TURNING POINT – How to resolve marital conflict

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a new column that will be featured in Madison Weekly on a regular basis. Columnist Bill Clark, Ph.D. is a professional Christian Counselor in Madison. Over the next few weeks, he will present valuable advice and insight into a range of issues that affect many families today. If you have questions or feedback about anything he presents through this column, you can email them to bill@hsvcounseling.com.

By Bill Clark, Ph.D.
Turning Point Counseling

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The couple that never has conflict does not exist. It is inevitable for a number of reasons: men and women are different; we have different backgrounds; and we all have a nature that is prone to selfishness. Unfortunately, conflict can lead to emotionally painful fights, which may result in hostility, bitterness, alienation, and even separation or divorce.

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Many couples lack the skill of resolving conflict constructively because it was never modeled in their family of origin. Consequently, they find themselves reenacting the same dysfunctional pattern of behaviors they witnessed growing up. Fortunately, what was learned can be unlearned. The skills necessary for resolving conflict in a healthy way can be developed.

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To resolve conflict effectively, a husband and wife must adopt the right kind of attitude, which will lead to the right kind of behavior. Over time, they will become skillful in dealing with conflict, which will create a healthy marriage.

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Principle #1 Resolution of the conflict is what is important, not winning or losing. Adopt a win-win mind-set concerning the problem to be resolved. If the conflict is resolved, both of you win. This is not competition between the two of you. You are partners on the same team (Eph.4:2; Rom. 12:18; Phil. 2:4; Eph. 4:29).

Principle #2 Each partner must assume 100% of the responsibility for resolving a conflict. Assigning blame is non-productive. A division in the relationship is a mutual responsibility (Matt. 5:22-24,18:15).

Principle #3 Limit the discussion to the specific issue at hand. Keep it in the here and now. Never bring up past failures since all past failures should have been dealt with and forgiven (Matt.18:15).

Principle #4 Attack the problem and not your partner. Think of the situation as “us versus the problem” not “me against you”. Overlook minor offences and forbear (Matt.18:15; Eph. 4:15, 29).

Principle #5 Tell the truth about how you understand the problem. Do it tactfully and don’t exaggerate. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. Eph. 4:15, 25; Col. 3:9

Principle #6 Actively listen to what your spouse is saying. Don’t interrupt or focus on what you are going to say. You may disagree with what is being said but allow the other’s opinion (Prov.18:13; James 1:19).

Principle #7 Don’t blow up or clam up. Both are destructive to the relationship and accomplish nothing positive. Verbalize your anger in a constructive way. Criticism, insults, sarcasm, blaming, etc. are off-limits (Eph. 4:26, 31; Prov. 14:29, 15:1, 25:15)

Principle #8 Focus on behavior and not hidden motives. Don’t try to read your partner’s motives. If you are unsure what was meant or why it was said, ask for clarification (Prov.18:13).

Principle #9 Forget payback. Getting even won’t make you feel any better and will only exacerbate the conflict (Rom.12:19-21).

Principle #10 When you’re wrong admit it and ask for forgiveness. When your partner confesses to you, grant forgiveness. Once it is forgiven, it is not to be brought up again (James 5:16: Prov.17:9; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13: I Pet. 4:8).

Remember, conflict resolution does not come naturally for most of us, but it can be learned. Approaching conflict with the right attitude and the right behaviors CAN turn a damaged relationship around and even strengthen a marriage that has a strong emotional bond. Take action now while you have the opportunity.

Bill Clark, Ph.D is a licensed Professional Counselor in Madison. He can be reached at 256-239-5510 or by emailing bill@hsvcounseling.com. For more information, go to www.hsvcounseling.com.