Are you a drama queen of note? One who likes throwing around cups and saucers when hubby forgets date night? Well, you will be happy to hear that experts believe that conflict is king! That is provided you can calm down a bit.
Conflict is inevitable. Maybe you like to enjoy an afternoon nap on weekends, while hubby thinks it is the ideal time to practice on his new drum set. Perhaps you view yourself as a respectable cook, but listening to your husband’s comments, you would swear he personally trained Jamie Oliver! It is important to realise that each person is a unique individual with his or her own personality. This means that a husband and wife will inevitably have different views of the world and will act differently. You might disagree now, but your husband’s unconventional sense of humour, which irritates you these days, might have been what attracted you to him in the first place. You enjoyed your partner’s relaxed, supportive nature when you were dating, but now, after the wedding, you are frustrated with his complacency with his low-income career as a freelance photographer – a career he had chosen so that he has plenty of free time to relax with you on weekends and go surfing. Remember, most character traits in your partner is unlikely to change. Ideally, you would learn how to focus on each other’s positive qualities and how to accept the less desirable aspects as part of the package.
The first time that sparks fly between you and your partner, it feels as if the world is coming to an end. You are convinced that a divorce is around the corner and your world is crumbling. Just to discover a little while later that it is just one of those quarrels that is bound to happen when two people are sharing a home, a bathroom, finances and a life.
You also probably know couples who regularly humiliate, criticise and “bite” at each other. Those kinds of marriages are never healthy, but experts do believe that conflict is a very important and normal part of a marriage. “Couples who suppress anger are twice as likely to face early death as those who express their anger,” says Ernest Harburg, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Brooding about something that irritates you, or suppressing your anger and giving your partner the silent treatment, are not components of healthy conflict resolution.
Ann Landers, a marriage and family therapist from California, says: “All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive and, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”
UCLA researchers have found that when men return home after work, their stress hormone, cortisol, is drastically reduced when they are happily married. In contrast, women’s cortisol levels increase when they go home. Chronic stress further elevates cortisol, which can lead to health problems such as depression, chronic fatigue and even cancer. To ensure healthy marriages and keep cortisol levels low, both partners should switch off after work and share parenting responsibilities and home tasks evenly. This, along with healthy conflict resolution, is probably the key to a happy marriage. When couples come together, one of their biggest responsibilities is to agree on conflict resolution. No one is trained to do this. If their parents were good examples in this regard, they could imitate them, but usually, couples are uninformed about the process of conflict resolution. The most important issue is: When conflict happens, how do you solve it?
The question is: How do you fight?
Research shows that it is not about whether a couple fights or not, but about how they fight. It is about tone of voice, attitude, word choices and whether they listen to each other or not, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. On the website newsroom.blog.cnn.com, Kim Leatherdale, a well-known relationship expert, writes: “The point is: How you fight is important. Unless one or both of you constantly bottles up your thoughts and feelings, you will disagree on things (and yes, bottling up is unhealthy). You are allowed to disagree, to discuss the disagreements and even agree to disagree while respecting each other. I think the biggest mistake people make is to think that having a disagreement means a terrible war. If that is how you see your quarrels, then it isn’t healthy for you, your partner or your relationship. If fighting means to disagree, to get to the crux of the case and to find out where you both stand – in a respectable way – then it is healthy.”
Sheri and Bob Stritof write on about.com: “Fighting fairly with respect for each other is a critical marital skill you must learn if you want your love to last.” They believe that the way in which people fight often tells psychologists more than the things they fight about. If done correctly, it can even strengthen a marriage, they say. The key to a happy marriage then, amongst others, is healthy conflict resolution, which involves expressing exactly how you feel. One of the most important things when it comes to arguing is that every person should know that they are being listened to when conveying their point of view. By fighting in this way, a couple is happier (and therefore less likely to divorce).
Which one are you?
Family therapist, Virginia Satir, has identified five ways people communicate when they disagree:
Mrs Carin Congruent:
You don’t hesitate to talk to your partner in straight, honest way. Yet you remain respectful towards him. You say what you really feel and it is also reflected by your body language. Instead of saying: “You never listens when I talk!” you rather say: “I sometimes feel like I’m talking to a brick wall.”
Mrs Beatrice Blaming
Usually your argument starts with something like: “You never take my feelings into account!” or “You never remember to take out the trash!” You attack hubby because he thinks differently than you and you don’t hesitate to harshly criticise him, scream at him or even hit him with a wooden vase!
Mrs Penny Placating
As long as you can keep the peace, you are happy. You agree with whatever your husband wants from you. If he thinks he deserves a cold beer after work while you have to help the children with their homework, you agree, even if you feel like exploding.
Mrs Romy Reasonable
You often negate hubby’s feelings by applying tough love. If he is unhappy about something in the house, you will say: “Oh come on, it is not that bad.” If he feels somewhat depressed, your words are: “Pull yourself together, the Second World War was worse.” You may have the best intentions, but it feels to him as if you are not acknowledging his emotions.
You don’t respond directly to him when you are disagreeing. If he touches on one of those topics that you would rather avoid, you make a joke or change the subject.
So, how do the different disagreeing communication styles affect a relationship? Partners who communicate in similar ways tend to have a thriving marriage. Because they treat conflict with respect, they feel good about each other and about their friendship. Conflict is normal in any marriage. Spouses build trust and intimacy by conveying their views honestly, responsibly and respectfully. This type of communication is a key ingredient for a long marriage.
