Is All Conflict Bad?

 Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.

The last time you and your spouse were fully engaged in a verbal disagreement, did you happen to make a comment to yourself that went something like, “This conflict is good because it’s a great opportunity for our marriage to become stronger?” Most of us (after we stopped chuckling), would answer with a resounding “I don’t think so!” In fact, many husbands and wives report they are really not good at dealing with conflict in their marriage. Most admit the majority of their arguments result in one or both regretting something they said or often times feeling saddened and separated from the other.  

There are a number of reasons why most spouses do not enjoy conflict. It could be attributed to embedded childhood experiences of parents or care-givers constantly arguing and the negative emotions associated with the memories of the turmoil. Also, many individual personality types tend to prefer more peaceful and less confrontational environments. These reasons certainly seem sensible. Yet, the majority of married couples today experience difficulties with conflict resolution mainly because of misguided perceptions regarding conflict, along with simply not being adequately equipped with the skills necessary for resolving conflict in a healthy manner. 

While meeting with a couple in my office a few months ago, the wife assertively commented to her husband that she simply wanted to experience a happy marriage like many of the couples in their small group at church. When I asked her to explain what in her mind constituted them being happy, she responded with “They must be happy because I’ve never seen them arguing with each other!” Just like so many other spouses, she had simply allowed her misguided perceptions to lead her to believe that the absence of visible conflict equated to happiness. 

We tend to find that husbands and wives who exhibit a strong, happy marriage are also quick to admit they occasionally argue. Not politely disagree, but literally argue. They go on to share the reason they don’t get deadlocked in their conflict is because they have learned effective communication skills and intentionally choose to use them when resolving their conflict.

Here are a few tips for becoming more effective at resolving conflict in your marriage:

  1. Don't bring up issues when there is not an adequate amount of time for them to properly be discussed.
  2. Try to stay focused on the issue instead of attacking the other person.
  3. Be quick to recognize when your emotions are prohibiting you from hearing what the other person is saying.
  4. Be willing to step back or ask for a "time out."
  5. Be willing to grant your spouse a "time out."
  6. Always set a time to re-engage from a "time out" once emotions have settled.
  7. Try to communicate in short sentences instead of providing a complete history of events in a short amount of time.
  8. Try to listen intently to your spouse instead of preparing your response. 
  9. Give up your right to always have the last word.
  10. Remember that you don’t have to apologize for what you do not say.

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