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10 Ways to Improve Marital Conflict

Don’t let disagreements tear you apart

BY CHRISTINE SCHULTZ

Conflict is an inevitable part of marriage. As imperfect people, we will always have differences with others — and we may not always handle them well. Marriage is a petri dish for conflict because it forces you to face life’s stresses alongside another imperfect person.

Interestingly, research has shown that the frequency of conflict has less effect on a marriage’s longevity than the quality of those confrontations. Some studies have even shown that avoiding conflict can be more damaging to a marriage than fighting.

So, what kind of arguments should you avoid in order to have a long, happy marriage? The Bible sums it up better than any research study or relationship expert: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31, English Standard Version).

It is never too late to develop healthy conflict strategies. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1, New International Version). Use these suggestions to ensure that disputes build your marriage up, rather than tear it down.

Angry people arent good listeners

Talk About Conflict Before It Happens
How does your husband feel about conflict? Does he face it head on or avoid it at all costs? When you understand how he feels about confrontation, you will be more equipped to manage fights when they arise. If one of you avoids conflict, you may need to establish strategies to ensure that issues aren’t left to fester. Sweeping important problems under the rug doesn’t make them disappear. It slowly erodes your marriage’s foundation.

Evaluate the Situation
When conflict does arise, look for underlying issues before you react. Are you or your husband stressed out because of work? Is your blood sugar low? Is this issue tied to your personal history? Sometimes frustrations arise because of external factors that need attention before you can resolve a disagreement. Try to hone in on the true cause so that you can resolve it.

Avoid Bitterness, Wrath, Anger, and Clamor
It is important that you either remain calm or reschedule your fight for a time when you can address it with less emotion. Unchecked emotions can cause the deepest wounds through hurtful words and actions. If you want your fight to be productive, you must first ensure that it isn’t destructive.

Avoid Absolutes
You already know that you shouldn’t call your husband names or insult him. But, when you say, “You always…” you are no longer commenting on his actions. Talking about behavior in absolute terms is attacking your husband’s character. Those words can be as damaging as a direct insult. And if you are being honest with yourself, your husband probably isn’t always guilty of something. These unfair comments can alienate him over time, even if you resolve the issues at hand.

Stay Focused
It can be tempting to air a long list of grievances when tensions run high. Spouting off complaints may make you feel like you’re winning the fight, but you’re really sabotaging your relationship. All of those issues matter and deserve your attention. But, you should address them as they come up, rather than in a single burst of rage. When you avoid talking about problems, small things grow bigger over time. Eventually, they grow so big that they obscure the true heart of your argument.

Don’t Make Assumptions
Angry people are not very good listeners (or communicators, for that matter). Force yourself to slow the dialogue down by telling your husband what you hear him saying. “When you say _____. I understand ______.” Then make sure that your understanding matches his intentions. If you do not understand each other, it will be nearly impossible to find a mutually satisfying solution.

Forgive During AND After
Trading insults and grievances back and forth will thrust you both into a vicious cycle. One of you will need to take the first step towards the other person. That step starts with forgiveness. You can stop the fight and pave the way for resolution by being the first to accept your fault or to see your husband’s perspective. By the end of your conversation, you may see new areas where forgiveness and apologies are necessary.

Accept Fault
You will rarely (if ever) walk away from a fight with clean hands. Even if the fight wasn’t your fault to begin with, were you loving and kind the whole way through? Or did you say a few things you shouldn’t have? Did you become angry more quickly than you should have? Did you fail to offer your husband grace for his extenuating circumstances (like stress at work)? Was your tone sharp when it should have been gentle? Be sure to apologize for those actions.

Make a Plan
Conflict does not arise because couples want things to stay the same. Your differences became a problem because one of you needed a change. Instead of assuming that things will be different, tell each other the specific changes you’ll make to prevent future issues. Make sure that those actions meet his needs, as well as yours — rather than unilaterally identifying a solution.

Reconnect
Your conflict may be over when you have reached a mutual understanding, but it may not feel resolved. It may be difficult to release the tension of confrontation. Reconnecting with your husband through a hug or an activity that you both enjoy can help you move forward. c


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