If there is anything that all marriages have in common, it is conflict. According to Dr. Steve Stephens, a Christian counselor and president of Every Marriage Matters, Inc., regardless of how “perfectly matched” a couple thinks they are, conflict is inevitable in any relationship.
“Every couple is going to fight if they are honest,” Stephens said. “There are going to be fights because you see things differently.”
It is how you handle these conflicts when they arise that matters. Learning to handle conflicts correctly can greatly strengthen your relationship. In his book, Blueprints for a Solid Marriage, Stephens discusses healthy ways to handle conflict. Here are five of his suggestions.
The “3 Plus 3” Rule
“Often when we get flustered, we don’t listen to each other,” Stephens said. “And then even when we start to listen we interrupt the other person.”
He suggests that couples flip a coin to determine who will talk first. The winner of the coin toss then has three minutes to talk without being interrupted by the other person. At the end of those three minutes, the other person has three minutes of uninterrupted time to respond.
Find a Win/Win Solution
Another problem couples face during a conflict, is that they are often more interested in “winning” the argument than in finding a solution, Stephens said. This can lead them to say mean things to each other in an attempt to one-up the other person.
“The problem is if I win the fight, then (my wife) Tammy loses, and if Tammy loses, then she is ticked off at me,” Stephens said. “So part of what I try to do is I try to say how can we become a win/win?”
He encourages couples to try to reach an agreement that will please both of them. Often, this means that someone will have to compromise and not get their way on that particular issue. However, on the next issue that arises, maybe the other person will be the one to compromise.
Resolve to Find a Resolution
“The interesting thing about conflict is that couples don’t fight about brand new things each time, we usually find one or two areas that we get stuck on, and then we fight about them over and over again,” Stephens said.
If you find that you return to old conflicts again and again, perhaps it is time to seek help from an outside source. Stephens said often a trusted friend or an older married couple can help solve the problem.
“Ask them, ?Could you listen to our argument because we just get stuck here?’ ?Give us some ideas how to solve it because we are tired of fighting,'” Stephens said.
Make a deal with your spouse that when you resolve the conflict, you will do something together that you both enjoy. This could be making love, going out to dinner, watching a movie, or anything else that will motivate you to find a resolution quickly and then reconnect to each other in a loving way.
“It just makes it a positive thing, because a lot of times arguments can go on forever and ever,” Stephens said. “This way, you get to a resolution and then just move on.”
Learn to Apologize
Hopefully, if you follow these suggestions, your arguments won’t turn into a free-for-all with you or your spouse saying hurtful things to each other. But should you ever exchange hurtful words, it is important to apologize.
Apologizing is simply telling your spouse that you love them and admitting to them that you were wrong to say or do what you did, Stephens said.
When spouses practice apologies and forgiveness, then they are less likely to harbor bitterness and resentment that could damage their relationship in the future.
Don’t Give Up!
Dr. Stephens also offers a word of advice for couples who feel their marriage is so full of conflict that it is beyond saving. His message: Don’t give up!
“Even though you are going through tough times, you can turn it around and you can have a great marriage,” he said. “It takes hard work, but you can do it.”
Through the organization that he helped establish, Every Marriage Matters, he has watched numerous couples fix their troubled relationships.
“What I’ve found is the hard issues, like addictions, unfaithfulness, things that just break people’s hearts, if people are serious about working through them, you can resolve almost any issue and you can have a great marriage,” Stephens said.
“I have couples who have gone through horrible affairs, who have realized the mistake they’ve done, and they’ve asked each other’s forgiveness, and they now have a better marriage than they ever had before,” he said. “I just want to encourage people that there is hope out there.”
The important thing is to seek help. Stephens suggests picking up a good book on marriage. In addition to his own books, he said authors John Trent, Gary Smalley, and Dr. James Dobson also offer wonderful books to help you repair your marriage.
In addition, he said, talking with a counselor or mentor is also helpful.
“If you’re stuck, go to your pastor, find a good solid Christian counselor, but don’t give up because you can turn this around.”
Copyright © 2007 CBN.com 2007. Used with permission.