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Managing Marital Conflict

Managing Marital Conflict

No right thinking person gets married with an intention to engage in constant marital conflict; however, these things sometimes happen. Most times, I hear couples express stories similar to this: “Before I got married, I had a clear picture of how I would run my family, live in peace with my spouse, hurry home daily to meet and spend my evenings with him/her. My goal was to be a romantic spouse, great parent and leader.

However, after marriage I was shocked at how fundamentally different our opinions were on key issues, such as finance, child-raising techniques, relationship with in-laws, friends, etc. Right now, I don’t feel the passion we shared when we started out. I ask myself daily why I didn’t see these red flags?”

The truth be told, every marriage goes through its share of issues, what makes the difference is how they are handled.

Sometimes, the challenges we have in our marriages are simply because we are trying so hard to “prepare for an examination with an outdated syllabus”. According to one of the legendary motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results“. The only way to have a happier, more attractive, fun-filled marriage where your spouse finds you irresistible is to discover and replicate time-tested secrets for managing your family affairs.

Most of us grew up with a fervent determination to correct or improve, within our own marriages and relationships, painful experiences we observed in other people’s marriages while growing up. However, in as much as determination is a good thing, it is not enough. This is because building a successful marriage can be likened to the process of building a new house, the owners must work with an architect to develop a detailed design of the type of house they want (number of rooms, power supply system, where the kitchen would be, the number of rest rooms and guest rooms, etc). In the absence of an agreement, you have a situation where the owners end up giving conflicting and confusing instructions to the builders. This, inevitably, leads to chaos, loss of valuables and irreplaceable resources.
Considering the fact that managing conflict in marriage is a broad subject, for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on some proactive methods for managing marital conflict. Being proactive is about thinking ahead and spotting the possible problems, harnessing resources and devising solutions for managing them before they evolve into crisis.

Behavioural Influences
What we see influences our behaviour. In a marriage, both partners’ behaviours and attitudes towards conflict are influenced by who they are, what they believe and their values. Stephen Covey, the bestselling author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, asserts that to achieve anything worthwhile, we must begin with the end in mind. As a couple entering a marital relationship, you must accept the fact that your personalities, opinions, trainings, and life experiences will influence how decisions are made and how conflicts are resolved within the marriage. Hence, in order to move ahead in the same direction, it is important that you take out time to agree on how money, career, children, in-laws, etc., would be managed. For instance, couples might decide to discuss and agree on issues such as joint account, the amount of money each partner can spend without permission, how much to spend on expenses per month, what investment is ideal for the family, how much will go to the extended family, etc. A shared vision is a powerful force that can advance a family in the same direction with minimal drama. Remember, the presence of two visions is di-vision.

Open the Communication Closet
Although, psychologists claim that marriage is 85% communication, this does not make managing conflict any easier, particularly because of the fact that men and women communicate differently. According to John Gray, the author of the bestselling book, “Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, whenever there is an issue to deal with, rather than communicate, men tend to withdraw into their ‘caves’ in order to find solution, while women prefer to talk and discuss the issue in order to find solution. Also, men employ words to communicate facts while women tend to employ words to communicate feelings. However, irrespective of these basic differences, couples must go beyond their personal preferences to connect with each other. If you build intimacy on a regular basis through open conversations, it will cushion your marriage in difficult times. True love involves being vulnerable to each other.

Mark The Boundaries
Conflict in a relationship is sometimes caused by the violation of expectations, personal boundaries and ideals. Nonetheless, boundaries are essential for relationships to thrive and be authentic. Boundaries help create and sustain safety and sanity within relationships. They define and crystallize what should be the acceptable, ideal and expected behaviour within a relationship. However, for it to be effective and not offensive, both couples must discuss and agree ahead of time where these boundaries should be drawn. For instance, some couples set up boundaries such as no disagreements before the children, no shouting or ‘voice-raising’, no name calling, discussing and resolving every disagreement before the next day, looking for a solution rather than casting blames, not getting third parties involved (unless life is being threatened) etc. Without boundaries, chaos is inevitable.

Reboot & Refocus
You cannot manage or improve what you cannot measure. Every couple must strive to have a special time for retreat and evaluation, when they get to spend time bonding with each other without interruptions from their children, in-laws, neighbours, work etc. Such times can be deployed to appreciate how far they have come as a couple, celebrating their victories together, learning from their mistakes, discussing their fears, appreciating each other’s uniqueness and contributions, and charting a course for the coming year. Two people cannot walk or accomplish anything together unless they agree.

True Identity
Important questions spouses must ask themselves are, who am I married to? What makes him/her happy, upset, scared, hopeful, and above all, loved? Sometimes, we put in effort to understand our bosses than we do to understand our spouses. Find out if your spouse is an extrovert or introvert, people-focused or task-focused, a driven or withdrawn individual? Understanding this will prevent you from expecting what your spouse cannot give. According to Gary Chapman, the author of “Five Love Languages”, people have love languages they employ to communicate and receive love. These languages range from receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, quality time and words of affirmation. Generally speaking, men and women have special needs, for instance, men place high value on respect while women place high value on affection. Demonstrating a great understanding of your spouse’s uniqueness guarantees good favour!

Finally, as we all know we are all work in progress, please feel free to share your thoughts on the above points or on other proactive conflict management styles couples can use in their marriages.

“A relationship is a living organism, how you nurture it determines how it will grow!”
…enjoy your relationships

Photo Credit: theyeyodiaries.wordpress.com
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Victor Akunna is a Romance and Relationship Coach, and a member of The Coaching Academy, UK. He is focused on helping individuals, couples and companies build sustainable and valuable relationships with key stakeholders. He and his lovely wife, Chidi, run The Foundation for Family Affairs. 

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