How to Save Your Marriage from Debilitating Conflict

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Fighting is, unfortunately, part of most marriages. 

Yes, it’s true. Two different people, from two different backgrounds, with two different personalities often are the basis for conflict. Add to that the likelihood that the couple has not learned to deal with conflict in a healthy way. 

However, all is not lost. You can, by using one particularly powerful tool, minimize conflict. By using this tool you can learn to keep issues in perspective, minimize painful feelings and resolve conflict. 

What is that tool? 

The tool is simply this: Ask yourself repeatedly, “What are we fighting for?” 

What do I mean by this? I’m not suggesting you consider the reason for your fight. What I am saying is that I want you to consider the focus for your fight. Let me illustrate. 

During a recent Marriage Intensive the couple began arguing about money, a common issue for many couples. They became focused on their own particular perspective. 

“I want to spend less money and increase our savings,” she said emphatically. 

“I want that too,” he added. “But I want to enjoy ourselves along the way. I think she is too tight with our money and I hate it.” 

“And he is too loose with our money,” she said sharply. “You ought to see the things he buys. We don’t need that stuff. It’s wasteful.” 

“I work hard,” he said. “I’m not going to work as hard as I do and then have to pinch pennies.” 

And on it went. 

After a few minutes I stepped in.

“What are you fighting for?” I asked. 

“Well, she’s trying to control my spending,” he said. 

“He’s ruining our budget,” she said. 

“No,” I said. “Not ‘What are you fighting about,’ but what are you fighting for? In other words, what is the outcome you want from this emotional struggle?” 

“Oh,” she said. “That’s different. I want us to be on the same team and have a money plan that works for both of us.” 

“That works for me,” he said, looking over and smiling at his wife. 

“Exactly,” I said. “What if you both agree, ahead of the fight, to determine the focus of the conflict and what you want as an outcome?” 

“That would probably work a lot better than what we’re doing,” he said.  

Here are a few more ideas of how to stay focused on issues of conflict: 

First, discuss ahead of time the positive outcome you want to any discussion. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Scripture says, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” The principle here is that we can only agree on something if we remain friends, not adversaries. We cooperate with another only if can envision agreement, focusing on the solution rather than the problem.

Second, listen carefully to each other’s point of view, envisioning agreement. Knowing you are going to agree, listen carefully to your mate’s point of view. Listen with an open mind, envisioning cooperation and collaboration. Consider how your goals mesh with those of your mate.

Third, share feelings, not judgments, validating our mate’s point of view. In the spirit of cooperation, share feelings, not criticisms, accusations or judgments. Listen for the truth in what your mate says. Your mate’s feelings cannot be wrong. Listen to them with an open mind, validating their point of view.

Fourth, imagine a positive outcome and brainstorm possibilities. After listening to their concerns, and feelings about them, imagine a positive outcome. Get creative. Consider how your points of view overlap and how you might come to agreement. Assume that agreement is possible and even likely with the right attitude.

Finally, seek collaborative agreement. After listening to your mate and sharing your feelings and point of view, collaborate. The focus now is on how you will agree and what solution works for both of you. In certain situations you may decide to concede and defer to your mate. In other situations you may compromise. In yet other situations you may seek some other win-win solution. The focus, however, is on how you will agree and come to a solution that satisfies both. Rigidly focus on solutions, not problems. 

Can you see how fighting is often debilitating and unnecessary? Can you imagine being focused on the solution rather than the problems? If you would like further help changing the way you handle conflict, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/gorodenkoff


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