Conflict in a marriage is inevitable. Often couples have an incorrect perception that conflict in marriage is not normal and not healthy. There will be differences in all relationships. Responding to the complexity of human emotions can be challenging. If conflict is handled appropriately, it can be a means of connection. Intentionally engaging our hearts to understand and care for our partner even when their ideas, feelings and perceptions do not align with ours is important in conflict resolution. Remember that you are on the same team and that there is a third entity that needs to be considered- the marriage relationship. What you think is best may not be best for the marriage relationship. The following tips are helpful in resolving conflict.
1. Approaching sensitive subjects with opening statements which clearly communicate your feelings using “I feel” statements. This sets the tone for a productive discussion.
2. Both spouses should strive to give each other charitable gracious judgments. When hurt, choose to believe that your spouse did not intend to hurt you and look for the most gracious explanation instead.
3 .Be respectful. Have a pleasant tone. Do not interrupt. Do not raise your voice.
4. When approached with a complaint, it is best to simply be quiet, put aside your thoughts on the issue, and listen to understand your partner. When spouses jump in and defend themselves or present their point of view, they are in danger of minimizing or invalidating their partner. Defensiveness and a refusal to pause and listen to understand one’s complaint can quickly cause a discussion to escalate. In these situations, it is often not the person who brings up a controversial issue that is responsible for the escalation, it is the receiver of the complaint as defensiveness communicates an unwillingness to understand the other person’s viewpoint. If you are feeling defensive, take a few deep breaths and soothe yourself psychologically. When defensive, if you’re able to soothe yourself, be honest with your partner and say, “I’m feeling defensive. Can you rephrase that?” When there is escalation, it is difficult to say things correctly and also difficult to hear or interpret things correctly so take a time out and revisit the conflict when calm. Avoid arguing about what you think you heard your spouse say.
5. Do not bring up past events or meet your partner’s complaint with a complaint of your own. Stay focused on what your partner is trying to convey and reflect back to your partner what you think your partner is saying. Do not argue with your spouse about what you think you heard your spouse say. If your understanding is incorrect or if your spouse said the wrong words, simply ask, “What did you say? or What do you mean?” This communicates to your partner that you are invested in making sure that you understood and heard accurately .If struggling to understand your partner, ask if there are any external factors in the past or present that makes your partner feel so strongly about the topic at hand.
6. Be quick to apologize if you are in the wrong.
7. Honor autonomy in thoughts and opinions. When autonomy is honored, there is a respect for one’s partner as well as for one’s self. Remember that no two people are alike. Try to understand and accept differences.
8. Check your own heart. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make things better? Have I contributed to the problem?”
9. Use collaborative language. Appreciate one another and work together to maintain connection.
10. Only move into problem solving and solutions when you fully understand your partner.
11. Acknowledge the points that you both agree on. Acknowledge expertise. Be willing to accept influence from your spouse.
12. Brainstorm solutions. Communicate solutions that benefit the marriage relationship. Reach an agreement that benefits both of you and the marriage by asking “Is this a topic that is best resolved with collaboration, compromise or a concession?” Once a resolution is reached, show appreciation and gratitude for your spouse’s efforts at problem solving.