Sometimes disliking conflict is simple: conflict exhausts you and never seems to make things better. Perhaps the kind of conflict you’ve experienced in your marriage perplexes you and makes you feel out of your element. Your spouse may talk fast and speak in paragraphs, going back years with frustrations while you’re stuck with the first sentence out of their mouth! All that may be true and yet… you have an important, positive role to getting out of the dysfunction your marriage is experiencing.
While difference in conflict styles are common in marriages, we want to address the difference between your marriage being “good enough” despite your differences and its opposite: sinking into a really unhealthy marriage. Worst case, your marriage unravels and you lose the commitment you both made to each other
CAMP ONE: You pride yourself on being logical and rational. All this emotion stuff is foreign and seems so unnecessary.
CAMP TWO: You try to express yourself to your spouse, but for all sorts of reasons known and mystifying, the conflict stays in a stalemate or gets worse every time you try again. You don’t feel heard, so you withdraw. Your main aspiration is that your spouse stops starting arguments over things that are not likely to change.
For camp one people (“emotions are unnecessary”), our message to you is that we believe in logic, and rationality, but the neuroscience is pretty clear: your brain is actually moved first by emotion. You may not feel connected to those “early signals” and rationality may be your strength, but it’s impossible to be unfeeling unless you’re in extremely rare sociopath territory. But there’s good news: walking into the land of emotions can be interesting to “logical minds” and will likely make you even more successful in all arenas of your life. You don’t have to go into psychoanalysis to increase your emotional self-awareness. Nor do you have to be a parrot, repeating trite “I feel” statements, as Hollywood often portrays “emotion skills.” Your strength, logic and rationality, are best addressed in couples therapy where you and your spouse can become more aware of how you affect each other, and your mind and heart get more connected. Marriage counseling is excellent path towards self-growth while improving your marriage.
For camp two people (“I try sometimes but nothing changes”), our message is that you need a new way to talk, and so does your spouse. This is where a good marriage therapist can offer you and your spouse a NEW experience and get underneath the dysfunction. The second key issue is whether you believe your spouse can change and that your marital commitment is solid (or is it on the line – you’re considering divorce.)
Either way, it’s time for you to accept that you have some limitations when it comes to dealing upfront and constructively with conflict, and that your marriage is suffering. (Your spouse is contributing too, of course, but this blog is for you.)
So here are some key questions to answer for yourself.
First, are you ready for marriage counseling? Our key point here is that if you’re motivated to stay married and work to make it better, marriage counseling is exactly where you belong. It will give you a safe space to learn how to do conflict in a way to leads to resolution and good feelings.
Second, are you having troubling thoughts about whether your marriage is going to make it long term – which you probably haven’t shared with your spouse? You may be in Marital Doubt. This means that marriage counseling is even more urgent. In counseling, you can share these worries and use them as a vehicle to get your marriage back in shape.
Third key question, are you leaning out of the marriage – and signaled this towards your spouse? If yes to both parts of the question, you and your spouse may be great candidates for “couples on the brink” counseling, called Discernment Counseling. This is a better options than traditional marriage counseling if you are “leaning out” of the marriage and not sure if marriage counseling can work, and your spouse is “leaning in” and wants to try anything to save the marriage. Discernment Counseling helps you choose a path forward, whether that is a decision to divorce or a decision to make one last try to make your marriage healthy again.
We hope this has been helpful. There are thousands of conflict avoiders who make a conscious decision to “unlearn” that style and go on to have happier lives in their marriage and with others (since it’s very likely you’re avoiding conflict at work, with your parents and friends). You may also be interested in our 3 Marital Patterns we all have post here.