Every marriage has differences and conflicts because every marriage is made up of two people who have different backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities. It’s inevitable that you will disagree in some areas. Most couples can work through the small conflicts, but when the disagreements occur in important issues, such as money, sex, and child rearing, it’s important to work through them rather than get caught in a perpetual cycle of disagreement and hurt feelings.
The big picture
The foundation of your conflict resolution must be an attitude of love and respect for the other, even if years of hurt have already accumulated. You loved your spouse when you got married; you would never have intentionally hurt your spouse and he or she surely felt the same way. Over time, hurts happen. But it’s critical to assume the best in your spouse when trying to work out conflicts.
Remember, your goal is to deal with the issue, not the person, and to make your relationship stronger through respectful dialogue and resolution. This may be difficult, especially if the two of you have already developed a habit of angry and hurtful fights. If so, you may want to get the help of an experienced couples counselor to help you create the right foundation and learn the right communication skills.
Evaluate the issue
Ask yourself first if the issue causing the conflict is actually something that will just benefit you, and you’re not considering how it might impact your spouse. These scenarios happen more often than we realize because we tend to put on blinders when it’s something we really want. In such a case, you may have to reconsider pressing the issue. If, however, it seems to you that the matter is important for both of you and/or for the family, it’s appropriate to discuss it.
Address the issue
With an attitude of respect and compassion for your spouse, begin the discussion at an appropriate time. You may want to plan a time to discuss it, if your spouse is open to that. In order to demonstrate your willingness to listen, you may want to let your partner be the first to speak.
Listen with a sincere desire to understand your spouse’s position and ask questions to understand more deeply. You are trying to collect information, not so you can develop a counter-argument but so that you can build a mutually-beneficial resolution.
When it’s your turn, choose words that are sensitive to your partner’s feelings and avoid accusation. Include how the conflict makes you feel, but do so lovingly, assuming that your partner does not want or intend to hurt you.
If you have caused pain to your spouse, a sincere apology is definitely in order, without any qualifiers blaming the person. “I’m so sorry I snapped at you. I had a bad day at work and took it out on you” is acceptable, but adding “but you shouldn’t have nagged me” is not.
Roadblocks to reconciliation
Remember that both you and your partner come to marriage with a set of experiences that could be the root of some problems. Be sensitive to those past hurts and experiences and don’t expect your spouse to change overnight any more than you could.
Some differences are so fundamental that they are essentially unresolvable. So common are they that it’s been said that when you marry a person, you marry a set of unresolvable problems. But even with unresolvable differences you can find compromise in small areas or humor that will strengthen your bond.
How to move forward
Hopefully, by maintaining an atmosphere of trust and respect, you will gradually find compromise on the important issues in your marriage, such as disciplining the children, use of money, or sexual intimacy. If too much pain is involved, or if you need to learn the correct communication skills, it’s best to seek the help of a counselor who specializes in couples therapy to help you work through the issues. Don’t give up or clam up. Step forward toward a happier future together.
If you live in or around the New York City area and need help in your relationship, reach out to me for an initial consultation.