Family Life: Marital Conflict

by Ray Martin

Believe it or not, it is possible to have a disagreement with your spouse and come away feeling more in love with each other, but just like we all have different love preferences, we do not all have the same style of arguing.  In their book, “Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving the First Five Years of Marriage”, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcek identify ways we can get through these heated moments so that you both come away having solved a problem together rather than tear each other down and allow it to blow over in hopes that it will not happen again.  So that’s what we’re working on today…arguing!

Take Care Of One Another

Oh man, I grew up in a house where most family gatherings ended in a knock down drag out fight with yelling and people getting in their cars screeching out of the driveway all in a huff.  It’s part of the reason that as an adult I avoid conflict as much as I can and I don’t look forward to most holidays.  I have this uneasy feeling about them as if things are just going to blow up by the end of the occasion.

It may sound crazy, but most disagreements can be solved when both people involved feel respected and cared for.  Well how do we do that?  Try asking if it’s a good time to talk about something, or bring your spouse their favorite snack or a beverage before going into it might be a great way to start.

What’s The Problem?

It’s important to identify the real problem.  Here is an example: recently I was being really grumpy with my wife, Brandi.  She had been on the Christ Renews retreat all weekend and the very next night was full of activities for one of our kids and the minute she got home, she was rolling back out.  She could tell that I was crabby and so she asked what was going on.  After a litany of my complaints about the amount of childcare I had been doing and work around the house, I finally got to the real matter which was that I simply missed her and wanted to spend time with her.  Now that’s an actual problem to solve than my bad attitude and complaints.  

Praying about the real problem and coming up with a solution are next steps, but you can’t do that until you’ve identified the actual issue from a calm and rational perspective.  It’s totally ok to take breaks if the conversation heats up because conflict is rarely resolved through yelling, but once both of you are back under control, it’s important to resolve the situation or it will come back.

Four Horsemen of  Marital-Communication Collapse

This leads me to what the Popceks call the “Four Horsemen” of communication collapse in marriages.

  • Criticism: complaints turned into personal attacks
  • Defensiveness: an immediate response that turns attention back at the other spouse
  • Contempt: comments that tear down the other partner or make them feel small
  • Stonewalling: one simply shuts down or stops participating in the conversation

Reflect Next Time

Feel free to print out the list above and hang it somewhere easy to find or refer back to it.  Next time you get into a disagreement or have a problem to solve go back and try to use some of these techniques to solve the problem together.  It’s worth a try.  Most couples don’t like to talk about conflict, but it’s a reality in any relationship.  The most important thing to keep in mind is praying for and forgiving one another.  Allowing an unresolved issue to continue to resurface will cause bitterness to develop.  Prayer, forgiveness, and tactical problem solving will ensure that you and your spouse continue to grow in love.

Sources: First Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcek


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