My wife Debbie and I have been married for 39 years (August 2022). She is strong willed, and I am stubborn. With our unique “gift mix” we have had our share of conflict over the years. The issue is not the presence of conflict (if you are breathing you will have some conflict) but the resolution of the conflict. A great question to ask ourselves, “is conflict resolved on a regular basis or is it a chronic part of our relationship?”
In the early days of our marriage, it seemed that every decision was a win or lose proposition. Someone would have to win the argument and get their way and the other would lose; compromise was seldom an option worth considering. After about 12 years of marriage, plus three kids and a very busy life, we decided that a new strategy was immediately needed. We were at the breaking point in our marriage and really didn’t like each other very much. We heard a marriage speaker talk about relational conflict and the strategies to bring about a resolution that works for both spouses. Here is a summary of the 6 strategies that we learned and use on a regular basis. They have reduced the stress of conflict resolution by 90% and probably saved our marriage.
📌 Know the difference between a complaint and criticism – a complaint is how I feel about the action of my spouse (NOTE: I realize that I may have misunderstood the action of my spouse). On the other hand, criticism is a personal attack on my spouse that provides no possible remedy and is character based not activity based. REMEMBER that complaints are acceptable but not criticism.
📌 Give your spouse the right to comment and disagree with you about certain actions without having to pay the price. REMEMBER that timing is key – never complain in public but do it in private, don’t embarrass your spouse. Also remember its best to deal with one issue at a time, don’t store them up and dump them on your spouse when it's to your advantage.
📌 Do your best to not become defensive – it’s one of the four big indicators that is used to predict divorce. If things are hot call a timeout and cool off. The key is to come back to the issue in an agreed upon time frame.
📌 Have a friendly compliant department – the answer is “Yes” to correct things when they are brought to my attention. We all have blind spots and don’t see things the way our spouse does.
📌 Remember that my perception of things may be wrong. I am always open to the possibility that I could be wrong, and it brings a level of humility to the discussion. NOTE: easier said than done.
📌 Ask each other regularly, “Is everything alright?” This is code for “you can tell me anything that is bothering you about our relationship AND I will listen with an open mind.”
These six things have been working for Debbie and I and I believe that will work for you. Discuss them with your spouse and choose the ones that will become the ground rules for future conflict resolution.