"I just let him handle things his way."
"We're not very good at resolving problems, so I let it
"I just hate confrontation!"
Listening, talking, communicating, resolving problems,
making joint decisions... these are requirements for all
couples. Without good communication skills and quality time
dedicated to communicating, relationships soon flounder and
fail, especially among couples with the stress of two
careers and a full family life.
Many couples don't talk because they are avoiding conflict
and confrontation. There is a common misconception that
conflict and confrontation are bad. One of the major reasons
couples have problems is their failure to confront issues
head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they
have a terrible time confronting the real conflict
respectfully and honestly. It's as if confrontation and
conflict are impolite. However, conflict and confrontation
are natural and healthy components of any relationship. You
are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or
identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up
communication on a difficult subject.
Do not fear conflict and confrontation. Avoiding conflict is
not the goal. Rather you want to develop the tools to "lean
into" conflicts and resolve them early on, so that you can
reorganize your lives to include the new learning. Because
married couples have a lot at stake when it comes to their
relationship, they are prone to avoid conflict or to use
ineffective tools to solve the conflict too quickly.
Compromising and acquiescing are two of these ineffective
Most couples are shocked when I advise them to avoid
compromises at all costs. After all, isn't compromise a
requirement of partnership? The reality is that decisions
that are arrived at through compromise usually lack
creativity and seldom last. Sure, a compromise now and then
may be necessary for the sake of expediency, but if a
decision is important, a compromise may cause anger and
resistance. Because compromises are usually a result of both
people giving up something in order to get an agreement, the
decision is a watered-down version of two stronger opinions.
Compromise is the easy way out when you are trying to avoid
conflict and confrontation. It appears that the compromise
will smooth ruffled feathers and that both partners can go
away happy. What really happens, however, is that each
partner leaves feeling as though they have been had. One
person may resent having to compromise and will be looking
for ammunition to prove that the decision was a bad one.
Another person may feel he or she has done the honorable
thing by not pushing his or her opinion on the other, only
to feel unappreciated later when the compromise plan is
dropped. If you stop and think about it, how long have your
compromise decisions really lasted?
Acquiescing or forcing your opinion upon your partner are
other ways of avoiding conflict. In seeking to avoid
conflict, for example, a persuasive person may push his or
her partner to acquiesce to a certain point of view, but
this does not mean that the partner agrees. It may mean only
that the partner actually does not want to fight and so
appears to agree, when he or she has only given in. Don't
make the mistake of pushing to win at all costs or to
acquiescing to the persuader, when you don't agree. In
either case, if you are the persuader or the acquiescent
partner, the conflict has not been resolved and, what's
worse, may have been driven underground.
If you don't make time to talk, if you don't consider
nurturing your personal relationship as important, and if
you avoid healthy conflict and confrontation, your
relationship will disintegrate. So take the time now to
evaluate your communication skills. Invest in the time to
develop a meaningful, loving relationship with your spouse.
Copyright © 2000 Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
Dr. Kathy Marshack, is a licensed psychologist with over thirty years of experience as a marriage & family therapist. Visit her website at www.kmarshack.com for more of her practical self-help advice.