I remember it just like it was yesterday. July 28, 2012 was the day I married my husband. The day wasn’t flawless, but it was absolutely amazing. The honeymoon afterwards bled over into our every day lives until one day…the honeymoon phase came to an abrupt end. Frustrations rose, tempers flared, and after only six months of marriage, I was ready to leave my husband. Yes, you read that correctly. That “seven year itch” came early around these parts, and your girl was trying to purchase a one-way ticket up and out.
I bet you think you’ve just gotten hold to a piece of juicy gossip about The Rev and Lady Grace, huh? HA! This here is basic information that I freely give to anyone who wants to know the REAL about marriage. Marriage is not easy! At times it is straight up difficult and unbelievably frustrating. But it is also one of the most important things you will ever INVEST in. And I use the word invest here very intentionally because that word is a necessary part of having a healthy marriage. If you want to get something out of your marriage, you have got to put something into it.
The Return on Our Investment
My husband and I make it a point to regularly invest in our marriage. One of the most significant investments that we make is attending our church’s annual marriage retreat. It’s a chance for us to fellowship with other married couples, spend quality time together, pour into each other and also pour into our marriage. This year’s retreat was so rich with helpful information that I just had to share one of the big topics with you…conflict. Everyone’s favorite part of marriage! Conflict has the power to make or break any relationship, but it hits differently when it’s between you and the one you’ve vowed to spend the rest of your life with. So what did my husband and I learn about conflict at the marriage retreat? A lot! There were so many nuggets that I took home with me that have altered the way I engage in conflict with my husband. I’ll be sure to sprinkle them throughout the blog.
There HAS to be Conflict in Marriage
Matthew 18:15 reads, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
According to Pastor Charles Moody of The Rock Church in Austin, TX, conflict and confrontation are a necessary part of marriage because it is about the next level of exposure to your spouse. His next words hit me like a ton of bricks.
Nugget: “You cannot become one without discovering a deeper level of who your partner is vs. who you want them to be.”
Wow! I’m sure I am not the only person who has been guilty of interacting with and responding to my spouse based on who I THINK he is or who I believe he SHOULD be. This is counterproductive and only leads to frustration for both parties. Engaging in conflict helps us discover each other at deeper levels and those discoveries slowly begin to overshadow our misconceptions.
How to Confront Without Causing Damage
Since conflict and confrontation are necessary, I think it’s important that we know how to go about it in the most productive way possible. Pastor Moody first talked about complaining vs. criticizing and gave us the definitions of both words:
Complaining – the act of expressing dissatisfaction or annoyance
Criticizing – an expression of an analysis or judgement
Nugget: “Effective complaining enables spouses to engage in conflict and achieve resolutions that criticism puts out of reach.” (supporting Bible verses are Proverbs 29:11 and Proverbs 15:1)
I had to take a step back and ask myself if I am a complainer or a criticizer. I also asked my husband how he felt, and he told me that it depends on the situation and how bad he has “messed up.” The thought of me criticizing my husband during conflict (even though I don’t realize it in the moment) broke my freaking heart! According to Dr. John Gottman, “Unchecked criticism leads to contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.” So my new mission is to maintain my cool and not shift over into criticizing my husband when I am upset. Side note: it’s advantageous to take time to ask your spouse how they feel about the way you move. What we think about ourselves isn’t always what our spouse is getting from us.
How to Complain
Pastor Moody shared John Gottman’s complaint formula (plus one bonus step) with all of us, and I think it can make a world of difference in any marriage where conflict resolution is a struggle.
- Express how you feel. Effective complaints begin with a soft start-up and are best launched by stating how you feel. The soft start-up (I feel) is in contrast to the harsh start-up (you always or you never) that usually accompanies criticism.
- Talk about a very specific situation. After stating your feelings, describe the situation or behavior that caused that feeling.
- State a positive need. Finally, ask your spouse to take positive action to resolve the complaint
*Bonus added by Pastor Moody: Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Sometimes you and your spouse will not see eye to eye even after following the first steps correctly. This is where negotiation and compromise must take place for both parties to come to an agreement and be at peace with one another.
Embrace the Conflict in Marriage
I’m willing to bet money that some of you would prefer a conflict-free marriage. And I totally get it! Conflict is difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes it can be emotionally painful. But hear me and hear me well. Just because you are having conflict in your marriage does not mean your marriage is somehow broken or not functioning properly. On the contrary, you and your spouse are actually on the right track, in a way. What do I mean by that?
Nugget: “You cannot have intimacy and oneness without having conflict.” It’s not until we go through the tough times and persevere together that we begin to experience a true sense of intimacy.
Think about it. When you first start dating someone and everything is sunshine and rainbows, you feel all close and connected. But once conflict creeps in and you are able to work through the various issues, you begin to learn each other and tap into deeper levels of oneness. Then, you realize that the closeness you thought you had in the beginning was merely surface level. MY GOD! I’m sorry y’all but I had to shout one time right there just thinking about it.
All of the arguments, hurt, heartbreak, silent treatments and stank faces, they all serve a purpose. That six-month mark that I mentioned in the beginning was so hard for me. I was literally miserable. But when I tell you that working through that (with the help of our marriage mentors, Don and Nell Walker) catapulted our marriage into a whole new dimension! Whet?! Now we have a bond that I WISH somebody would try to break. You. Will. Catch. These. Hands.
Tackle Conflict in Marriage Head-On
Keeping your true feelings bottled up for the sake of “keeping the peace” does more damage than good in the long run.
Nugget: “Avoidance of conflict causes “the drift” because partners are no longer transparent with one another.”
I had never looked at it that way before, but it’s so true. Taking the passive approach does not promote oneness. It only gives you a false bye. Sure, you can get along without conflict, but it often means that your relationship may be more surface level than you think. So do yourself a favor, let the conflict happen, and actively engage. Your marriage will be stronger in the long run.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you found the information as helpful as my husband and I did. Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.
Until next time!