Sunday, August 15, 2010

Conflict Avoiding in Marriage

People say marriage is HARD!….It’s no easy street….It’s not all it’s cracked out to be…But why? I wonder to myself why marriage can’t be easy?…Why can’t be easy street?…And why can’t it be something that gets better with time…Like wine…??

I have been married for 4 years. And I must confess that I have had an easy four years compared to what others have experienced. I sometimes wonder when my turn will come…When I would wake up to realize that I no longer love my husband. Or when he would no longer love me? Yes, I wonder these things…because I do not understand how so many romantics end up bitter and divorced in less than 7 years. I’m tearful and sad as I think about what the devil is doing to our families...And what he is doing to my friends…:-(

My husband and I talked about some reasons several marriages dwindle and die. One of the major contributing factors to a dying marriage is unresolved conflict. There are times when we must turn a blind eye so we don’t go “crazy.” That’s called, “not sweating the small stuff.” So he forgot to take out the garbage, or he didn’t wash his dinner plate…Or maybe she is fussing at you because the kids are up past their bedtime, or she is closing the church building when you are ready to go home. You get the gist…The small stuff in the grand scheme of things should not break your relationship…And is usually not worth the negative energy we sometimes display. You can control your reaction, and tell yourself that I have a good man, or a good woman. Ladies, if you have a man who loves you more than anything, and actively tries to please you, cut him some slack if or when he messes up. Likewise men, you know if you have a woman who is serving you and treating you like a king, indulge her seemingly insignificant requests if it would make her happy. Don’t waste time and energy trying to figure out how pointless your spouse’s request is and trying to convince them why they need to “lay off!”

But there are times and situations that warrant us to actively engage in conflict. Your relationship will determine what these conflicts are. I say anything that can potentially threaten the happiness of your marriage you should deal with it. I asked my husband how he determines what is worth battling over and what is worth leaving alone. He said that if he is unable to put aside the negative situation permanently and NEVER give it a second thought, then it’s worth bring up. He said for him, if he thinks about the situation and decides to leave it alone, but later he thinks about it again, then he knows that he needs to deal with it. I told him that he is a conflict avoider (UNLIKE me!) and that he never really brings up negative situations to me…But during the course of an argument, it comes bolting out de door…Which only adds fuel to the fire. He did acknowledge that he has done that but has promised to deal with conflict there and then.

In his words…When you deal with conflict as it occurs its help your relationship to grow. In the process of dealing with conflict you move closer as a couple because it forces you to concur a problem. During this process you also develop a certain skill set that will make it easier to move through different levels of conflict with greater ease. Too many times we end up cheating ourselves of this growth when we avoid conflict. These basic skills are exactly what is needed to create a happy and healthy marriage.

Avoiding conflict can take many forms…It can be straight up avoiding negative situations all together. You feel upset, but you keep those upset feelings to yourself…You may say that you just can’t bother to deal with the stress, so you chose to avoid it. Eventually these suppressed feelings manifest itself in a way that is often unhealthy for the relationship. Sometimes it’s used to add fuel to the fire and not really deal with the situation at hand.

We may think that people who avoid conflict are often quiet in nature…not loud mouths like me. However I believe that conflict avoiders can make noise too. The problem is the noise does not yield any positive results. I think I may have found myself in this situation on several occasions. Often times the “noise” is just sounds of frustration. Sometimes the only thing it serves to do is berate or disrespect our spouse. After we have said our “peace” we leave it alone. Yes, we may have acknowledged that there is a problem, but we never made any movements towards resolving the conflict. In essence, there was a problem, we yelled at our spouse, and then we swept it under the rug until the next time another problem pops up. Can you imagine if these problems crop up every day? Can you imagine what that “noise” does to your spouse? Would it be better to work towards resolving the conflict once and for all, than fight about it every day? Here is a real life example. I am somewhat of a neat freak. I don’t enjoy the process of cleaning but I love a clean home. My husband also enjoys a clean home…the problem is he also enjoys it when its messed up too. In other words, he’s not going to care if the bed isn’t made, or the dishes sit in the sink a few days. So let’s pretend that there are some dirty dishes sitting in the sink for 3 days. At this point I am upset that he has not washed up as promised. As he walks through the door I greet him with a complaint. “Why you aint wash de wears yet!?” I am sure he was looking forward to such a warm welcome. His response, “sorry hon, I forgot.” Me – “WHAT YOU MEAN YOU FORGET!? YOU DIDN’T JUST DROP A PLATE IN THERE THIS MORNING! DIDN’T YOU SEE THE SINK THEN!” He gets silent, I go upstairs. In this situation I have managed to confront the conflict and avoid it at the same time. I pout for a few hours, and then I am “back to normal.” The following week we repeat the same cycle. After a few years of this my mild feelings of annoyance will turn into a mountain of frustration…Before long, my husband would not be looking forward to coming home. Making noise is a good way to avoid dealing with conflict.

