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Dousing the Flames of Marital Conflict


Conflicts in marriage are endemic. Because this is a union of two distinct individuals each with his or her own likes, dislikes, prejudices and pet peeves, conflicts are built into the marriage packet. As the famous evangelist Billy Graham once said, “For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. The unblemished ideal exists only in ‘happily-ever-after’ fairy tales. ‘Happily incompatible’ is a good adjustment.”

No human relationship can exist in a permanent state of happiness, and conflicts need not be viewed as a sign of instability or impending rupture of marriage. Couples need to master the art of quarreling constructively and resolving all conflicts positively. A mature approach will increase understanding and trust, and strengthen their relationship. However this depends on their level of commitment to each other.

Areas of conflict:
o Finance: In this consumer-oriented society of today, money or the lack of it can lead to conflict. Spouses have different spending habits. Overspending or unnecessary spending by one partner can upset the family budget, leaving less money for essentials. Entertainment, alcohol, consumer goods can eat into one’s pocket. Similarly miserliness will also trigger conflict.
o When the needs, wants and desires of one partner are not met, there is a tendency to be irritable or argumentative over trifles.
o Domination: When one partner is excluded from the decisions that affect them both, friction is bound to arise. Similarly, procrastination by one partner on issues that need urgent decisions can be annoying.
o In-laws: Too much interference or over dependence of in-laws can become a bone of contention. Unfair references and comparisons lead to quarrels.
o Children: Different styles of parenting or lack of proper parenting skills can result in heated arguments.
o Sex: Husbands and wives have exclusive conjugal rights over their partners. Depriving a spouse of normal sexual activity creates tension in the relationship.
o Working wives: Some women with high tech jobs may not have quality time to spend with husband and children. Stress, fatigue or overwork can sap them of strength and put them in an irritable frame of mind.
o Habits: Drinking, smoking, gambling or drug taking are frequent causes of conflict.
o Social activities. Time consuming parties or games leave very little time to spend with each other.
o Physical and emotional abuse.
o Self-centeredness.
o Secrecy: Keeping important secrets from each other is a breach of trust.
o Infidelity.

The mark of a good marriage is not the absence of conflict, but how each partner deals with the problem. Conflict is like an ember with the potential to spark into a flame, and if not doused in time, can blaze into a conflagration. The foremost thing to remember is that it is not a battle between enemies. It is just a disagreement between spouses who have promised to love and cherish each other till the end of their lives.

“Many marriages would be better if both husband and wife realize that they are on the same side,” says Zig Ziglar.
The aim must be to diffuse the situation by proper resolution, so that it does not crop up again and again.

There are two options available.
1.The Negative Approach which will generate hostility.
2.The Positive Approach which will make the bonds of marriage stronger.

Negative Approach:
– One partner personalizes the problem and treats it as an attack. Women are more prone to this approach. They withdraw into themselves and wallow in self pity. Withdrawal may be physical, sexual or emotional. Breach of communication follows. This is a dangerous trend. A trivial problem festers in the mind until it assumes gigantic proportions.
– Angry reactions like yelling, crying, abuse, sarcasm, insults or even violence are disastrous. The idea obviously is to hurt the other person while defending one’s self in the blame game.

As Broderick said, “Couples who vent their anger and do nothing to get at its cause and cure are committing marital suicide.”

Positive Approach:
1. Couples should never communicate when angry. They should first think things over calmly by themselves and then discuss the issue. Privacy is important. Discussions should not take place in the presence of their children or relatives, but in a quiet place where there will be no interruptions. They must bear in mind at all times that they are allies and not adversaries. There must be eye contact throughout the discussion. Respect for each other’s feelings is important. So the tone of voice and body language must be appropriate. Listening carefully to the other’s point of view is showing respect. Questions and clarifications are in order. It is also a time to share one’s genuine hurts and frustrations. Generalizations like ‘You always find fault’ or ‘You never listen’ are not helpful.

2. The core issue must be tackled. It is important to define and discuss only the problem that started the conflict. Is the problem repetitive? Is there a recurring pattern? If so, why has the problem not been resolved before? There should be no deviation into unrelated issues. Old problems must not be dredged up and recycled to score a point.

3. Finance can be a contentious subject. Bad financial habits must be mended. Budgeting one’s income is important. If expenses go beyond the budgeted amount, there should be a discussion on how best to make good the deficit. Honest conversations about purchases, savings and overspending will help. It might require lowering one’s standard of living or finding other ways of income generation.

4. Sex is an important aspect of marriage. Withholding sex by one partner as a means of punishing the other, is hurtful. Sex enhances intimacy and reconciliation.

5. Spouses must take responsibility for their contribution to the problem. They should be willing to change their behaviour if necessary. Owning up faults and admitting their weaknesses will diffuse tension. Sometimes it may even be necessary to give into the partner’s wishes, even though not fully agreeable. It is important to focus on what is right and not on who is right. Compromise is by no means weakness. It reflects strength and helps resolve the problem permanently.

6. Forgiveness is the most important salve that will heal the hurt of conflict. Couples should be generous in forgiving each other’s faults. It may not be easy, but it is always better to get it over with and move on.

Conflicts in marriage are inevitable. Fault finding and negativity can destroy and tear apart relationships. ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’ advises Scripture. With proper communication, tolerance and commitment, most conflicts can be resolved.

As Alexander Perry said, “The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree but to hold hands.”


Source by Eva Bell

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