- Handling Marital Conflict
- By Barrington H. Brennen
To Handling Conflict Article
"Contrary to popular belief, itís not how
much you love each other that can best predict the future of your relationship,
but how conflicts and disagreements are handled. Unfortunately, conflict is
inevitable--it canít be avoided. So if you want to have a good marriage, you
better learn to fight right." Fighting
for Your Marriage
"David Olson of the University of Minnesota,
who has studied over 15,000 married couples, recently said that 50% of married
people will never be happy, unless they get unusually good therapy. Other
researchers agree (Strean, 1985); about 30% of marriages are "empty
shells"--little love, little talk, little joy. . . . Only about 25% of
couples have "really good marriages." The
remaining 25% could achieve a good marriage if they got therapy and/or really
worked on obtaining the necessary skills via training or marriage enrichment
(or, you can add, self-help). . . . ."Olson believes the needed skills and
characteristics are: communication skills, conflict resolution skills, compatible
personality, agreement on values and religion, and good sex."
not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."
- These situations can in themselves cause
- If you felt pressured to get married.
- If you married someone not of your faith.
- If you got married because your were lonely or
- If you married someone with a totally
different view about life.
- If you only got married to fulfill your
- If you go married for someone to fill your
emotional or spiritual emptiness.
- If you got married to someone who is sexually
- If you got married so you can be a happy
- If you married someone with children from
- If you married someone who is not as
intelligent as you are.
A Key Cause of Marital Conflict
"Surveys show that 80 percent of divorced couples in their twenties and
thirties claim that financial problems were the major destructive factor in
their marriages." Winter 1997-98 issue
of Stewardship Journal.
84% of married
couples say "Having children reduces our marital satisfaction." Dr.
Arguing/Conflict affects women
differently than men.
Ohio State University's Institute for Behavioral
" . . . . Even after husbands and wives have
stopped arguing, the battle may still be raging within the woman's body. It can
do so for hours, altering her hormone levels and weakening her immune system to
the point where illness could gain a foothold. . . . . "This discovery,
based on a long-running study of newlywed couples, is forcing researchers to
rethink their understanding of marital conflicts. It could also have important
implications for the physical, as well as emotional, health of married couples.
. . .Earlier research suggested that men generally seek to "tune out"
their wives during an argument, seeking to escape or withdraw from the conflict.
Wives, on the other hand, are seen as being more likely to complain, criticize
or demand change in a relationship. The husband's withdrawal is acutely
frustrating to these women.
Blood analysis showed that among women who reacted
negatively to their husbands' withdrawal during the arguments, the average
levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol and prolactin all rose. The more
negative the wife's response and her husband's withdrawal, the greater the
hormone level rise.
"If those hormone levels stay up long enough,
it can have immune consequences," explained Ronald Glaser, professor of
medical microbiology and immunology. Earlier work by Institute researchers has
shown that psychological stress can cause weakened immune responses and a
slowing of wound healing. . . . .We're not saying that conflicts in marriage are
bad necessarily. They're completely normal. It's the way the couples disagreed
that was later related to a rise in hormone levels and a drop in immune
How satisfied are you with your conflict resolution
as a couple? "
way we handle the problems, more than the problems themselves, often can be the
- Top Five Stumbling Blocks Regarding Conflict
- 1. One person ends up feeling responsible for
- 2. I go out of my way to avoid conflict with my
- 3. Differences never seem to get resolved.
- 4. We have different ideas about the best way to
- 5. We have serious disputes over unimportant
"Fighting for your Marriage"
- Four types of specific patterns of conflictual
interaction that often lead to marital problems
Escalation occur when partners negatively responds back and forth to each
other, continually upping the ante so that conditions get worse and worse.
2. Invalidation Invalidation is a pattern
in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or
character of the other. Sometimes such as comments, intentionally or
unintentionally, lower the self-esteem of the targeted person.
3. Withdrawal & Avoidance
4. Negative Interpretations When
one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more
negative than is really the case.
- 1. Escalation
hatred, aggression, resentment, hostility.
Conflict Resolution Styles "Empowering
1. Pursuers seek to created
connections so they can become more intimate and close. Because talking and
expressing feelings is important to them , the tend to feel rejected by their
partner if the partner wants more space. When the partner . . . in their lives
withdraws, pursuers will tend to pursue more intensely."
2. Distancers tend to be
emotionally distant. They often manage stress by retreating into their work
and may terminate a relationship when things become to intense. They are less
likely to open up emotionally when they feel they are being pursued.
3. Underfunctioners typically have
several areas in their lives in which they just canít seem to get organized.
They tend to become even less organized when under stress. They have
difficulty displaying their strong and competent side in intimate
4. Overfunctioners are quick to
advise and help out when others are having problems. They often have
difficulty showing their vulnerable , underfunctioning side.
5. Blamers tend to react to stress
with emotional intensity and combative behavior. They like to change others
and to put others down in order to make themselves look good.
What to do?
1. Be Committed
to Preserve Your Marriage Covenant
The first rule in handling marital conflicts
successfully is to be totally committed to preserving your marriage covenant. It
is only within the context of a loving and irrevocable commitment that marital
conflicts can be successfully resolved.
2. Be Honest and Fair in Handling the Conflict
3. Be Willing
to Forgive and to Forget
The only way to bring a conflict which has
gotten out of control to a satisfactory end, is for one partner to break the
retaliation cycle by forgiving the other partner for the hurt received. In
Christian marriages forgiveness must be patterned after the forgiveness Christ
Guideline for fair fighting
- Fight by mutual consent
- Stick to the present
- Stick to the subject
- Don't hit below the belt
- Donít quit; work it out
- Donít try to win, EVER
- Respect Crying
- Non violence
Techniques for fair fighting
- Keep your anger under control
- Set a time and place for discussion
- Define the problem or issue of disagreement.
Discuss before resolving.
- Talk about how each of you contributes to the
- List past attempts to resolve the issue that
- Brainstorm ten new ways to resolve the
- Discuss and evaluate these possible solutions
- Agree on one solution and try.
- Agree on how each of your will work toward
- Set up another meeting to discuss your
- Reward each other as you each contribute
toward the solution.
Important technique to
reduce possible marital conflict
- The Speaker-Listener Technique
- Rules for both of you: Speaker has the
floor, Share the floor, No problem solving.
- Rules for the speaker: Speak for
yourself, Donít go on and on, Stop and let the listener paraphrase.
- Rules for the listener: Paraphrase what
you hear, Focus on the speakerís message, Donít rebut.
"The goal of
marriage is not to think alike, but to think together."