Question: We can’t seem to develop a helpful conflict style in our marriage. Whenever a problem arises, one of us shuts down, making the other one angrier. What are some healthy steps we can take to finding resolution?
Answer: Reconciliation is the work of God. Pursuing Christ-like character traits of honesty and humility will help you as you seek resolution.
Too often, married couples in our offices angrily say, “She is not the person I married,” or “We just have nothing in common anymore.” These statements are intended to highlight the faults of the spouse, but they actually highlight the speaker’s rigidity and arrogance.
Healthy married couples celebrate their differences. Reconciliation is impossible while trapped in this negative spiral, focusing on differences as irritating, destructive, or disrespectful. God made us different for a reason.
You mention that one spouse’s behavior makes the other one angrier, referring to how they make you feel. But healthy people know feelings are a choice. If you give the power to your spouse to make you happy, you also give them permission to make you unhappy. Happiness is a gift from God. You also say “whenever a problem arises one of us shuts down.” Let’s talk about choices.
You both have the choice not to shut down, but rather to say, “This is where I usually shut down, and I refuse to do it this time. I need to be heard, and my sitting here in silence solves nothing.” Or, “This is where I discount your feelings and I get angry because I don’t listen, and I want to change that.”
Do you hear the honesty and humility in these examples? When spouses relate to one another this way, they’re obeying the biblical call to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2).
Taking ownership individually of your flawed patterns of relating is an honest, humble start to finding resolution. My suggestion would be that you both have a few individual counseling sessions where you are not allowed to lay blame, but take responsibility for your part of the problem. Then you will be ready for marriage counseling together.
Mark McCormick is directorof clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.