Healthy Conflict?

6 habits to make arguments work for you

"I don't get why you're pressuring me to go to that stupid meeting," Chip told his wife, Cheryl.

Cheryl stared at him. "Pressuring you? I just asked if you'd be willing to go with me. It'll only take an hour. Why is that such a problem for you?"

"Because you 'asked' me in that tone of voice that says I'll be in real trouble if I say no."

"What?" Cheryl said. "Why do you always make such a big deal about a simple request? What's your problem?"

"Well, why do you always have to wait until the last minute to ask me?"

"Fine!" Cheryl said. "I'll just stop asking. You never want to do anything with me anyway."

Wow. It started with one person's simple request—or what she thought was simple—and ended with hurt feelings, a ruined evening (or maybe an entire weekend), and no physical intimacy.

Wouldn't it be nice if marriage were a smooth ride where we always get along, our spouses see things exactly as they "should," and nary a conflict arises?

Unfortunately, as much as we try to avoid conflict, we still find it winding its way into our most intimate relationship. But what if God allows conflicts in marriage to grow us rather than simply frustrate us?

In my more than 30 years of working in marriage and family counseling and 27 years in my own marriage, I've discovered that the deepest levels of intimacy are achieved only at the price of facing our differences and negative feelings, listening, understanding, resolving what we can, and managing the differences we can't resolve.

Conflicts aren't really the problem. What we do with them determines the depth of the problem—and whether or not our marriages will succeed.

When a conflict arises we have two options:

(1) We can personalize it, interpret it as an attack, and continue the dysfunctional patterns we learned from our families of origin;

(2) We can see the positive potential and cultivate simple habits to make that conflict work for us rather than against us, to help us understand our spouses and, in the process, understand ourselves better, and to build the trust that can lead to deep levels of intimacy.

If you choose option two—which I highly recommend—here are six habits that will serve you well.

Healthy Habit #1: Look for the Growth Potential

Conflict is a necessary and valuable part of two becoming one. Unfortunately, since most of us don't understand the potential of healthy conflict, we avoid it and the growth it can bring. We sit on it, hoping the issue will go away, which it never does.

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