How to resolve conflicts in your marriage

It is essential that disagreements between spouses are managed to positive outcomes for a healthy relationship, says psychologist Inchara Shivaraam

By: Inchara Shivaraam

Marital conflict is not just a difference of opinion.  Rather, it is a series of events that have been poorly handled to deeply damage the marriage relationship.  Marriage issues have aggravated to the point that stubbornness, pride, anger, hurt and bitterness prevent effective marriage communication.

Researchers have found that the most reliable indicator of how happy a marriage is not how often the couple says that they love each other. Sexual compatibility and financial security are also not the most important factors either. Instead, the most dependable indicator of marital success is how well husband and wife manage any conflicts that arise.

Although conflicts offer an opportunity to people to get to know each other better and grow together in a more positive way, it all depends on how well we are able to handle and manage conflicts that arise with time. When handled positively, it leads to an increase in understanding, patience, respect and love for one another. However, if handled poorly, conflicts could lead to misunderstandings, resentment and broken relationships.

Following are some of the ways to resolve conflicts in marriage:

Set realistic expectations: It’s important to know what we can and can’t do same goes for our spouse. Setting realistic expectations from ourselves, our spouses and our marriage saves us from getting unnecessarily hurt.

Communicate: We often assume that our spouses are aware of how we feel about them and things around us, but that often leads to misunderstandings. It’s better to communicate than letting the other person assume things we may not even mean. Also, it’s healthy to tell your spouse how much they mean to you. By adopting an effective communication pattern with your partner, you will be more equipped to settle disagreements and resolve conflict without negative consequences to your relationship. This includes using “I” statements, focusing on the problem instead of the person, listening and providing feedback, and avoiding interrupting or blaming.
Quality time: Take out some time to spend with your spouse; they need us more than they’d like to admit.

Appreciate: Instead of focusing on the things that your spouse failed to do, appreciate them for the times that they’ve made our lives easier. Acknowledge and appreciate one another, a small thank you goes a long way.

Be patient: Dealing with a conflict has always turned out to be smoother when we are patient and accepting towards the outcome of the resolve.

Respect each other: Do not go for character assassination. It’s one thing to criticize behaviour, and circumstances; however, attacking your spouse’s personality or character is not acceptable.
Do not play the blame game: Blaming each other for everything that’s wrong won’t get us anywhere. Instead, identify the core of the conflict and focus on resolving that.
Choose happiness: Somewhere we all want to be right, but one should understand at what cost, especially not at the cost of the relationship. It’s okay to make some mistakes, let it go, say sorry and choose happiness over being right if that makes your partner or spouse happy.
Forgive: Do not hold on to the things that didn’t go well in the past, it leads to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is a virtue and to be forgiving of one another’s short comings paves way to a stronger bond.

Although no two situations are alike, there are some common patterns that often result in marital conflict:

When we get married, we have a set of expectations that govern our thoughts about marriage.  Either those expectations are formed by the way our parents treated their marriage, or by a fantasy that was developed while we were young.  If our parents had a good marriage, then we probably expect our marriage to be similar.  If our parents divorced or had major conflict, we develop our fantasy of what we desire.  Either way, our expectations can become a source of conflict in our marriage. Everyone has their fantasy expectation of how the marriage is going to be like. Setting unrealistic expectations from the relationship and the partner often leads to conflicts.

Communication being the cornerstone of every relationship is one of the highly-reported reasons for conflicts. We often hear but we don’t listen and expect our partners to be a mind reader and just understand everything. Conflict exists in all relationships, and when communication is difficult or impossible, conflict often goes unresolved. Negative communication patterns, such as inconsistencies with tone or body language and different communication styles, can even lead to conflict escalation in some cases. Further it can even lead to stone walling effect where the partners start living for months without communication and refuse to a discuss one’s feelings, refusing to give nonverbal communication cues, walking out in the middle of a discussion without warning or explanation, or simply refusing to discuss the issue at hand. This tactic can be distressing when the other partner does wish to discuss an area of conflict, and the lack of communication might often cause extreme anger and frustration.

Physical intimacy: 
Balancing personal commitments with work is hard enough, adding raising children to it and it becomes almost impossible to give time to oneself or to the partner. Often spouses are either not in the mood or too tired, which becomes a constant strain as physical intimacy is equally important as emotional intimacy. Unaddressed emotional or physical intimacy issues will likely to lead to decreased marital satisfaction. Couples who lack emotional intimacy have a decreased friendship quality to their relationship. As a result of having a decreased friendship quality, they may not spend as much quality time together and may not respond to one another's needs. A lack of sexual intimacy caused by stress, health issues or differences in libido can be its own problem. Sometimes, however, sexual problems stem from other marital problems, such as resentment or a lack of emotional intimacy.

Satisfaction and Quality:
The depression and anxiety that may accompany stress can lead to decreased marital satisfaction and negative interactions. Men, for example, report less satisfaction with their marriage as work- and parenting-related stress increases. Marriage quality can also be affected by external sources of stress. Women are more likely to transfer negativity toward stressors to their spouses and subsequently report more problems with their marriages, say Lisa Neff and Benjamin Karney in "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin."

Individual Problems:
If you or your spouse is dealing with serious individual problems, these problems are likely to take a toll on the relationship. A marriage counsellor can provide education and help a couple find ways to address individual problems as a team. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can lead to marital issues. When one partner is struggling with an addiction, the marriage can suffer, making it important for both partners to seek help. Sometimes individual therapy is needed to address specific problems, such as to treat an addiction.

Parenting is easy, said no parent ever. There is no general rulebook on ‘how to raise your child’. We may not always agree with our spouse’s way of parenting and end up disagreeing over it in front of the kids, which even creates confusion among them as to who to listen to.


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