To communicate with your spouse is important, but no one likes to have difficult conversations. In the case of my wife and me, we would rather avoid the subject entirely. We’ve worked hard learning to be okay with conflict in our marriage and learn how to have those hard conversations. I recently sat down and wrote down some tips that have made marriage easier for us, along with the thousands of other couples I’ve worked with. Here are five tips on how my spouse and I have learned to resolve conflict and be better at communicating through those tough but oh-so-necessary talks.
Tip #1 – Have A Positive View of Conflict and Courage to Speak Up
It’s important to realize that to have a healthy, loving relationship- you need conflict. It’s a crucial part of any healthy, happy relationship. The crappy times show us where we as a couple can get better, giving us opportunities to stretch and grow together. Nothing worth doing is easy–why would that be true outside of your marriage? Continuing to improve as an individual and as an intimate team takes work!
One way to get things rolling in the communication department is to complain. Seriously! It’s important to complain. If no one speaks up and gets things out into the open, nothing improves. Your relationship will deteriorate over time if avoiding conflict becomes the rule. Choose instead to develop the skills to creatively work together to tackle life’s problems. A healthy relationship calls for the ability to speak up about smaller problems and work them out together before they become big, marriage-ending problems.
When People Don’t Speak Up:
A study was conducted years ago by an insurance company trying to learn more about the source of malpractice cases — patients that died or were harmed due to the neglect of the doctor. In most of these horrible cases, the attending assistants and nurses knew to some degree that the doctor was making a mistake, but were afraid to voice their concerns. If they had felt safer about speaking up when something was wrong, lives could have been saved. The lesson here? Don’t ever miss a chance to bring something up if it bothers you. How can someone improve if they don’t see an issue?
Understanding and (dare I say…appreciating!) the role of conflict is one thing. Couples need to learn how to have effective, clarifying conversations, too.
Tip #2 – Get Clarity First
Let’s go zen here for a minute. You’ve heard the saying, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” right? Let this be your mantra the next time you’re really upset with your spouse. In the midst of an argument, it’s really easy to jump to conclusions and assume the worst.
I know this might shock you, but it’s not a great idea to have a hard conversation when one or both of you feel misunderstood. Relationships take teamwork and teammates try to understand and help each other. Approaching conflict and relationship-building conversations take a clear head and an open mind. And guess what? There’s an app for that!
Get Your Marriage On! app has a tool designed to help you approach conflict without drama! It walks you through questions designed to help you self-analyze and think clearly, such as:
- What it is–exactly–that’s bothering you
- Are there other external factors (physical factors, stress at work, or with your kids or an argument you had with someone else) influencing your response?
- What are the underlying emotions involved?
- What patterns of selfishness or dishonesty do you notice in your spouse?
- How does my own behavior contribute to the problem?
- What outcome would I prefer?
The app will give you a script you can use as the foundation for a difficult conversation. This is helpful in avoiding telling your spouse something completely unhelpful, like how much they sound like one of their parents when they get upset.
Check out this Mommy Convos article featuring Get your Marriage On and other helpful marriage apps here.
Tip #3 – Don’t Overlook Your Contribution & Identify Your Triggers
Discovering how you contribute to the problem is often an overlooked step in getting clarity in the conflict. No one likes to take the blame, but it takes two to tango. The behavior of one spouse affects the behavior of the other, looping into infinity. To use the words of the immortal Justin Timberlake, “What goes around, goes around, comes all the way back around.”
Marriage Communication Example:
Imagine a wife feels her husband withdrawing emotionally by escaping to hours of video gaming. She begins to find ways to interrupt his video gaming with some innocent pestering with questions and complaints designed to get his attention. She doesn’t want to tell him to stop playing the game. She’d rather redirect his attention to her.
He sees these attempts from his wife telling him he’s inadequate as a husband. Which makes him withdraw further into his video game escape. She sees him withdraw from her questions, which triggers her fears of abandonment thus causing the pestering to persist… and the loop goes on and on.
It takes one person to break the cycle. In this instance, both individuals need to self-analyze. The wife is unwittingly pushing her husband into the behavior she is trying to get him to avoid. The husband is telling his wife she isn’t as important as his video game. Both behaviors are contributing to the problem, but if no conflict resolution and self-diagnosis happens, this seemingly minor problem snowballs into something much worse.
Identify Your Triggers
Oftentimes the worst problems are caused because an underlying fear is triggered. Your fear gets triggered so you react in a certain way. Your reaction happens to trigger your spouse’s fear, causing him or her to react in a way that triggers your fear even more. Fears and triggers aren’t things that are quickly swept away, but taking the time to consider how they affect you and your spouse will be a huge help in overcoming them.
Tip #4 – Say It. Listen. Stop When Flooded.
When you find the right moment to talk, it’s best to be clear and direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Say it how it is. Express how you honestly feel. Offer your very best solutions to the problem. Listen. Then listen some more. Keep listening. Sometimes repeating back in your own words what your spouse said helps clarify tricky points.
It’s easy to feel your emotions take over when discussing a touchy topic. This emotional drowning-in-your-feelings has a name. When someone is overly emotionally stimulated, it’s called “flooding”. Any strong emotion like anger, fear, embarrassment can cause flooding. When this happens, your heart speeds up, and your body tenses. The stress hormone- cortisol, overloads the intellectual part of your brain and makes it much harder to think clearly.
It’s nearly impossible to creatively solve problems or make any headway in changing behavior when either or both of you are flooded. Unless you watch for it, your mind tricks you into thinking you have control of the situation and have a conversation when you really, really, shouldn’t. When either of you feels flooded, stop the conversation, and take a break.
Tip #5 – Be There For Each Other
Beneath the surface of most conflict is one spouse reaching out to the other for assurance and support. Fights about money are rarely about money, but about the underlying issue of working together towards the same goals. Fights about how to raise your children are less to do with whose method is superior, but more about a yearning to be on the same team. Arguing about sex is usually about feeling: wanted, needed, cherished, and connected. You can see my other article on 4 Ways to Improve Your Marriage Through Sex here.
Learning to recognize the “reaching out” underneath the conflict isn’t always a simple exercise, but there’s nothing that will resolve conflict faster than finding the root of the problem. Don’t feel like you need to accept the way things are in your relationship. Use these tips! Find times in your relationship to NOT avoid the tough stuff and complain a little if you feel the need. Get things into the open. Be honest and accept the times when you’re the problem. Always call a time-out when it’s needed. Find ways to support each other in the areas you can see they need help in. Reassure each other of your commitment to each other and find common ground and goals and you will be amazed at how much you look forward to getting real and resolving the bumps that happen in all marriages.
All the best,
Dan and Emily Purcell
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Twitterpated and still on their honeymoon of 16 years, Dan and Emily are the founders of Get Your Marriage On! They became interested in helping couples strengthen their connection when their own marriage went from good to great a few years ago. They say, “for us, it had to do with better understanding each other, a willingness to show up, put aside fears, and invest fully into each other’s lives. Among other things we learned how to effectively communicate and gain a better understanding of the role of healthy sexuality in our marriage.”
Together Dan and Emily have six wonderful children that remind them how sweet and wonderful life can be. By day, Dan is a software developer and Emily is a full-time super mom. By night they create apps and put on events designed to strengthen marriages. Their apps and events have blessed over 100,000 couples around the world. Learn more about their marriage apps and events at getyourmarriageon.com.