Q&A: Handling marital conflict

Q: I’m newly married and have been surprised and disturbed by the amount of conflict we’ve experienced in our relationship. This rarely happened when we were dating. Is something wrong?

A: The first thing that’s important to understand is that conflict is inevitable and unavoidable in any close relationship – even those of marriage “experts.” Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when handled with a respectful, non-abusive spirit, it can lead to a stronger, more satisfying marriage. If you want to resolve conflicts effectively, commit to confronting issues as soon as they arise. Simply suppressing your differences is not an effective way of dealing with the problem. The longer a disagreement stews, the bigger it becomes.

Once you’ve initiated a discussion, be sure to communicate your concerns clearly and specifically. Avoid generalisations, ambiguities and absolutes. Using words like “never” or “always” to describe your spouse’s undesired behaviour is rarely accurate and usually produces a defensive response. Try saying something like, “It frustrates me when you don’t take the garbage out on Mondays,” rather than, “You never do what you say you’re going to do.”  

Along these lines, remember that it’s important to use “I” rather than “you” statements. For example, “I feel hurt when you don’t follow through,” versus “You’re so irresponsible.”  In other words, be careful to attack the problem not the person.

Stick with the issue at hand and resist the temptation to support your argument by generalising or following rabbit trails. Work hard to understand your spouse’s point of view, and be sure to keep your discussion private.

After you’ve expressed your viewpoints and reached an understanding, share your needs and decide where to go from there. Be willing to ask forgiveness, and always remember that maintaining the relationship is more important than winning the argument. Finding a solution that benefits both spouses lets everybody win.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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