By Essie Bester
All of us were created as unique individuals with our own personalities. This means that each of us is going to look at the world differently and that we are going to behave differently. Conflict is therefore unavoidable, especially where two people are sharing a house, a bathroom, finances and a life. Experts, however, feel that conflict can be good for your marriage ─ as long as you learn to fight fairly.
Why do married couples have to make an effort to solve problems?
The most reliable indicator of how happy a marriage is, is not how often a couple declare their love to each other. And neither are sexual compatibility and financial security the most important factors. Researchers say the most reliable indicator of the success of a marriage is rather how well the man and the woman handle any conflict that may arise. However, nobody is trained to do conflict resolution.
How do you fight?
Kim Leatherdale, a well-known American relationship expert, says: “The biggest mistake people make, is to think that fighting means a terrible fracas. It need not be. However, how you fight is important. Unless one or both of you are continually repressing your thoughts and feelings (which is harmful), you will differ about things. Discuss the difference and say exactly how you feel, while minding your tone of voice, attitude and choice of words. Listen to what your partner has to say. In this way you continue to respect each other.”
Guidelines to help you fight fair
Go head-on for your fear of confrontation. Perhaps you grew up with the idea that conflict is destructive. “This is often due to a loss of acceptance during childhood. When a person is controlled by this fear, confrontation can be very painful,” says Pastor Luke Perry, a licensed marriage counsellor. It is important to realise that the right way to resolve conflict is found in love.
Accept responsibility for yourself and your behaviour. Do not blame your partner for everything. Think before you say or do anything, and admit it when you’ve made a mistake.
Discuss the conflict as soon as possible. An irritating issue that is allowed to fester creates an emotional distance between husband and wife. If something is bothering you, pick a time when you are alone and confront it.
Say exactly what is bothering you! Trying to justify an irritation will not make it go away. It will only come out later in the form of sarcasm, criticism or anger. When you choose to overlook potential conflict, you allow resentment to fester while giving your partner permission to carry on with his behaviour.
Stick to the subject. Don’t rake up old issues. It only increases frustration and diminishes hope. Deal with each sore point as it arises; in this way it cannot be used as ammunition in future fights.
Focus on your own feelings. Focus on how you feel and avoid telling the other person how his or her personality should change.
Believe what your partner tells you. If he or she says you are doing this or that, it is probably true. Look past your first reaction of denial and ask: “Why does it bother you?” Listen to what your partner says and try to see his or her point. And then try to change!
Do not demolish his or her character. Stay focused on the relevant issue. This will help you to stay objective and to convey your thoughts clearly. By calling your partner ugly names, you reflect your frustration and put him or her on the defensive. In this way nobody can win. And it is not fair to speak badmouth your partner with your children or anybody else. Rather approach a family therapist for help.
Learn to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. Your feelings come from within yourself and by ascribing them to other people you lose the right to own, change or grow through them.
Confront with truth, confirm with love. The best way of talking about something negative, is by starting with something positive. Then give your partner an opportunity to think about it. Perhaps he or she never even knew that it upsets you.
Do not hit, shout or throw things around. Becoming physical is totally unacceptable. Learn to realise when your patience is running out and anger begins to build up and keep your limitations in mind. A short breather during a heated argument can do wonders.
Learn to listen. Listen to what your partner has to say after confronting him or her. Like you, he or she also wants to be heard. Be patient while you work through hurt feelings. It could be an opportunity to learn new things about each other and to learn better team-building skills.
Take a deep breath. Most people hold their breath when they concentrate. This forces the body into a survival reaction that reduces your ability to listen. By focusing on your breathing, you can have a calm and level-headed discussion that will make both feel honoured, cherished and understood.
Confront your partner with a view to putting matters right ─ and not to win. Your aim must be to restore the harmony in your relationship. Both parties should benefit from the solution as far as possible. If both feel good about a solution, it will repair the emotional bond between them.
To brood over something that irritates you, to suppress your anger or to go into a silent fit are not examples of sound conflict resolution. Married couples must learn to fight fair. It is an ongoing process that, with practice and empathy, can become an important part of an enriching and dedicated relationship.