Christian Counselor Seattle
Conflict is unavoidable. How we deal with each other in conflict could be the deciding factor in whether the relationship survives. We have all experienced or witnessed some level of rupture in relationships.
Many view conflict as an opportunity to “win” the argument or to be deemed “right.” The true opportunity of conflict, however, is to better understand the other person and ourselves. If we can learn to resolve conflict well, our relationships can actually thrive.
No relationship is without its faults. Considering that two people from quite different backgrounds and personalities are residing together, one should not be shocked by moments of disagreement and strife. For this reason, pre-marital counseling is advised so that couples get into marriage with somewhat realistic expectations.
Through this type of counseling, they are equipped with tools and techniques to use when conflict arises. However, few couples have an opportunity to do pre-marital counseling, and, having done counseling does not inoculate a couple from the common communication pitfalls that lead to conflict. A relationship is a continuous process of becoming and needs attention and understanding.
Communication in marriage is the backbone. No marriage can survive without effective communication. The work of couples Therapist and Researcher, Dr. John Gottman backs this notion. Using his research results from a twenty-year study of over three thousand couples, he concluded that how a couple communicates in moments of conflict can predict with 90% accuracy if the marriage will thrive, struggle or end.
Part of this article will look at his findings on what he termed The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, referring to Revelation 6:1-8 which talks about conquest, war, famine, and death. These were to signal the end times. Using this analogy, Dr. Gottman identifies criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to predict the “end times” of a marriage.
If these are present in the way a couple manages conflict, they will likely destroy the marriage over time. Therefore, it makes good sense to pay attention to how we relate to each other in conflict, reminding ourselves that the goal is to gain understanding, not to destroy the other person or the marriage.
Four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
This is when a person’s character is attacked. It is not that they did something bad but that they are bad. It is characterized by a way of complaining that lays the blame sorely on how flawed one’s partner is. Cutting one’s partner down is not helpful in resolving conflict. In fact, it makes the other person feel unsafe to be who they are. Criticism also paves the way for another horseman – contempt, which is an escalation that is hard to come back from.Antidote: Gentle Start Up
For a couple to move away from this type of destructive way of communication, the distressed one needs to learn to start talking about themselves, their feelings, and their unmet needs so that their partner does not feel attacked. Then, the partner may be able to actually hear the complaint and understand the impact on the other.
Defensiveness is a common response to criticism. When a person is being defensive, they respond in a way that does not accept blame or take responsibility. They do this either by meeting a complaint with a counter-complaint or playing the innocent victim. Nothing is ever their fault. Perceived criticism is what causes people to be defensive.
Antidote: Take Responsibility
The person that responds defensively most times needs to work on taking responsibility and owning up to their part in the conflict when things are not going well. Maybe they have been rigid in their thinking or unyielding. Is there any way to own that rigidity and instead, lighten up a bit to honor the other partner?
This is communication coming from a place of superiority and/or self-righteousness. The partner is mean and speaks in a belittling, disrespectful, and insensitive way. This leaves the listener feeling worthless and disempowered. This has been said to be the greatest predictor of divorce in couples. By the time contempt or disdain becomes present, there has been a long history of resentment.
Antidote: Appreciation and Respect
Working through contempt in a couple can be hard but it’s possible. The aim is to try and teach the contemptuous spouse to live in a culture of appreciation and positive regard. Amid all that’s wrong, working through relationship repair will require having positive regard for the other, recognizing their good heart, and expressing gratitude for it regularly.
Stonewalling.When someone is stonewalling, they withdraw from the conflict altogether. Instead of confronting the issue, they tune out and disengage. They can ignore you completely, use the silent treatment, or be preoccupied. Oftentimes, stonewalling is a response to contempt. The stonewaller may feel flooded or overwhelmed and therefore, unable to continue the communication in a positive way.
Antidote: Physiological Self-Soothing
Getting out of this distracting pattern will require the person to be in tune with themselves enough to recognize when they need a break from the conversation. Taking a 20-minute break to stretch or walk outside can help the partner clear their mind and restart in a positive way.
Seeking professional help for conflict in marriage.
Sometimes we are not aware of how our communication might be hurting our marriage. We also acknowledge that being educated might not be enough and this is when a couple will consider seeking professional help. Going for couples counseling is not necessarily an indication that things are going badly, but can also be a way that couples can be better prepared. They can assess their relationship and make necessary adjustments.
Why seek couples counseling for conflict in marriage?
A therapist can act as a neutral party.
A therapist becomes someone unbiased who can help the couple feel safe enough to share. This is unlike going to someone the couple knows. There is comfort in talking to a stranger when you don’t feel the pressure of putting your best foot forward.
Seeking help from professionals who share Christian understanding can help navigate some therapeutic concepts from a biblical point of view. Although the referenced Gottman Research is based on research and not any religious ideology, a Christian Therapist can work through its methodology using biblical principles.
You get help in understanding your partner.
A therapist can help a couple listen to each other and fully understand in a way that brings understanding and empathy.
A therapist is trained to identify maladaptive behaviors.
Sometimes when there is a conflict it is hard for those involved to recognize their own behaviors. A therapist has the training to help point out those behaviors mid-conflict.
A couple is given tools and techniques to deal with their problem.
A couple can find comfort in knowing that there are tools and techniques they can use to save and improve their relationship. After futile attempts at resolving issues on their own, a couple be invigorated and given hope by practical application of these tools and techniques.
Comfort in numbers.
There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone, that you are not the only couple that is struggling in this way. In Therapy, you will get to be informed of how couples in similar situations triumphed and that can be very encouraging, especially for those couples that come to therapy as their last resort.
A therapist can help you save your relationship.
Sometimes therapy is the last hope a couple has. Giving yourself this opportunity to gain experience and seek advice before giving up can be the saving grace your relationship needs. A therapist is trained to help you navigate the difficult conversations that at times you have not been able to have as a couple.
A therapist can help you make informed decisions.
Sometimes couples therapy serves to help victims leave toxic and abusive marriages. This is unfortunately the reality of the world we live in. Because of years of abuse, some victims need therapy to help validate and understand their abusive situations. This will in turn give them hope, and knowing that they will have support along the way gives strength for the future no matter how hard it becomes.
There is hope for couples that are going through seasons of conflict. God our Father through the working of The Holy Spirit helps us in times of weakness. Marriage is an institution that teaches us forgiveness and grace. We can choose loving ways of communicating with our loved ones, and when situations are hard; seek guidance from others.
If, after reading this article, you feel you need help in resolving conflict in marriage or guidance on how to develop healthy communication patterns, do not hesitate to contact me or one of the other trained Christian marriage therapists in the online counselor directory to help you navigate your challenges.
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