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Marital Conflict: Your Version, Your Version – How to Resolve Differences

The seeds of marital conflict

Your version:

“They got married and lived happily ever after.” Although no modern woman would ever admit to believing in a fairy tale ending, conflicts often start and are perpetuated because she believes the relationship “isn’t romantic enough” or “isn’t like it used to be.”

Women are often the first to express their disenchantment with the relationship. She may feel taken for granted, feel that he has become emotionally distant, or feel that her communication leaves a lot to be desired. Some days, she finds fault with everything he does. Other days, she wonders if she’s to blame. She maybe she is being too critical. Maybe she is asking too much. Maybe if she didn’t confront him, he wouldn’t be so defensive. Maybe she should offer gentle suggestions, not a harsh chase. He talks to her lovingly, not critically. Maybe she would then get the message. And she would stop feeling so alone, so angry.

She doesn’t like feeling like a nag, constantly reminding her to take care of things. She hates feeling like a plaintiff, accusing him of drinking too much. She hates feeling like her mother, scolding him for forgetting to do what she said she would do. But most of all, she hates feeling crazy, screaming, crying and feeling totally out of control.

However, she doesn’t know what else to do. She has tried everything.

Your version:

“What do women want?” pondered Freud more than 100 years ago. Men still ask the same question. Why do you get so distracted by the little things? Why is he always complaining about something I didn’t do? Why do you care so much? Why do things have to be done the way she wants them to be done? Why is she still upset about things that are ancient history? Do your resentments of her have no expiration date?

A man’s initial reaction to his wife’s complaints is usually to defend himself. He denies what she accuses him of, admits to a misdemeanor (I only had one drink), or gives a reasonable explanation (Sure, I’d like to spend more time together; I just have so much to do.”) He works hard to keep his emotions in check. under control If countering his criticism rationally doesn’t work, he distracts himself with TV, sports, work, his computer, or sleep His goal: to survive without making things worse He knows if he lost control, it would be a no-win situation Better to strive to be strong, firm and weather the storm.

Oh, if only this approach would work. To her dismay, she interprets his rationality and her distractions as evidence that she just doesn’t “get it.” She feels that she just can’t communicate with him no matter how hard she tries. She feels that she won’t stop accusing him of something that she has done wrong.

What’s a couple to do when their dance is out of sync? Read on for creative ways to get out of the rut.

Resolving the Conflict

When a couple’s dance is out of sync, simply repeating what they’ve said before and doing what they’ve done before isn’t helpful. But, if you don’t know any better, you can’t do better. So let’s see if we can make some changes right now.

Adopt a new attitude.

When your spouse pushes your button, your instinct is to fight back, fight back, or shut down. And exactly where has that gotten you? So let’s try something new, shall we? Slow down, take a deep breath, and see if you can get into a spirit of:

  • Consultation: Ask questions and listen to the answers as your partner explains why he feels that way or why he acts the way he does. Be open to learning something new, not only about your spouse but also about yourself.
  • Tolerance: Put aside your righteous indignation. Give up your certainty that your way is the only right way. Accept to disagree, even when you know your way is better.
  • Moderation: Your spouse did something that bothers you. Do you get angry, mad or enraged? Make it your goal to reduce the intensity and volume of your response.

Avoid cross complaints.

When your spouse files a complaint, do not file your own complaint at that time. If he does, he will feel unfair to his spouse and it won’t get him anywhere. Therefore, address your spouse’s complaint first. Once you get to the end of that, you can complain about whatever is bothering you. Or, perhaps, by then, you won’t even feel the need to.

Appreciate gender differences.

It’s not just the bodies of men and women that are different; it is also our brain. If you’re telling a story and he’s impatient because he doesn’t want to hear all the details, know that your husband is not a pig; he’s just a man thing. And guys, if his wife wants to tell you every detail of the story and expects you to show interest in her, it’s not because she’s a control freak, it’s just a girl thing.

Be generous in your interpretation of your spouse’s behavior. Yes, leave your socks on the floor, don’t put your towel back on the shelf, and leave the toilet seat up. Is it because she wants you to be her maid? Or don’t you give a fuck? Maybe, but it’s much more likely that he’s just sloppy, tired, or unkempt. If he lived alone, he would do the same. Doesn’t that prove that he’s not doing it? to you? Putting the worst possible interpretation on your spouse’s behavior increases your distress and does not solve anything.

It’s natural for couples in conflict to focus on how to get their spouse to change. This approach is rarely helpful unless the spouse also wants to change. It is much better for both of you to reflect on the following questions:

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  • What is this conflict really about? (could be nothing more than a power play; whose path is the right one!)
  • how I can Yo exchange my behavior or attitude?
  • how I can us foster a better understanding of our differences?
  • how I can us do nice things for each other, despite the strain in our relationship?
  • how I can us work together to be more accepting of our differences?
  • how I can us work together to resolve our conflicts?

If after reading this column you still feel as stuck as ever, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If you want to stay married, it may be the best investment you’ve ever made.

Copyright 2012

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