So what’s a good way to resolve this situation? Firstly, start by communicating with your spouse how much it means to you when he helps out. Let him know your desires, never assume he should know. Try to establish a routine…Maybe after dinner we both would put the dishes in the dishwasher. Decide on something that is practical for both of you. After a 12 hour day I wouldn’t want to wash dishes either…Listen to your spouse too…You want him to care about your wants or desires…be respectful of his wants or desires. He has every right to come home and just unwind in peace. Give him that. It’s all about meeting each other’s needs, not just your needs. Remember, you care more about the dishes than he does, so make sure to thank him for taking the time to help you. Don’t ever have an attitude of, “why should I thank him for something that he is SUPPOSED to do?” Truth be told, he does not HAVE to do anything. God gave everyone free choice. He is choosing to love you, just like you are choosing to serve him. Whenever I serve my husband’s food he says, “thank you baby.” That makes me feel that he appreciates my efforts to serve him, and he enjoys it. Sometimes I feel so good I’ll wash the dishes! LOL!

Another way of avoiding conflict is denial…Denying that there is a major problem in the relationship and downplaying it as one of the “small stuff.” You might tell yourself that if you make yourself okay with the insane situation, then everything would be okay. You don’t acknowledge how bad your situation really is. For example, your spouse comes home and tells you that he/she is moving to another country for work “with or without you.” You are in the middle of completing your PhD and cannot believe why your spouse would abandon you without any thought for you or discussion with you. After expressing your frustration with the situation, you eventually decide to “leave it alone” and stop “complaining” to your spouse. You tell yourself that your spouse is okay with moving away, otherwise he/she would not have chosen to move. In the end you decide to resolve the situation by moving with your spouse. However you have not dealt with the conflict presented in this relationship at all. In essence you have placed a Band-Aid on wound that needed major surgery! Here are several things that need addressing in this scenario…

• Communication – Both partners in this relationship need to learn basic communication skills. Perhaps the spouse in denial needs to learn how to effectively communicate problems and concerns.

• Respect for your spouse as an equal partner – Is one person more important than the other? By making life changing decisions without consulting your partner you have determined that you are more important.

• Compromise - it seems like the spouse who wants to move had made up their mind already – it’s my way or the highway! There was no room for compromise because there was no discussion before a decision was made.

• Love –When we truly examine what love really means in a marriage, we can see that this was clearly missing….on both sides…Yes, both sides. I think it’s obvious how love was missing with the spouse who decided to move with or without their counterpart. In a marriage, love is not that romantic feeling you feel in the pit of your stomach. Love in a marriage, is serving your mate, trying to fulfill their needs, putting yourself second and esteeming your mate better than yourself. Can you imagine when two people treat each other this way? Both parties actively trying to make the other happy first and foremost. That is a marriage made in heaven. And that was clearly missing. But, what about the partner who received the bitter end of the stick? How was love missing there? Love was missing because he/she chose to ignore major problems in the relationship. Problems that will eventually stifle a relationship and cause it to die.

Love is what motivates me to deal with conflict. Love is what motivates me to deal with tough situations in my marriage. Love is what makes me cry my heart out to my mate so we can reign triumphant and become a better, and stronger couple.

God provides situations (conflict) to help our relationships grow, to teach us the true meaning of love, and create a deeper more meaningful relationship with our mate than we can ever imagine. God allows us to experience conflict, so we can experience true happiness in our marriage. When we deal with conflict, and not avoid it, we have consciously made a decision to safe guard our marriage and build a strong relationship that the devil will never shake.

Conflict is not always easy to deal with. Sometimes we may even find ourselves in situations where we are going in circles, and never able to communicate effectively about what is bothering us. In those situations, never be too proud to seek help. Help can come in the form of a therapist who can provide the couple with basic skills in communication and dealing with conflict in a positive way. Is your relationship worth this investment? Relationship books also provide a great resource for tips and best practices. Would you make the time to read so you can build and grow your relationship? And of course, never forget the power of prayer. With a constant focus of developing your spiritual self, you will always be presented with life challenges that lead you straight to JESUS. Thankfully God has given us so many resources to help us. Now it’s up to us to accept the challenge.

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