Understanding and Handling Marital Conflict

Are arguments and disagreements a sign of a bad marriage? I'm newly married and have been surprised and disturbed by the amount of conflict we've experienced in our relationship. This rarely happened when we were dating. Is something wrong?

The first thing that’s important to understand is that conflict is inevitable and unavoidable in any relationship – especially marriage. But conflict isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when handled with a respectful, non-abusive spirit, it can lead to a stronger, more satisfying marriage.

If, on the other hand, you and your spouse consistently attack each other with statements like, “I’m sorry I married you,” “You are so stupid,” or “I hate you,” you’ve moved from arguing to abusing. If you throw things at your spouse – pillows, silverware, pictures, vases – it only leads to more conflict and hurt. And you never hit, push, shove, kick, or spit at your spouse. This is physical abuse. Not only is it immoral and illegal, but it causes tremendous damage to your relationship. If this is the way you deal with conflict, you and your spouse need to seek counseling to learn appropriate methods of resolving a disagreement.

This means taking a proactive approach. Simply suppressing your differences is not an appropriate way of dealing with the problem. Many couples try to sidestep or hide their conflict because disagreements can be painful. But conflict resolution, though it may sound complicated, is well within the reach of clear-thinking husbands and wives. It’s a skill that requires the commitment of both spouses and can be refined with dedication and practice.

If you want to resolve conflicts in a healthy way, make a determined effort to confront issues as they arise. The longer a disagreement stews, the bigger it becomes. So take action swiftly; as the Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26).

Once you’ve initiated a discussion, be sure to communicate your concerns clearly and specifically. Don’t generalize and don’t use absolutes. When you’re vague, your spouse has to guess what’s on your mind. Using words like “never” or “always” to describe your spouse’s undesired behavior are rarely accurate and tend to produce a defensive response. Try saying something like, “It frustrates me when you don’t take the trash out on Mondays,” rather than, “You never do what you say you’re going to do.” In other words, be careful to attack the problem instead of the person.

In this connection, remember that it’s important to use “I” statements when sharing your feelings about the conflict – for example, “I feel hurt when you don’t follow through.” Avoid “you” statements like, “You’re so irresponsible.” Stick with the issue at hand and resist the temptation to support your argument by generalizing or following rabbit trails. Work hard to understand your partner’s point of view, and be sure to keep your discussion private. A public confrontation could humiliate your spouse and immediately place them on the defensive.

After the two of you have expressed your viewpoints and come to an understanding, share your needs and decide where to go from there. Be willing to confess and ask forgiveness from your spouse if it’s obvious that you’ve been in the wrong. And always keep in mind that maintaining the relationship is far more important than winning the argument. Finding a solution that benefits both spouses lets everybody win. Fighting isn’t healthy, but conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, when conflict is handled correctly, it can be a tool for strengthening relationships.

What if you just can’t seem to find that solution? That’s when it’s time to get some outside help. If you’re unable to get past a specific conflict, call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in communication issues. What’s more, our staff would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They’ll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.


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