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Conflict resolution is the ability to be satisfied with what is within your control. That sounds simple enough, but it’s not necessarily easy. It implies that finding a solution requires knowing what you can control and what you can’t.
Do you know what you are entitled to? To be entitled is to be empowered to accomplish or obtain something. If you are entitled, you are authorized and you are in control. Unfortunately, for too many people, this creates the idea that they can demand certain activities from their spouses as if marriage comes with enforceable guarantees.
However, just because something is supposed to happen in marriage, doesn’t entitle anyone to demand that it happens. You could make demands, but if you can’t control your spouse (and you can’t or at least you shouldn’t be able to), what does this accomplish? Making a demand is prideful while making a request is humble and doesn’t rule out exercising your boundaries (controlling what you can control).
Here are 5 concepts to help you resolve conflict without overstepping your bounds:
Conflict Resolution Concept #1: Be Responsible for your Happiness
Each person is 100% responsible for their own emotions/happiness. If you aren’t happy, don’t blame your spouse. God expects us to find a way to be content even when other people are not cooperating.
If you are feeling anxious, angry, or sad, those are your emotions. They say something about you. You are empowered to take action to manage your feelings. If you make your happiness dependent on someone else’s behavior, you might never be happy again.
Conflict Resolution Concept #2: Clean Up Past Hurts
It’s an essential skill to be able to bring up hurts from the past, or whatever is bothering you, so you can discuss it and resolve it as a couple. When you solve a puzzle, it is finished. You can put it behind you and move on to the next challenge. If you don’t find a solution, you’ll be stuck or limited to what happened in the past.
Cleaning up the past is different than blame-shifting today’s problems onto your spouse. Resolving present-day conflict often requires looking into the past to see the larger scope of the problem. It’s like making sure you have all the pieces of a puzzle before you start working on it.
Conflict Resolution Concept #3: Find Balance with Multiple Options
Find an appropriate balance between the urgency to work through your concerns and the acceptance of your spouse. Everyone needs grace for their spiritual journey.
You should spend a percentage (for example 50%) of your time working on conflict resolution and the rest on having fun together. You should spend a percentage (for example 70%) of your time together and the rest on individual pursuits.
Conflict Resolution Concept #4: Be Clear About What You Want
Speak clearly (directly if necessary) about what is going on with you and what you want. Don’t expect your spouse to know what you need or want (read your mind).
Communication is hard work. It’s okay if it takes time to put into words what you are experiencing. See if you can say what is on your heart in a way you’ve never done before. Use different words to explain how you are doing. You might learn something about yourself in the process.
Conflict Resolution Concept #5: Keep at Least One Listener in your Conversation
Watch out for the trap of two people needing to be heard at the same time with no listeners present. This will mean taking turns speaking and listening without defensiveness (turning the focus back to you). Listening doesn’t count if you spend your time speaking about your perspective. Your spouse isn’t usually interested in your perspective when they are trying to share theirs. They want to know if you understand their perspective.
Anything less than one listener results in wasted effort at best and complete chaos (fuel for conflict) at worst.
I hope these concepts help you with your conflict resolution. What struggles are you having that seem unsolvable? Let me know. Remember to make sure you have all the pieces of the puzzle before you become too discouraged or frustrated. If you need someone to help you find all the pieces and where they go, there’s marriage counseling for that.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.