Ask Dr. David: Throw Cold Water on Marital Conflict
- Friday, December 01, 2006
Dear Dr. David,
My husband and I have only been married a few years, but already we are tired of the bickering and fighting that is pushing us apart. It seems that no matter what we talk about, we end up fighting. He attacks me and, I hate to say it, but I find myself attacking him back. We say hurtful things we don’t mean, sometimes apologize, sometimes not, and then do it all over again. We love each other, but wonder if there any hope for us? ~ Tired of Fighting
I am so glad you have written. It means you are looking for answers, and thankfully, they are available. You are among the many couples who have failed to find constructive ways of avoiding conflict, and then mastering the skills to manage conflict when it occurs. The bad news is that if not dealt with, it will ruin your marriage. The good news is that there are skills you can learn, and master, which will utterly transform your marriage. I have written about these strategies and more in my book, The Relationship Doctor’s Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship, and also offer Marriage Intensives for couples in significant distress.
So, let’s get to work learning a few of these skills necessary to rid your marriage of this cancerous conflict.
First, it all begins with the heart. "Out of the heart the mouth speaks," the scriptures tell us. (Luke 6: 45) Therefore, it only makes sense to start with heart surgery. Both you and your husband need to do some soul searching. Are you holding onto resentments that need to be let go? Is there bitterness hidden in the deep recesses of your heart? These must be confessed and dealt with in a beneficial manner.
Second, having performed heart surgery, agree to follow biblical principles of communication. For example, the Apostle James admonishes us to guard our tongues, for they can set a forest ablaze. (James 3: 5) Agree to set boundaries on your speech, and then hold each other accountable to talk only in healthy ways. No name-calling, ever. No accusations, ever. No blaming, ever. Own your feelings and ask for what you need.
Third, practice solving problems. Healthy couples attack issues, not each other. They stay focused on one issue at a time. They stay cool and calm as they brainstorm win-win solutions to problems. They understand that together, being married, they are an organism, and that to attack their mates ideas and person is to be hurtful to themselves.
Fourth, get into some counseling. You need someone to help you learn to take time outs rather than letting issues escalate. Your counselor will help you understand the origins of your defensiveness, and how to manage the emotion in your marriage. Through counseling you can learn strategies to help you really listen to one another, validating each others perspective.
Finally, hold each other accountable for change. If you are intentional about changing these destructive patterns, you will succeed. You can even make learning these skills fun, and marriage-saving. My wife and I practice taking time outs when a discussion starts to turn toward a fight. If either of us violates the time out, the other must give the other a massage. We have learned to throw cold water on smoke--a much better strategy then managing the fire once the forest is ablaze.
Dear Dr. David,
I have been married to my second wife for about ten years and we are having so much conflict that we seem to be headed for a divorce. The problem is that my wife doesn’t like the attention I pay to my two children from my first marriage. In fact, she wants me to quit spending so much time with them, and show her more attention. I only have visitation with them every other weekend, and feel a strong responsibility to be available to them. My own father was a distant man, and I don’t want to be that for my kids. I want to be a strong influence on their development, but my wife seems to be jealous of the time I spend with them. I don’t want to have to choose between them, but she seems to be forcing me to do just that. She has threatened that if things don’t change, she is going to move out. What can I do to save my marriage while also being a good husband? ~ Confused Husband
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