April 3, 2008

Research shows when a husband and wife can’t resolve conflict, their relationship is at risk. Unresolved conflict can rob your marriage of intimacy – or it can lead to emotional or even physical divorce. So where is your marriage today? Do you and your spouse know how to find resolution when a conflict comes up? Or do you sweep it under the rug? Have you swept so many conflicts under the rug that it’s tripping you up in your relationship with your mate?

When you offend your spouse or your spouse offends you, it hurts. The pain is not so much physical as emotional and relationship, although unhealed hurts can affect how you feel physically.

If an offense between you and your spouse is dealt with immediately, the hurt is fleeting and without lasting consequences. Unfortunately, most marital offenses aren’t dealt with so efficiently. Sometimes you don’t realize that what you said or did offended your spouse, so you’re oblivious to the hurt you caused. But more often, you know what you did was hurtful, but you’re too hardheaded or embarrassed to own up to the offense. So you let it slide, giving time for your spouse to stew over what happened while the pain increases.

You may also overlook emotional pain because, when you’re offended, you may not recognize the hurt right away. Something your spouse said or did may have left you feeling a little down, but it may not have seemed like such a big deal on the surface. It doesn’t hurt like other pain we know, so we don’t classify it as pain.

Then again, you may recognize the inner hurt right away, but try to hide it. You don’t want your spouse to know he or she has hurt you. You don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. So you tough it out and act as if nothing happened. In the meantime, the inner wound only gets worse.

Whether you are aware of it or not, when you or your spouse opens a loop by wronging each other in some way, it triggers hurt, the primary emotion in a conflict. And if you delay closing the loop, that simmering inner hurt can boil over into anger.

Unless you and your spouse learn how to work through your hurt and anger, you will likely find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that never slows down. Stuffing anger into some dark corner of your heart may temporarily help you skirt past a conflict, but the anger doesn’t go away. Venting anger through a verbal tirade, an argument, screaming, crying, or slamming doors may help you let off a little steam, but it won’t solve the root problem and you will explode again and again. The longer you allow the cycles of stuffing and exploding to continue, the more you will hurt yourself and your spouse.

If you persist in stuffing your hurt and anger, it will affect you negatively in mind, body, and spirit. Your outlook on life will tarnish, your hope for deeper happiness in marriage will fade, and you will be more susceptible to illness. Unresolved anger evolves into bitterness and resentment. You see the world through distorted lenses. You become hardened and withdrawn, developing physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, colitis, ulcers, compulsive behaviors, and scores of other problems. In the process, you pull away from your spouse and tumble toward the precipice of emotional and physical divorce.

The results from venting your anger aren’t any better. It still fosters a critical, bitter, and resentful attitude. And venting is no healthier than stuffing anger inside. Since venting doesn’t resolve issues, you just get even more angry and entrenched in this destructive pattern. In the meantime, you will tend to alienate yourself from those closest to you: your spouse and children. Venting anger debilitates you, distances you from your spouse by keeping the loop open, and robs your marriage of joy and stability.