What’s the source of friction in marriage? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are couples who struggle with conflict. But the most basic and most universal answer of all is the one we tend to forget about because it’s so obvious: spouses are different from one another.
Face it. No matter how similar you and your mate may be in terms of basic interests, values, and personalities, you’re still two unique individuals. You come from different backgrounds, operate on the basis of different assumptions, and see the world through two distinct sets of eyes. If that weren’t enough, you also stand on opposite sides of the most fundamental of all human divides: one of you is male and the other is female!
Couples are different, too. Not too many people actually enjoy conflict, especially in marriage, but there are some husbands and wives who seem to thrive on a regular diet of full-blown arguments. Others are more skilled at resolving their disagreements in a calm, rational fashion. Still others avoid conflict altogether by keeping frustrations and misunderstandings bottled up inside. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Whatever your differences, you need to do more than grudgingly face up to them. You need to learn how to revel in them. You need to celebrate the lights, darks, and contrasting colors that make up the blended one-flesh union you call “us”. This isn’t simply a matter of putting a positive spin on your dissimilarities. It’s actually an effective method of defusing and disarming serious conflicts when they do arise.
Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Even as you consider the meaning of “healthy conflict” in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any real arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.
Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.
Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.
Step 2: Explore and celebrate your differences. Here are a couple of suggestions to choose from:
- After dinner, order dessert. You may even want to switch venues by going to another restaurant or café for this portion of the evening. Then, while seated together at the table, try an experiment. It should only take about twenty minutes. During the first ten minutes, 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, reflect back to one another what each of you has heard the other say. Highlight and express appreciation for the differences between you and your distinctive ways of meeting life’s challenges. Try to say something like, “I love the fact that you reacted to ____ by ______. I probably would have responded in an entirely different way.”
- Instead of ordering dessert right away, go out to a movie. It shouldn’t be hard to pick something that will put you on opposite “sides of the fence” in terms of your personal feelings about the film; for example, men and women usually have sharply different reactions to either an “action-adventure” story or a “chick-flick” romance. Afterwards, stop somewhere for dessert or coffee and talk about the movie. Put your emotional responses (or lack thereof) out on the table. Don’t get defensive, opinionated, or argumentative about it. Instead, listen carefully to one another and try to understand what your distinctive reactions reveal about your contrasting perceptions, personalities, and points of view. Discuss these things openly and honestly.
Step 3: Relax and unwind.
After your activity, relax and emotionally connect by talking about what you learned during your conversations throughout the evening. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.
- What was your favorite part of the evening?
- What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
- What are some of the major differences between us, as revealed in the conversations we’ve had tonight? How can a deeper appreciation for these differences help smooth the waters the next time we’re facing a serious disagreement?
Step 4: Home Sweet Home
As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can uncover and celebrate the differences between you. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!