The golden rule of conflict resolution in a marriage is to treat your spouse as your beloved. This means that you need to take care of prioritizing their needs in your life. Of course, this goes both ways. Therefore, despite temptations, one should not prioritize one's own needs above those of one's partner. Yes, we can relate more to our own needs than to anyone else's, but a marriage builds through giving. Why is that? Because love is a product of giving. What a couple needs is for both partners to be emotionally mature and to compromise. Here is a wonderful goal statement: "I don't want you fulfilling all of my desires, unless I fulfill yours, too."
Nonetheless, since people do struggle with their own selfish interests, here are 2 approaches to help a couple build up to being more giving:
Taking turns: Let’s say that he wants to go see a certain movie. She wants to see another movie. Since these choices are of approximately equal value, they can decide to take turns. However, if the same partner chose the last two movies they went to, perhaps it is time for the other partner to make the selection. Common sense applies here to a great degree. If one partner enjoys horror films and the other one won't be able to sleep for a week if they see one, then it would be selfish to insist that one's partner do something that is damaging. Whereas if one enjoys romantic comedies and the other is not the biggest fan of this genre, the invitee can stretch a little.
Prioritizing the couple: What if the following situation is taking place? He wants to visit his ailing mother who could benefit from some TLC. She would like to spend a quiet evening alone together. In such a case, more communication might be very helpful. Why? At first glance, it would be easy to conclude that she is being selfish. But what if the situation is not so simple? Let’s say that she doesn’t like his mother and his mother's behavior with his wife warrants the dislike. He counters that there is a lot of value to be placed in honoring one’s parents. Is his mother really so terrible? Perhaps, for his wife, the answer is, "yes."
Before the husband becomes angry with his wife, he should do both himself and his wife a favor and consider his wife's perspective. Maybe the wise wife also realizes that their marriage could really use some nice alone time. Even though her husband does not perceive this need, she does. Furthermore, maybe the husband has siblings who could visit his mother? By this point, we may realize that it is not possible to make an appropriate decision without openly communicating the reasoning behind our needs and wants. And how we communicate makes all the difference: be respectful, listen carefully what your partner has to say, share your love for each other throughout the process.
Simply put, we can’t supply all of our partner’s needs. Family, friends, hobbies, etc. are very important and definitely play a role in a marriage. But each spouse needs to be careful not to want their partner to fulfill what should primarily be their responsibility. For instance, the husband has the greater obligation to honor his own mother and he must do so without compromising honoring his wife, his first duty in marriage. Sometimes they will visit his mother together, sometimes he'll go on his own and sometimes he'll take a raincheck to spend quality time with his wife.
Ultimately, both husband and wife must put the needs of their marriage, a strong, committed, lifelong joint venture, before their own individual wants and desires. If their marriage and personal needs can be satisfied at the same time, wonderful. If not, the greater goal of a satisfying relationship should take precedence.
Patience, understanding and optimism are essential to positive conflict resolution. Let’s take another example. A husband really wants to be sexually intimate with his wife. She wants to reciprocate. However, owing to a recent flare-up of her fibromyalgia, she is in too much discomfort to make love. If he tries to get his way, she will end up feeling unloved and unappreciated: “Doesn’t he care how much discomfort I feel?” If they just wait, then he may think, “Doesn’t she appreciate how difficult this is on me and my ability to be loving and affectionate?”
There are situations such as these where a couple has to prioritize. If there is a way that they can engage in agreeably discomfort-free lovemaking, great. Perhaps they can modify to what, when, where and how of making love. Otherwise, it is better for them to wait. When her flare-up subsides, his patience, compassion and understanding will only have added to the love she feels for him, enhancing the joy they both feel when they're more physically intimate.
Your best conflict plan of action:
- be respectful of your beloved,
- be mature and take turns meeting one partner's then the other's needs,
- and be dedicated to prioritizing your marriage for long-term happiness and success.
How have you and your spouse typically resolved conflicts? Do you have helpful suggestions to share so others can benefit, too? What's your number one step to solving conflicts positively?