Conflict and relationships go together. A conflict-free marriage is an oxymoron.
Why? People mature at different rates; they have different values (some they don’t even know they have); and people see and experience the world differently. And all of this leads to tension that can result in conflict. And sometimes we wonder if marriage is worth it.
These are the kinds of issues my clients bring to couple therapy. Think about these questions for you and your marriage.
• If you had to create a short list of people you could spend the day with, would your spouse be on that list? Do you genuinely enjoy each other’s company? Do you laugh when you’re together?
• Do you have the same or similar values, goals and interests? Do you and your spouse enjoy doing some or lots of things together? Do the two of you want the same things out of life?
• Do you express a lot of affection and appreciation for each other? Or is there mostly indifference, negativity and hostility in your relationship?
• Do you feel understood when you are talking with your partner? Does your spouse try to see your point of view? When discussing things, does your husband or wife listen to what you have to say?
• Is your relationship usually based on fairness? Does your spouse see you as an equal? Do you feel you are treated with respect? Or do you feel used, exploited, or taken for granted?
Do you feel that your spouse will be there for you in a time of need? Can you count on your spouse for help when the going gets tough?
• Do you feel comfortable sharing your private thoughts with your spouse? How easy is it for you to talk to your spouse about sensitive issues?
• When you disagree with each other, do the two of you work together and try to resolve your differences? Or is there a lot of hostility, disregard and contempt when disagreements arise?
• Does your spouse care for you sexually? Do you make love pretty regularly? Or are you disappointed or frustrated with your affection?
The pain can be huge. This happens when conflict spikes and shared pleasures plummet. And even at these times, working on your marriage is always worth it.
Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”
By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.
Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”
According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.
This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.
Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?
Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”
Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.
(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.
It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.
Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.
Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.
1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?
Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.