"And they lived happily ever after.........."
Perhaps I'm a little bit jaded, since I work all day with couples in conflict.
On the other hand, conflict comes to even the healthiest of marriages.
It's just that we seem so unprepared for how to handle conflict. We know in our heads that "happily ever after" is true only in stories and fairly tales, yet in our hearts we long for it to be true.
In the best of all possible worlds, we would be well prepared for handling conflict before we get married. My experience in my office tells me that is just not the case for most couples.
Part of the reason for this is there is just so much in a marriage relationship that can cause conflict. I've written before about what's called the Big Six, the six main areas of conflict in marriage.
The Big Six are the areas of communication, money, sex, children, in-laws and religion. Perhaps we should call it the Big Seven, and add the all important issue of who gets to hold the TV remote control.
No kidding, I've actually had couples fighting over this issue. I've even had them fighting over the age old issue of how to hang the toilet paper roll, over or under. When I suggested that when you consider what you will use the toilet paper for, it really doesn't matter, it seemed to clear up the issue.
Humor goes a long way in resolving conflict.
Having said all that, let's look at some specific ways to handle conflict in marriage. This is called the three C's of conflict resolution and they stand for Compromise, Co-exist and Capitulation.
"A compromise would surely help the situation." - 10CC
Compromise is clearly the optimal solution to conflict. The problem comes when couples approach conflict as a win-lose situation, which makes it very difficult to reach a compromise. It's simply human nature to want to be right, and so we approach resolving conflict from a right or wrong perspective.
What this typically leads to is one person usually getting their way or their needs met at the expense of the other person. While this may work for awhile, it eventually leads to bitterness and resentment.
Compromise, on the other hand, becomes a win-win situation. A couple approaches conflict resolution from a team mate/partner perspective. There are basically three key ingredients to compromise; 1) each person gives a little, 2) each person gets as many needs met as possible, and 3) each person works for the good of the relationship, not their own desires.
"Let's try it your way." - An experienced and wise spouse
I can hear it now. "But isn't capitulation just giving in and being codependent with someone?" It can be, if done on a regular basis over time. Over the course of a marriage, or any long term relationship, for that matter, there are times when the best thing to do is try it the other persons way.
The capitulating partner comes from a place that basically says, "Our relationship and our happiness is more important to me than this issue. Let's try it your way."
That's not codependency, it's cooperation.
"There's only you and me and we just disagree." - Dave Mason
There are times in marriage where each spouse feels strongly enough about their beliefs or position that they can not move or come to the other person's side.
There are certainly some issues in marriage where this could signal the end of the relationship.
However, in many circumstances, couples can simply agree to disagree, and move on. They learn to "co-exist" on the issue in question.
I know of many couples who have taken this route on various issues and continue to have very strong marriages. What can happen over time, after being given the room to each have their opinion, spouses are able to move into compromise. Even if couples remain in a co-existing position on an issue, they can still have a strong marriage.
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. The successful handling of conflict involves a healthy and balanced mix of the skills of compromise, capitulation and co-existing. No matter how you hang the toilet paper.
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