38 1/2 years. That’s how long my wife Kim and I have been married.
We “went together” for two years before we got hitched. I was 21, she was 20. Sounds pretty young, doesn’t it?
During our more than four decades together, we’ve had our share of conflicts.
For starters, we come from very different families. My family tends to be private, cautious, and conscientious. Kim’s family tends to be public and risk-taking, with a no-holds-barred attitude.
On Myers-Briggs, we’re exact opposites: I’m an ISTJ, while she’s an ENFP.
Before we got married, I was a spender and she was a saver. After we got married, I became the saver, she became the spender.
And when it comes to sleep … I don’t sleep all that well, while Kim can sleep anytime, anywhere.
In spite of our differences, Kim and I have learned how to resolve the inevitable conflicts in our relationship.
Let me share with you four things (among many) that we’ve learned:
First, marital conflicts need to happen.
I once heard the famous evangelist Luis Palau say that if two married partners agree on everything, one of them is mentally challenged.
It’s exciting to be with people who are different. It’s boring to be with people who are clones of yourself.
There was a time in our marriage when I’d come home from work and Kim had completely redecorated the living room … without consulting me.
I learned that she has a high need to be creative, while I want everything to be functional. We had some pretty good go-rounds about her decorating decisions years ago, but we’ve identified the issues and learned how to discuss and negotiate our differences since then.
When you and your spouse disagree about an issue – even if you strongly disagree – quietly tell yourself, “This is the price I pay for living with someone I love.”
That attitude will help you work toward reconciliation.
Second, stay calm when you’re arguing.
Why do people yell and scream when they’re arguing with someone? Because they’re frustrated that the other person isn’t hearing them.
But raising your voice ten decibels only increases the anxiety in your relationship … and when anxiety is high, so is conflict.
Sometimes your points are more powerful when you use a softer approach.
When my wife and I have a strong disagreement – and we still do on occasion – I don’t want the neighbors hearing our conversation … but I do want to hear what my wife has to say.
So I place my hand above my head and slowly bring it down as if to say, “Please use a calmer voice.”
Am I being controlling? I don’t think so. I want to hear my wife’s points, but I can’t discern them if the volume is too high.
Think about this: parents insist that their children “use a quiet voice” when they’re upset about something. Shouldn’t dads and moms set an example?
We haven’t mastered this skill yet, but we’re getting better at it.
Third, focus on understanding your partner’s viewpoint.
More than 20 years ago, Kim and I had a backlog of issues to resolve, and we just weren’t getting it done.
So we set aside some time and set up a “Peace Conference.”
Kim could discuss any issue on her mind … for two minutes. Then it was my job to tell her what she’d just told me.
When she assured me that I understood her, we both shared back and forth – using the two minute rule – until we came to a resolution.
Then we wrote the decision down … and it was my turn to initiate an issue.
The two minute rule gave us structure and injected fairness into our discussions. We calmed down, knowing that we’d both get turns to share as long as we both showed we understood the other.
Years ago, when I wasn’t quite understanding what Kim wanted from me, I’d ask her, “If I could say/do this over again, how would you like me to handle it?”
Then I’d listen … ask questions … and do all I could to comply with her wishes.
You haven’t understood your partner until you can put into words what they want from you.
Finally, avoid going to bed angry.
Ephesians 4:26 encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. What wise counsel!
In his book Sleep: It Does a Family Good, Dr. Archibald Hart cites research from his daughter Sharon indicating that “80 percent of wives cannot get to sleep after an argument. They need to talk a problem through and arrive at some resolution before they can turn it off.”
But according to the same study, “80 percent of husbands are incapable of talking through a difference without getting angry and withdrawing.”
Dr. Hart shares three principles to prevent arguments at bedtime:
1. Never open up a topic that is likely to be contentious just before you go to bed.
2. If you find yourself in an argument or heated discussion about any topic, call a truce as soon as possible.
3. If you do not have good argument skills, Dr. Hart recommends reading Dr. Sharon (Hart) May’s book How to Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen.
In the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra usually have their arguments when? Right before bedtime!
For the first several years of our marriage, Kim and I tried to observe Ephesians 4:26 by staying up late – sometimes after midnight – to resolve issues.
Now that our wonderful children live on their own, we have much more time to keep current with each other’s needs and views.
I’ll write more on this issue another time.
How do you resolve conflicts in your marriage?