Conflict in marriage can be hard.
It can be super great too. And typically people will tend to paint a picture of just one of those extremes for you, when talking about it.
Some marriages I imagine are more great than hard. Others are more hard than great. Ours definitely has a generous smattering of both.
One thing many people will say about marriage is that a good marriage is one where you don’t fight at all. But that is nonsense. I would strongly suggest that a good marriage is one where you fight well.
And sometimes to do that you need outside help or referees (in the form of friends or family, an older mentoring couple you both trust, or even someone professional who is happy to ding the bell for you) just to keep you both honest and focused and remembering what the heart of sorting out your conflict is.
But most of all, you need to hold on to the ‘us’.
One of the most powerful (in a negative way) forces in the world must be our capacity to ‘other’. We do it a lot in race conversations where we say things like ‘those people’ when collectively referring to a group we don’t see ourselves as part of. As long as someone remains ‘other’ it is easy to judge them, to belittle them, to act superior to them, and most importantly to dismiss them – ‘they are less important than me.’ Or more simply: ‘They are less than.’
Return to the ‘us’
In a marriage, it can quickly become ‘us vs. them’ in the sense of ‘me vs. you’. The moment that happens, the ‘us’ has been pushed to the side and it becomes a clamour for who is right (and by definition, who is wrong, and the answer is always ‘the other person’).
It is crucial at these times that you are both able to return to finding the ‘us’ that has been overlooked. What often gets in the way of this is the heightened emotion that tends to accompany the kinds of arguments or fights that happen when this occurs.
There are various things you can do as a couple to work against this and work towards rediscovering your collective ‘us’.
One simple one is posture – standing facing each other tends to be a lot more volatile than sitting down next to each other.
Moving away from ‘You are’ or ‘You always’ statements and focusing on naming your emotions – ‘I am feeling’ or ‘What are you feeling?’
Doing your best to really hear what the other person is trying to say over what you might be hearing. A place of empathy tends to help de-escalate arguments as you realise that the other person is not out to get you.
Those are just a few examples but in our marriage we have found that it has generally been outside sources who have helped us to figure those things out. Because each of us is different and thus each relationship is vastly different from every other one, what works for me might not work for you. Inviting our safe people who know us well to speak into our relationships might be super helpful in terms of starting to figure out how we can do things better.
Walk towards the other
When we are able to let go of, or maybe hold more loosely to, the ‘need’ for the other person to move towards us and take the loving step of moving towards them (this might be physical or emotional or even practical) we will likely be able to more quickly resolve the conflict that is at hand.
Conflict in marriage is not a bad thing. Avoiding conflict or sweeping it under the mat can be very harmful in the long run. So, as not fun as it may be, I encourage you to embrace the conflict that presents itself and constantly be working together on how you can navigate that conflict in ways which feel more helpful to both of you.