When Mark and Kayla first came to my office for couples counseling, they were both skeptical that they would be able to work things out. Both in their late 30’s, with two young children, they argued frequently and often issued ultimatums and felt they were on the brink of divorce.
Kayla identified having trust issues that led to arguments over safety and security. This was especially the case when they were out socially when Kayla felt more insecure because Mark was friendly and talked to other women.
Kayla explains, “80% of the time I trust Mark and believe he wants the best for me and the other 20% is not something I can blame him for. He’s not trying to hurt me on purpose when he comes home late or forgets to text me. I have anxiety which makes trusting him a challenge but I’m learning to deal with his outgoing nature and accept that he likes to interact with all kinds of people at parties and work events.”
When Kayla and Mark are able to be vulnerable and discuss concerns that arise with each other in a timely and respectful way, they’re becoming better at repair skills. If they embrace the notion that conflict is an inevitable part of an intimate relationship, and that not all problems have to be resolved, they will bounce back from disagreements faster and build a successful long-lasting relationship.
Kayla reflects: “I had a fear of conflict growing up because my parents used to argue loudly and threaten to break up. When I was 16, they finally did but a lot of damage was done. I definitely have trust issues. At least I trust that Michael is willing to deal with things without leaving. Our arguments always end quickly. I’m the one that tends to hold a grudge but I’m learning to let go of resentment toward Mark.”
According to author Marcia Naomi Berger, many couples believe that if a marriage is healthy, all issues get resolved because they should be successful at repairing disputes. She writes: “Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it’s the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.” Berger’s view is that differences between partners can make a marriage stronger. In fact, she advises couples to learn to live with unsolvable differences in their relationship as long as they aren’t deal breakers.
For instance, some problems in a relationship never get resolved because both people dig their heels in and are unable to listen to each other. As a result, partners are unable to get their point across. This is one of the reasons why Dr. Gottman’s research finds that 69% of problems in a marriage do not get resolved, but they can be managed successfully if couples have repair skills.
Most of the time, couples who have a commitment to each other can work on trying to repair conflicts. The key is acceptance of one another and a willingness to understand that we are not carbon copies of one another and so see the world through different lenses. A recovery conversation means being able to take a break when you get flooded or very aggravated at your partner, and agreeing to process what happened later when you are both calm.
Fortunately, as Mark and Kayla continued in couples counseling, they were able to come to terms with the fact that in a good marriage, constructive conflicts can clear the air and actually lead to more intimacy. They realized that if they didn’t issue ultimatums and made a commitment to love and honor each other in spite of their flaws, they could improve their communication and feel more satisfied with their marriage. Instead of pushing each other to change, they began accepting and loving each other.
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I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry