Most couples have the tendency to see conflict as a negative, destructive force in their relationship. However, conflict is inevitable in all relationships, and it is important for us to learn how to capitalize on unideal situations. As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Fortunately, conflict can be used as a powerful tool to bring close intimacy and connection within relationships. There is an incredible feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when couples are able to work together to resolve key issues together in their lives.
Over 20 years of marriage and 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have adopted four key principles that have helped me navigate conflict in my own marriage and guide others as they navigate conflicts in their relationships.
- Remember the Love: We must remember the deeper love we have extended to our partner through our commitments and vows. Most of us would attest that we love our partner even more than ourselves, and we would testify we would be willing to give up our own life for the life of our partner. In the midst of intense arguments, it is easy to see our partner as the enemy when they are actually the love of our life. Ironically, we tend to allow our emotions to get the best of us as we viciously fight with our partner over our issues. Instead of fighting against our partner to get our way, we need to work with them to resolve our issues together. When we remember that we love our partner with our entire being, we have the ability to work with them instead of against them to resolve our issues.
- Think the Best: We must strive to merely think the best of our partner in the middle of tense conflict situations. It is incredibly easy to let our emotions dictate these situations as we feel our partner is out to get us. Most people do not enter marriage relationships for the purpose of making the life of their partner miserable. Most people enter marriage with very good intentions to love and serve their partner. The slight mind shift of thinking the best instead of the worst of your partner in the moment can go a long way in resolving conflicts in a helpful manner. When we shift our thoughts, it can truly change our emotions and our behaviors. If we think that our partner has good intentions for us and that they are working hard for the good of our relationship, we will feel positive toward them and will behave in a loving and productive manner toward them.
- Choose Your Battles: We must seek to choose our battles when we engage in conflict with our partner. Psychologists testify that most couples will encounter at least 50 opportunities per day to engage in conflicts from confronting weird looks, to harsh words, to major issues. In reality, life is incredibly short, and most of us do not have the time and energy to participate in 50 arguments a day. There are so many insignificant issues that can be overlooked within our relationships. I have discovered that if issues bother me for more than a day, it may be a battle to choose to engage in. There are select issues that are worth the battle for the good of yourself, your partner, and your family.
- Look for Patterns: We must also be prudent to engage in conflict when we see patterns of negative and unproductive behavior in our partner. We all have bad moments and it is helpful to not be easily offended when our partner makes mistakes but it might be better to try to alter their behavior. For instance, my wife approached me when I began to sing in the shower early in the morning. She said my singing was so bad that she needed to say something, or she would continue to lose much needed sleep. Second, when your partner shows a pattern of behavior that is unhealthy for them, we should approach them out of love and concern for them. For example, my wife approached me about staying up too late at night. Her concern for me helped me commit to get to bed on time to feel much better on a daily basis. Third, when your partner’s behaviors are causing an obstacle in your relationship, it is wise to approach them for the good of your family. I gently approached my wife about the tremendous amount of time we spend on a daily basis driving our three teenage daughters around to their overabundance of activities. It helped us make key decisions as a family to limit our activities to have the time we need for each other.
Conflict is unavoidable in human relationships. It is not something that needs to be avoided or abhorred. It can create opportunities for deep connection as couples work together to resolve their issues as a team. As you remember the deep love you have for your partner, think the best of their intentions, choose your battles, look for patterns of disruptive behavior and then engage in helpful, productive conflict with your partner to deepen your friendship and boost your intimacy together.