Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

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Resolving Marriage Conflicts so Both Spouses Win

  • Dr. Gary Smalley The Smalley Relationship Center
  • Updated May 26, 2008
Resolving Marriage Conflicts so Both Spouses Win


Can a couple in conflict ever reach a win/lose solution? What if a husband gets a new job in a different state that is going to make his life easier and the family's life easier, but the wife doesn't think it would be a wise move? They spend over a month in heated debate on why they should go or why they should stay. Both have legitimate reasons for their arguments, but they are clearly nowhere near a win/win solution. What do they do? How can they possibly reach a win/win solution when they are so far apart? Do they even need to reach a win/win solution?

If these questions don't seem to have an answer, then try this one: Are you—as a married couple—on the same team? Hopefully your answer is yes, "we are on the same team". If you truly believe you're on the same team, then try answering the original question again. Is there ever a scenario where the resolution of your conflict might end up being a win/lose solution? If you're on the same team, then you know what the answer is … NO!

Think about the St. Louis Rams. They're a sports team and we are all comfortable with the fact that they ALL win and they ALL lose as teammates. Kurt Warner could throw for 800 yards, 17 touchdowns, 500 rushing yards, and 9 rushing TD's—but if the Rams ultimately lose the game, then it doesn't matter how great Kurt played he still gets a loss like the rest of the team.

If a married couple is on the same "team" then it must be true for them as well. If one person in a marriage feels like the solution is a "loss" then the whole team loses. It would be terribly confusing if the NFL gave Kurt and the offense a win for the game and the defense a loss. It wouldn't be logical. The same logic must apply to a marriage.

So how do you reach a win/win solution?

A couple we know hit the "wall of conflict" one day as they were discussing Cheryl's tendency to be late. Scott was growing more frustrated by the month. They had been married for almost ten years and the problem was gaining momentum. They were both storing up greater amounts of anger. Scott had resorted to little sarcastic comments (escalation) if it looked as if Cheryl was running late. This would subsequently result in Cheryl not talking for long periods of time (withdrawal). If this pattern was allowed to continue, then they stood a great chance of weakening their relationship.  

They first agreed to use LUV Talk. Watch how they reached a "Win / Win" solution to the conflict in minutes, without actually trying to do so.

Cheryl asked to be the "customer" first and Scott agreed to be the "employee." He began by saying, "Welcome to the Smith home, may I take your order?"

"I feel very frustrated by the pressure you put on me when I'm going as fast as I can," Cheryl said. Scott tried to repeat what he'd heard in his own words, "You feel frustrated because you're getting ready so slow and I put pressure on you." [This is why this communication method is so effective because it resolves miscommunication] "That not quite what I said," said Cheryl calmly, "I'm getting ready as fast as I can and I feel frustrated when you put pressure on me to go faster." "You feel frustrated when I try to get you moving faster as you're getting ready in the morning," repeated Scott. "That right!" agreed Cheryl.

Next, Scott asked Cheryl if she wanted anything else with her order. She continued, "I have so many things to do before we leave, I feel frustrated because I could use your help." Scott then repeated her words, "You feel frustrated because you could use my help to finish all the things you need done before leaving the house." After going back and forth, Cheryl explained that she felt understood and validated. [Again, Scott didn't have to "agree" with what Cheryl was saying; instead, his job was to honor and validate his wife's feelings.]

The couple then traded places and Cheryl began with the same invitation, "Welcome to the Smith home, may I take your order?" The funny part about this exercise is what happened next. Scott's first statement actually solved their problem. "I feel frustrated because I always get ready before you and then I just sit around waiting for you. It's boring," he articulated.

Cheryl smiled, and repeated his words slowly and lovingly. "If I hear you correctly, you get frustrated and bored just sitting around, waiting for me to finish getting ready."

"That's right," Scott said looking a little puzzled. Finally he put two and two together and realized why she was smiling. Cheryl needed help with several things before they were ready to leave the house. Instead of helping, he'd get bored by doing nothing.

At this point, Scott had nothing more to say; instead, he was ready to look for a "Win / Win" solution.

When two people get into an argument, usually they have their own solution to the problem (Solution A & Solution B). Sometimes they can agree to compromise (Solution AB), but here, no one really wins. It's like a half win because they both give in some. On the other hand, a win/win solution is when both individuals brainstorm several additional solutions (C-G) by letting them go like balloons up in the air. At first, you do not evaluate the possible solutions (C-G). After all ideas are "up in the air" then both individuals evaluate and determine if there is one solution that they both like (Solution E for example). This is different than a compromise because instead of both giving in, they find a different solution that is acceptable. They leave their original impasse (Solutions A & B), and find another answer that they both agree is the best solution to their problem. Thus, they reach a "win/win" resolution.

Returning to Scott and Cheryl's illustration, they began to brainstorm possible solutions. For example, Scott could help out instead of sitting around bored, and Cheryl could start getting ready earlier. They agreed that the combination of these two things would create a relational "win/win." Sometimes a "win/win" can be one or both of the original solutions (A and/or B). The main point is that both agree that the solution is the best choice—thus, it's a WIN for the relationship!  

See how quickly a solution can appear once two people share their needs and feelings. Sometimes, however, we may not understand or even see an obvious solution. This is why when trying to determine the best solution for a problem, it still must be done in honor. Cheryl could have shamed Scott for not realizing that she needed help.

Sometimes, when you cannot decide upon a solution, you may need to go back and LUV Talk some more. If you remain persistent, most conflicts can be resolved.

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