So how do you win a marriage conflict?
The short answer? A win in marriage occurs when both people feel that a disagreement was resolved fairly and both people actually feel it was a win-win. Usually, if one person wins? The marriage loses.
Be really honest with yourself, when you fight or have a marriage conflict with your partner, do you fight to win? Fight to be right? Fight to get your way? How is that working out? Are there lots of conflicts? Lots of unresolved conflicts, maybe? Well, unfortunately, these problems could actually be because of the competitive way you fight and it could even end up being the problem that may end your relationship.
As part of my private practice as a Psychologist, I often work with couples. And frankly? Sometimes it can be a really hard row to hoe! One of the most troublesome situations any marriage therapist faces occurs when the couple they are helping out seem to be constantly trying to “win the argument”. Each person wants to be THE person who is always right in every single, darn conflict. These are the kinds of “competitive marriages” where every little conflict becomes a deeply competitive matter of who is right or wrong.
Often these types of couples become painfully obvious to the therapist when they look to the therapist to be the judge, jury and executioner in every little marriage conflict they have. They each passionately present their “case” to the therapist and expect them to pass judgement on who is WRONG! And if they are both “wrong” to some degree (which is often the case by the way), they will even argue about who is the “most wrongest!”
Admit when you’re wrong and shut-up when you’re right! ~ John Gottman
I recently asked a friend of mine who’s been happily married for 24 years what the secret really is. His response was that as long as what his wife says doesn’t harm him or the marriage, either emotionally or financially — it’s really water off a duck’s back and it just doesn’t matter. That really gets to the heart of the matter. Sometimes your partner is going to think differently than you do! He and his wife have made the conscious choice to not conflict about the small things. Of course, it’s important to resolve conflicts but maybe the lesson my friend has learned in his marriage is that not all conflicts are worth having a no holds barred cage match over. Maybe it really makes more sense to pick your battles and just let the small things go?
If it’s hard to do that, it could be because either you or your partner or both of you are just naturally competitive or maybe even revel in winning a conflict. Some people are just more likely than others to have this competitiveness trait. It’s root probably lies in a leftover survival instinct; a biological competitiveness from our evolutionary history, where we had to compete with others for resources like food and mates!
And here are some great practical steps to start stopping your competitiveness:
You don’t need to solve every marriage conflict right here, right now!
Although this seems a bit counterintuitive, it’s also often a really successful way to approach marriage conflict. Not every marital problem has to be solved right now, today, with a sense of urgency and stress!!! Really, more important than solving any problem, is trying to create a sense of closeness, safety and comfort in your relationship. Sometimes it’s more important to put things on the back burner for a while, especially if the conflict is about things that really aren’t that important in the big scheme of things. For instance, if your partner has just worked a 12 hour day and they’re cranky, hungry and tired may not be the time to bring up that they’ve not been as close and attentive as you’d like. When it comes to conflict, timing is everything. Maybe even choose a set time to discuss conflictual matters. Weirdly enough, for many couples, if they pick a set time to deal with potentially difficult problems it actually seems to reduce the chances of conflict.
Being “right” usually only applies to math problems!
This step is about realizing that sometimes your partner just might be right even if they aren’t! And even if they aren’t completely right, they have a right to see the world in the way they see it! They have a right to have different ideas and opinions about things in life than you do. There is rarely only one way to see things in our world, most often, and with most issues, there are varying shades of grey. Your partner sees the world differently than you do. So what? Let it be and accept that they are different! They don’t have to be the same as you are and see everything the same ways.
It’s not a game nor a competition!
Strong and steady relationships are built on teamwork. It’s about finding the win-win. Finding what solution to the problem is the best for each partner and ultimately what’s best for their marriage! Fighting to win or be right in every marriage conflict creates a win-lose atmosphere and often ultimately ends in both partners losing and sometimes ultimately even losing the relationship!
Everyone argues at some point, but those who fight fair in their marriage conflict, stick to the subject, and avoid insults or passive aggressiveness and are more likely to come up with a possible solution. Partners should learn to take a short break away from each other if the discussion gets too heated or intense. Here is a great article on fighting fair — Fighting Fair in A Relationship: How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It
We don’t always have to agree!
Sometimes there is a belief that we always have to agree for a relationship to be a good one. And to that, I say horsefeathers! In any long-term relationship, we should expect that there are going to be differences of opinion and one person is rarely always or even mostly right.
Play on the same team!
This is about making a super important mental shift from “me” to “we” — to see yourselves as two parts of a whole. Seeing your relationship as a team effort. Your relationship as something you are working on together rather than as competition to be right or a competition you’re trying to win.
In my couples counselling, I have seen many couples start to improve their lives together greatly just by making the mental shift from “me” to “we” – from being in competition to being on the same team!
You’re a team — and deciding this makes you see the world differently. When it comes to you and your partner versus the world, more often than not you should take their side. Be your partner’s ally against all the BS the world might throw at you and never do or say things that could leave them feeling hurt, insignificant or all alone.
Support or stand up for your partner when you see them feeling beat up, put down or discouraged. Support your partner by being in their corner, reminding them about how great they are, about all their positive qualities — and do this especially when the world gets them down and they are doubting themselves. Being teammates means you both have the same goals and you support and help each other get through life. You have their back and they have yours. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful thing to have in your life? Someone that accepts you and supports your goals and is there to help you pick up the pieces when things seemingly fall apart? There is strength in numbers and two against the world is much strong than one!
Empathy & compassion
We can really reduce marriage conflict if we act in ways that are empathetic and compassionate. Having empathy and compassion simply means to try and walk in your spouse’s shoes and understand each situation from their own unique perspective. You don’t even have to agree with your spouse to understand where he or she is coming from in life. Just realize their ideas and thoughts are as valid and important as yours!
What’s your role?
One of the best ways to lessen conflict in a relationship is for both people to really take a hard look at what their role is in that conflict. Are you the person that keeps picking at a conflict, or the person that has to have a resolution right now! A big problem that often keeps people from making an effort is that sometimes it’s really hard to admit that they are more likely than not partially at fault for the problems in their relationship. It really takes two to tango.
Really we are 100% responsible for our 50% of a relationship — let that sink in. We are 100% responsible for our 50% of a relationship.
Relationships at a fundamental level are really about how two people interact together on a daily basis. When things go sideways and conflicts happen…. people often feel emotionally hurt and put the blame on their partner, effectively dodging their own negative behaviours and their own weaknesses. For many, it’s easier to just blame our spouse than it is to accept that we may be imperfect or flawed in some way.
So to make a relationship work we need to really look beyond our own denial at ourselves and our own behaviours. The key to change isn’t about how wrong our partner is or about changing our partner and their behaviours —– it often really lies in examining and changing ourselves.
So I hope this blog has given you some tools to start exploring how to win your marriage conflict!