“I just let him handle things his way.”
“We’re not very good at resolving problems, so I let it go.”
“I just hate confrontation!”
Listening, talking, communicating, resolving problems, making joint decisions… these are requirements for all couples. Without good communication skills and quality time dedicated to communicating, relationships soon flounder and fail, especially among couples with the stress of two careers and a full family life.
Many couples don’t talk because they are avoiding conflict and confrontation. There is a common misconception that conflict and confrontation are bad. One of the major reasons couples have problems is their failure to confront issues head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they have a terrible time confronting the real conflict respectfully and honestly. It’s as if confrontation and
conflict are impolite. However, conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship. You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.
Do not fear conflict and confrontation. Avoiding conflict is not the goal. Rather you want to develop the tools to “lean into” conflicts and resolve them early on, so that you can reorganize your lives to include the new learning. Because married couples have a lot at stake when it comes to their relationship, they are prone to avoid conflict or to use ineffective tools to solve the conflict too quickly. Compromising and acquiescing are two of these ineffective tools.
Most couples are shocked when I advise them to avoid compromises at all costs. After all, isn’t compromise a requirement of partnership? The reality is that decisions that are arrived at through compromise usually lack creativity and seldom last. Sure, a compromise now and then may be necessary for the sake of expediency, but if a decision is important, a compromise may cause anger and resistance. Because compromises are usually a result of both people giving up something in order to get an agreement, the decision is a watered-down version of two stronger opinions.
Compromise is the easy way out when you are trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. It appears that the compromise will smooth ruffled feathers and that both partners can go away happy. What really happens, however, is that each partner leaves feeling as though they have been had. One person may resent having to compromise and will be looking for ammunition to prove that the decision was a bad one. Another person may feel he or she has done the honorable thing by not pushing his or her opinion on the other, only to feel unappreciated later when the compromise plan is dropped. If you stop and think about it, how long have your compromise decisions really lasted?
Acquiescing or forcing your opinion upon your partner are other ways of avoiding conflict. In seeking to avoid conflict, for example, a persuasive person may push his or her partner to acquiesce to a certain point of view, but this does not mean that the partner agrees. It may mean only that the partner actually does not want to fight and so appears to agree, when he or she has only given in. Don’t make the mistake of pushing to win at all costs or to acquiescing to the persuader, when you don’t agree. In either case, if you are the persuader or the acquiescent partner, the conflict has not been resolved and, what’s worse, may have been driven underground.
If you don’t make time to talk, if you don’t consider nurturing your personal relationship as important, and if you avoid healthy conflict and confrontation, your relationship will disintegrate. So take the time now to evaluate your communication skills. Invest in the time to develop a meaningful, loving relationship with your spouse.
Copyright © Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
Dr. Kathy Marshack, is a licensed psychologist with over thirty years of experience as a marriage & family therapist. Visit her website at www.kmarshack.com for more of her practical self-help advice.