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"Our capacity to love a spouse deeply and our ability to experience great JOY in marriage are [in proportion] with the degree to which we are willing to suffer and hurt, to labor and toil, and to persevere through moments of unhappiness, stress, disappointment, and tests of our patience and love for our partners."
-Kent Brooks of the BYU faculty of Church History and Doctrine
"Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don't have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive."
-Dr. John Gottman
Perpetual problems can result in what Gottman and Silver call gridlock. Gridlock is a serious form of perpetual conflict. These are its characteristics:
- The conflict makes your feel rejected by your spouse.
- You can't make headway on the argument no matter how many times you discuss it.
- You become subbornly firm in your stances and will not give way for compromise.
- Feelings get hurt worse after each time the subject is brought up.
- You express no humor or affection during the fight.
- You vilify each other.
- You eventually disengage from your spouse on an emotional level.
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Some people may think that avoiding such issues will allow the conflict to burn itself out. However, conflicts rarely resolve themselves in such a manner--if ever. Gottman and Silver say that:
"Avoiding conflict leads to emotional disengagement. The couple's trust in each other declines as they become increasingly trapped in the negativity . . . [and they] are on the course toward leading parallel lives and inevitable loneliness--the death knell for any marriage" (p. 140).Fortunately, there are ways to get out of gridlock, but we will go over those steps in a future post. You simply need to know the difference between a regular perpetual problem and gridlock for now. As for attitudes you need to handle both solvable and perpetual conflict, Gottman and Silver suggest the following:
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- Realize that negative emotions are important. "Negative emotions hold important information about how to love each other better" (p. 157). By using the tools we have already discussed in prior posts in this blog will help you to know how to express negative emotions without hurting your spouse or being offended by their negative emotions.
- Accept that neither partner is absolutely in the right when it comes to marital conflict. There are only perceptions and intentions. If you accept this as a truth, you will be more
- Accept and respect your
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- Remember to focus on the things you admire or adore in your spouse. This will help you to keep from becoming critical of your spouse.
Dr. H. Wallace Goddard mentioned another attitude he adopted that is helpful to have in a marriage, especially during conflict. He decided to take the view that his marital covenants were a promise not only between his wife, Nancy, and God that they would be together forever, but that he promised God that he would always look for the good in Nancy. He promised God that no sacrifice would be too great to be forgiving of his spouse. He promised God that he "would be His partner in protecting, blessing, comforting, and saving Nancy's precious soul [emphasis added]." He takes the view that there is nothing he "will ever do that will be more important than blessing [his] covenant partner" (Goddard, 2009, p. 105).
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If you are having diffuculties with any of these attitudes, it may be because you are having issues with forgiving your spouse for past differences. When you learn to forgive, it relieves both you and your spouse of the burden of bitterness (Gottman & Silver, 2013, p. 159).
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For typical marital conflicts, here are a few tools to help a disagreement to be a discussion and not a power struggle:
- Soften your start-up. Ladies tend to have a trouble with this
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- Learn to make and receive repair attempts. Take breaks
Link: Stop, Go Back, and Try Again
- Sooth yourself and each other. Remember the 20 minute break I mentioned before?
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- Compromise. First, find common ground by allowing each spouse to consider solutions to the problem. Once you are both ready with your solutions, allow one partner to discuss their ideas without interruption, then allow the other partner the same courtesy. Find what solutions you both came up with that are similar and discuss them. You can work your way outward from there.
Taking time to learn how to argue constructively will be a blessing to you, to your spouse, and to your marriage. Practice the techniques you see here. Don't forget to print out the Gottman Repair Checklist and put it on the fridge to help you learn to use and identify repair attempts made during your arguments. They will help to diffuse any anger that might be building up, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to compromise effectively. Lastly, remember to be forgiving. Your spouse may not be perfect, but neither are you, but that doesn't have to come between you. Mercy is a wonderful healer as is a sense of gratitude. They are your balms of Gilead. Use them well.
Goddard, H.W., PhD (2009). Drawing heaven into your marriage. Cedar Hills, UT: Joymap Publishing.
Gottman, J.M., PhD, & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Harmony Books.