Happily Ever After

Got Conflict

Ask any married couple if they fight. Unless they are big, fat liars, extremely poor communicators or completely out of touch, the answer will be "yes" or "sometimes." Conflict exists even in the happiest of marriages. In fact, I always worry about couples who say they don't fight. Either a cold war is brewing or they have grown so distant, nobody cares.

If you and your husband NEVER fight, you may be mistaking complacency for accord. Maybe you haven't had a real conversation in so long you forgot what it was like to discuss a topic worth disagreeing over. I'm not suggesting that you intentionally pick a fight, but if you don't rub each other the wrong way now and then, I suspect you are missing out on a certain degree of sharing and companionship that goes along with healthy discourse.

While conflict can be a threat to your happiness, it doesn't have to be. In fact, it can be the catalyst for positive growth and change, both individually and as a couple. The trick is to deal with the issues one at a time and move on. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Most married people can name a few issues that crop up regularly. The reason they continue to be recycled is that they are not being resolved. They simply fester below the surface until somebody's fuse gets lit. Kaboom! Here's a strategy for ending the war:

Choose your battles
Take a few minutes and think about the hot-button subjects that cause your blood to boil. At some point, you have to decide whether or not these battles are worth the effort. Don't waste your breath on small issues such as who unloads the dishwasher or who left the toilet seat up. Unless those small annoyances are a serious threat to your happiness, cross them off and count your blessings. Save your energy for the important areas such as financial decisions, child rearing choices, lifestyle differences and belief systems that shape your present and future as a couple.

Choose your weapons
When fighting with your spouse, your mission is not to shoot him down, kill him or even wound him. Although it is tempting to slam doors, throw things, raise your voice or call him names, this is never effective. Neither is silence or a cold shoulder. Stonewalling can be much more painful and destructive than an all-out shouting match, but neither tactic will accomplish the goal of marital harmony.

Your best weapon in any dispute is negotiation. And guess what? You are not going to be in a good position to negotiate when you are mad. If you are angry and out of control, call a temporary cease fire and cool down. Don't stomp off or storm out of the house. Take a deep breath and suggest a time to talk later. Then go for a walk, take a bath or do something that allows you to blow off steam, think about the underlying cause of the problem and consider the points you want to make in an effort to resolve it. Whatever you do, don't sweep the issue under the rug. Ignoring the problem does nothing but foster resentment which ultimately drives an emotional wedge and eats away at your marriage.

When you are ready, sit down for a calm discussion. The key is to attack the problem, not the person. Your best weapons are: honesty, reason, good ears, an open heart, compassion and compromise.

Choose your solution
The goal of your discussion is mutual agreement. Before you can arrive at a solution, you must really listen to each other. This takes practice. Start by allowing your partner to say what he has to say. Sit down, look at him, and don't interrupt. Imagine yourself in his shoes. Positively affirm what he is saying and then repeat back his position as you perceive it. Then you can present your side. State your case, and stick to the subject at hand. (No fair dragging up past issues or other problems.) Avoid accusations and try to begin your sentences with "I" rather than "you" (e.g. "I feel hurt when you forget to call," not "You never call when you say you will."). Once all the cards are on the table, take turns suggesting what you would like your partner to do and what steps you are willing to take towards a solution. Continue until you have reached a fair compromise.

Warning: Some problems do not lend themselves to mutual agreement. If there are issues on which you know you and your partner take an opposing stance, just agree to disagree. For example, my husband and I have some different religious and political views. When those topics come up, we have learned to back away rather than rehash the same old argument. Occasionally, we slip into a heated discussion, but when we see that the situation is escalating, we call a truce and change the subject. While creation theories and political stands might make for a lively debate, they shouldn't be fodder for a fight. The key is to recognize differences but not allow them to rule your relationship.

If you've been following this series for the past few months, perhaps you have noticed a theme. As we explore ways to enrich our marriages, it all comes down to effective communication. Give peace a chance. The next time you find yourself squabbling with your mate, practice negotiating. Fight fair and discover a new level of harmony in your home.

More fair fighting tactics:
.    Keep the battlefield out of your bedroom-fight on neutral ground.
.    Always sit down to discuss differences-it's calming.
.    Avoid sarcasm or personal put-downs-words can cut deep and leave lasting scars.
.    Don't argue when you've been drinking-fight sober when your thinking is clear.
.    When you are wrong, admit it-say, "I'm sorry."
.    When you are right, be gracious-no rubbing it in.
.    If problems persist, seek professional counseling-your marriage is worth it!

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