How can I encourage my spouse to do the hard work of talking about the unresolved issues that are boiling beneath the surface of our marriage? He avoids conflict and seems to want "peace at any price." As a result, we're growing more emotionally distant with every passing day. Is there a way to turn things around before it's too late?
Not too many people actually enjoy conflict, especially in marriage. So it's not surprising that your spouse may prefer to avoid it.
Still, some clashes are inevitable in any marriage. No matter how similar you and your mate may be in terms of basic interests, values, and personalities, men and women are wired differently. Many women want to deal with problems by talking them out while their husbands prefer to withdraw – which the wives find maddening. Occasionally it's the opposite, with the wife doing the avoiding.
This can be explained in a number of ways. A woman may be better with language, better at articulating her thoughts and making convincing arguments. Her husband may feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of her verbiage and reluctant to "lose" in a straightforward exchange of opinion. It's also possible that the avoiding partner has grown up in a home where one parent verbally abused the other, or where the parents never argued at all, leaving them without a model of constructive and honest conflict resolution. Reduplicating this situation is undesirable and unhealthy, since unresolved anger, bitterness, and fear can have serious medical and emotional consequences.
Whatever the scenario, it stands to reason that spouses won't always agree. They have their own expectations and needs. So when the honeymoon is over and tensions come to the surface, how do you handle conflict when one partner wants to avoid it?
If this is your situation, we suggest you ask your spouse to try an experiment with you. It will take just twenty minutes once or twice a week. During the first ten minutes of that time, one of you will talk about issues that are bothering you. The other will agree to listen without argument or debate – no seeking to set the other person straight or change anyone's mind. The only response allowed is to ask for clarification. During the second ten minutes the other spouse will talk. Again, a request for clarification is the only response permitted.
At the end of the twenty minutes take a time-out from each other. Reflect on what your spouse has said. Does it help you understand some of the reasons for his or her feelings?
If your partner still seems intent on avoiding all conflict in your relationship, you may need to get assistance from a Christian counselor who can help the two of you gain perspective on what's happening beneath the deceptively calm surface of your relationship. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with referrals to marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in marital communication issues. Call us. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Making Conflict Work for You: Gary Oliver talks about how you can make conflict in a marriage work for you rather than against you.
Love and Respect
The 'Love and Respect' Principle