13 Guidelines to help you fight fairly
1) Face your fear of confrontation head-on
Are you one of those people who avoid confrontation? You may have grown up with the idea that conflict is destructive. “Couples who think this way, are trapped in a cycle of self-condemnation,” says Pastor Luke Perry. “It is often due to a lack of acceptance growing up. When this fear controls a person, confrontation can be very painful.” You can overcome your fear by understanding that the right way of conflict resolution comes from a place of love.
2) Take responsibility for you and your behaviour
Think before you say or do something and admit when you have made a mistake. Don’t blame your partner for everything. If you get stranded without fuel after hubby last drove your car, it is not only his fault. Think about that before you act like a tyrant. It is after all your responsibility to check if the tank is full.
3) Address conflict as soon as possible
An annoying issue that is allowed to simmer creates emotional distance between you and your husband. It is like an infected splinter under the skin. If something is bothering you, confront it immediately. If it requires your undivided attention, choose a time when you are alone, and if necessary, ask for alone time to solve the issue.
4) Say exactly what is bothering you!
When your Adam gets Marmite in the butter for the umpteenth time, don’t think: “Well, I’m probably overreacting again. It is not the worst – at least he is making himself a sandwich when he is hungry.” Trying to justify an annoyance won’t make it go away. Your irritation will later transpire in the form of sarcasm, criticism or anger. When you choose to overlook potential conflict, you allow resentment to brood quietly and you give your partner permission to continue with his behaviour. You don’t have to act like a matron, but for a marriage to continue on equal footing, both spouses must take responsibility for their actions.
5) Stay on topic
“In most marriages, confronting an issue is the gunpowder that ignites World War 3,” Simon Presland writes on the website lifetoolsforwomen.com. “Defence tactics kicks in. Accusations fly back and forth. And by the time the dust has settled, the spouses had bombarded each other with everything that has happened since the day they got married.” Don’t bring up old grievances. It is not worth it! Old arguments only increase frustration and reduce hope. Tackle every issue as soon as it happens, then it can’t be used as ammunition in future fights.
6) If your partner says you do, it is probably true
If hubby tells you that you act just like your mother when you get irritated, your first reaction may be to deny it. But if your partner says you are doing something annoying, trust him or her! Look past your shield and ask him: “Why does it bother you?” Listen to what he says and try to see his point – and then try to change!
7) Don’t attack his character
It is unwise to attack your partner’s character. See the issue as the problem – not your partner. “This is how God deals with us,” says Pastor Luke Perry. “He tells us about infinite acceptance, but confronts us about issues that are not in line with his Word.” Stay focused on the issue at hand. It will help you to remain objective and clearly convey your thoughts. Never scold your partner. By calling him ugly names, you are redirecting your frustration and you are making your partner defensive. If an argument results in scolding, no one wins. Everyone sometimes needs to let out their frustrations, but to direct it at a friend, child or family member, benefits no one. It is not fair. If you can’t solve the conflict in your marriage yourself, pour your heart out to a family therapist or read marital books together with your partner.
8) Learn to distinguish between feelings and thoughts
Our feelings originate within ourselves – not from other people. If you attribute your feelings to other people, you lose the right to own them, and to change or grow as a result of them. Successful marriage conflict resolution is about putting your emotions in their place.
9) Confront with the truth. Confirm with love.
The best way to talk about something negative, is to start with something positive. “I love it when you spend time with the kids. They enjoy it so much. And that is why Melissa was so hurt when you missed her hockey game. Why didn’t you make it a priority?” This is one example. Give your partner a chance to reflect on the problem you put to him. He may not even realise that his actions upset you. And if you give him a chance to think things through, he might just surprise you!
10) Don’t hit, scream, spit or throw
Getting physical is completely unacceptable and there is nothing good in any conversation that has gone that far. To fight fair in a marriage, you have to stay in touch with yourself and your emotions. Learn to recognise when your patience is running low and anger is building up. Know your limitations. A five-minute break from a heated argument can do wonders. Your limit is probably different from your partner’s. Get to know yours and your partner’s.
11) Learn to listen
Learn to listen to your spouse after confronting him. Just as you want to be heard, your partner also wants to be heard. If feelings were hurt, be patient as you work through them. When you ask your partner to view things from your perspective, be prepared to see his side as well. Do you have to make some adjustments? Confrontation can present an opportunity to learn new things about him and build better relationship skills.
12) Take a deep breath
It sounds simple, but in order to fight fairly in a marriage, it is a good tip to breathe. Most people, when they concentrate, hold their breath. It forces the body into survival mode. This in itself reduces one’s ability to listen. Focus on your breathing – that is how you can have a calm and sober discussion that will make you both feel respected, nurtured and understood.
13) Confront your partner in order to heal, not to win
Some people see conflict and confrontation as a win-lose situation. One has to end up as the winner and then the other one is automatically the loser. To them, to be right is much more important than the relationship itself. However, sorting out a sad issue is not about what is right or wrong. The goal shouldn’t be who wins, but rather to resolve conflict and restore harmony in the relationship. If possible, the solution should benefit both parties. If both partners feel good about the solution, it will restore the emotional bond between them.
(lifetoolsforwomen.com and Boundaries in Marriage by Heather McKechnie)
“Learning to fight fairly in marriage is a continuous process,” says McKechnie. “No one is able to always keep this simple rule in mind. However, with more exercise and empathy, it can become an integral part of an enriching and dedicated relationship.”
Additional sources: marriage.about.com; suite101.com; ehow.com