips for dealing with conflict.
Communicate with your actions when you need a break and you don’t have the words to say so
I’ve learned that both abruptly leaving the room and visibly checking out are terrible responses to conflict and do not communicate well that I need space. An action that works well for me is simply putting up my hand to let Matt know that I need to put a pin in the conversation and continue later on. Essentially, before any conflict starts, have an agreed-upon sign that communicates well that you need to pause the argument or just take a break to gather your thoughts and cool off.
Learn your spouse’s apology language
In the same way that everyone has a love language – how they receive love – everyone has an apology language – how they receive apologies. Here is a link for more information and to find out what your apology languages are. This is really helpful to know because, while you may think just saying “I’m sorry” is enough, your spouse may need you to communicate your apology through actions. Learning your own and your spouse’s apology language will help you to close the doors on issues and leave it behind when you move on.
Put a pin in it
As I mentioned in the first tip, this is a really helpful tool that will allow you to discuss issues and avoid going long into the night. For myself, the later the hour the harder it becomes to think clearly. I usually end up saying things in ways that cause more harm than good. This “put a pin in it” idea is also known as the 10-o’clock rule. Basically it means set a curfew for any arguments or conflict. If you are dealing with conflict and it hits that time, put a pin in the conversation and continue it the next day when you are both rested and able to think more clearly. Sometimes this also helps if the conversation is getting out of hand and is doing more harm than good then you can pause until both of you have had some time to breathe and think.
This is something I learned in college and haven’t put into practice as much as I should but is a powerful tool. Who doesn’t love to feel heard? Isn’t that sometimes the cause of a lot of conflict, not feeling heard and understood? This action is called “active listening”. When you are actively listening to someone, all your attention is on them and what they are saying. You allow them to get all their thoughts out without interrupting or criticizing what they are saying. When they’re done, you repeat back a summary of what they said and reflect back to them what you heard them say about how they are feeling. I get that it may feel awkward to practice this for a little while but if you make it a habit, it will empower you and your spouse to openly share what has hurt you and then deal with it in a constructive manner.
Practice gratitude every day (and tell you spouse what you love about them!)
Telling your spouse you love them is great but what is even more powerful is saying: “I love you because…” I get that in a marriage relationship you can sometimes get stuck focusing on the negative things about your spouse and what they are doing (or not doing). Through practicing gratitude everyday and intentionally thinking about the things you are grateful for about your spouse, it focuses your thoughts on all the amazing qualities they have. It changes the outlook you have for your spouse. Instead of feeling like they can never do something good enough, you begin to recognize all the great things about them. As you focus your thoughts more on the things you are grateful for, tell your spouse what you’re thinking. Your words could completely change their own hearts and attitudes and heal the hurt that has been caused.
Assumptions kill us; communication is key!
This one I still struggle with a lot. Assumptions have to do with allowing our mind and emotions (that look to our past as the only resource) to control how we respond to situations – or anticipate how the other person will react. There have been so many times that the only reason there was conflict between Matt and I was because I assumed the worst reaction from him and responded accordingly (even though he didn’t actually react that way!). I don’t think I can stress enough that assumptions kill relationships and communication can prevent assumptions from doing more damage.
A helpful exercise
Want a practical tool to help you identify areas of conflict in your marriage and find sustainable solutions for them? Sign-up here to receive a free downloadable worksheet to help you get started!
One final note, if you pray, pray with your spouse. Doing this regularly helps keep God at the center of your marriage and allows Him to work in both of you. He can help to provide patience and forgiveness when you feel like you lack it. He can also bring healing to the areas where hurt has been caused. If you are dealing with conflict in your marriage don’t worry, you are not alone. Hopefully some of these tips help you and your spouse not only resolve conflict but also strengthen your communication so that conflict occurs less often.
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