Matt and Jessie never used to fight, but there have been a lot of arguments, or almost-arguments, the last few months. Matt is on the verge of losing his job due to a restructuring at his company, and they have three kids under the age of five. So he’s tense and on edge all the time, and little irritations tend to blow up into arguments. Jessie can’t stand the kids being around that. And she hates conflict in general, so she often takes the kids and goes to the mall or the park just to avoid the tension. Matt thinks she’s running away from him and the issues they need to deal with, but from her perspective she’s just trying to keep the peace. She doesn’t really know what to say to him anymore, and she’s wondering how she can get him to stop picking fights so their relationship can get back to the way it used to be.
Are you like Jessie—wanting to head for the hills whenever times get tough and tensions run high? Would you prefer to escape the discomfort of conflict rather than dealing with it head-on? I hear you, I really do. But if avoiding conflict at any cost is your default, I think it’s possible that you’re mistaking conflict avoidance for peace. If, when voices are raised or things get tense, you run the other way (literally or figuratively)—that isn’t peace. It’s more like a one-sided effort to avoid the issues that need to be discussed, and it cuts your husband out of the process. Perhaps—like Matt—your husband needs to work on how he handles stress, but I would bet that he really wants to work through your conflicts together. And it can be damaging to your marriage if you don’t let that process happen.
So how should you cope with conflict with your spouse?
Your husband should be your best friend.
It will be very difficult to process any kind of conflict if you don’t maintain a healthy friendship between you and your husband. Your husband should be by far your closest friend—and that deep friendship should provide the basis for being able to address issues well—even when times are tough. Think about it: in any situation, good friends who know and care about each other deeply can usually hash things out when there is stress in their relationship. And it was clear in my research that it works the same way in marriage. But if you spend less time with your husband because the tension between you is troubling, you end up creating a situation where you and he are more acquaintances than best friends.
Spend time with your husband to strengthen your friendship.
To cope with conflict in a healthy way and keep your marriage in a good place, it’s important to do whatever is necessary to strengthen your friendship with this most important person in your life. And that means spending time together without the pressure of a big discussion, just catching up on what’s going on with each of you. Ask a friend to babysit and go out to a cheap dinner just for fun and to get some alone time. Take the kids for a walk around the neighborhood together. Sit on the couch and watch an old favorite movie once the kids are in bed. Spend time together building your relationship as best friends who can tell each other anything.
Open up to your husband so you can work things out together.
Be willing to trust your husband—your closest friend—with a confession of how much you hate conflict but how much you want to be willing to work things through instead. Trust him with a plea for what you need in order for that to happen. For example, you could explain how insecure his raised voice makes you feel, and ask if he can take a few deep breaths and speak more calmly instead. And show him that you mean it, by hanging in there the next time there’s tension in the air.
When your husband—like Matt—is going through a difficult time, you have the opportunity to help him through it (to be a stress reliever) with your support and presence. And be encouraged that he wants to work through the challenges with you. If you can navigate difficult periods together, with your friendship front and center, I believe you’ll find that you end up feeling much, much closer to your best friend.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.