Do you feel like the enemy whenever you bring up areas of concern with your spouse?
Perhaps you can’t talk about problems without triggering each other and escalating tensions. You feel like you are doing the right thing, trying to solve the conflict, but your spouse thinks you are wrong, on principle and method.
And so you knock heads and end up solving nothing.
According to research published on the National Institutes of Health’s NCBI website, “conflict behaviors have important implications for couples’ evaluations of their marriages and divorce.”
The research goes on to say that couples with destructive conflict behaviors (e.g., yelling, insults, criticism, belligerence, and contempt) predict an increased divorce rate for couples.
When working through disagreements, our behavior determines the quality (our perception of it) and the longevity of our marriage.
If we want to create a healthy and long-lasting union, we have to learn how to navigate our differences in a healthy way.
In this post, I will show you four common mistakes couples make when trying to navigate conflict so you can avoid them.
Maybe you want to tear down communication barriers so you can restore that intimate connection you once enjoyed. Or perhaps you already know how to navigate conflict, but sometimes you get stuck.
Either way, when you avoid these four communication mistakes couples make, you’re primed for health.
Let’s jump right in.
4 Communication Mistakes Couples Make When Resolving Conflict
#1: Believing Your Spouse is Responsible for Your Happiness
A lot of people believe they cannot be happy unless their spouse makes them happy. I was guilty of that at the beginning of our marriage. I thought happiness is something my husband provides for me.
Indeed, a healthy marriage should be a source of joy, not sorrow.
But trying to make my husband my primary source of happiness was a big mistake. You see, we are each responsible for cultivating that inner fulfillment that displays itself as joy or happiness.
When we believe it’s someone else’s duty to regulate our emotions, choices, or actions, we make them god. And as you know, human beings make terrible gods.
When we approach conflict navigation as a way to get what is owed us (i.e., happiness), we arrive at #2
This is a mistake I made when our connection shattered.
I looked at all the happy marriages around me and decided mine was getting short-changed.
As it turns out, that strategy can hurt your chances of healthier communication when navigating differences with your beloved.
Why? You can’t travel forward while looking sideways.
Take the example of driving a car. Do you move forward while exclusively staring at your side or rearview mirrors? Of course not. If you did, you would crash.
If you try to fix your communication because other marriages are happy, you might get some short term traction. But long term results require improving your communication because that’s what your marriage needs, not because someone else is happier.
When there’s zero pressure to keep up with the Joneses, it skyrockets your chances of actually tearing down your barriers because you are focused on what works for you, not what works for others.
#3: Not understanding communication styles
Maybe you are thinking, “How can this be a mistake? I mean, we need to be on the same page to solve issues, don’t we?”
Yes and no.
The health or robustness of a marriage is not dependent on being the same.
One time, at the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I were having a big heated discussion in the living room. I was pushing all his introvert buttons, and as it happens when some introverts feel pressured, he hit a wall.
“Will you just go to the bedroom?”
I curled back as if physically lashed. Did he just send me to the room, like a little child?
I was furious, even as, funnily enough, I stood up and went to the bedroom without another word.
Later as we worked through the initial conflict, I shared how I didn’t like “how he sent me to the bedroom like a child.”
He was surprised: He recall no such thing. He remembered needing space to think and asking for that space.
Nevertheless, I left the living room, hurt, afraid. And spitting mad.
Why? Because I filtered his language and responded through my experiences. When he said, “Will you go to the bedroom?” I heard, “You are not worthy. I don’t love you.”
Flash forward to now, when my husband says something I don’t understand or in a way that upsets me, I don’t assume I know what he means. I certainly don’t slink away in a childish rage.
Further, he tries to make sure he’s clear so I know what he means and what he does not mean.
Unlike the beginning of the marriage, our current communication style isn’t based on the past, assumptions, and reactions. Our marriage is not free of communication problems. But we have gotten so much better at navigating the bumps because we’ve learned to define and to process.
#4 Focusing on the Symptoms
A lot of people spend a tremendous amount of time fixing symptoms. It’s what happens when you develop tunnel vision because you are trying to scratch that urgent itch called happiness. (See #1)
As it turns out, it is a wrong way to navigate conflict in marriage.
Let’s say your husband is passive.
Lots of people will say the best way to handle an indecisive man is to take the reigns and run the show. Because you know, someone has to take care of things.
But here’s the tricky part with that approach.
Generally, people don’t feel motivated to work on a job that has already been done. When responsibility is cleared off your plate, you don’t roll up your sleeves to work. You sit back and relax or find something else to do.
The conflict navigation process in marriage requires each person to take ownership of their problems: spouses must say “no” to parenting each other. Solving disagreements healthily is a longer, often more challenging route.
But this long process usually allows married couples to uncover and address the real issues behind the symptoms. When you band-aid your way through conflict because of short term gains, you feel it in the long term.
And it’s not pretty.
We (my husband and I) have made these four common communication mistakes couples make. And for the most part, we didn’t even realize we were sabotaging our efforts to solve conflict and heal our connection.
It wasn’t until we reached the end of ourselves and got really desperate that we reevaluated our approach.
Today, I have some exciting news:
My brand new online course, How to Navigate Conflict in Marriage, opens for enrollment on Monday, September 21st, 2020! (That’s next week!)
I created the program because connecting with my husband was really hard at the beginning. (And we are still a work in progress because in marriage you never really arrive!)
As a marriage coach, I talk to wives struggling to connect and solve conflict with their husbands.
How to Navigate Conflict in Marriage course is a comprehensive road-map for healthy communication and connection in marriage.
It’s a guide for the wife who is tired of hearing “just pray more,” “submit more,” “have more sex,” as the answer to every conflict.
It’s a tool for the couple who are ready to break cycles of miscommunication so they can connect and enjoy their relationship
I can’t wait to share this program with you: be on the lookout for next week’s blog post!
Preview the course here.
But for now, I’d like to hear from you: Have you made any of these 4 common communication mistakes couples make? Or maybe one of the mistakes was a surprise to you. Either way, let me know in the comments.