Tag Archives: conflict

Minimizing the Combat Zone in Your Marriage

man woman on beach morguefileWe all have our negative patterns in marriage that may be based on our personality tendencies and our common reactions to one another. I found a recent New York Times article that provided some helpful hints for avoiding the “combat zone” or at least minimizing it.

Counselors teach conflict resolution skills and better communication skills, because they know sometimes the way we react or even phrase something can make a big difference in the outcome of what can become a heated conversation. Conflict isn’t always to be avoided; in fact, it can help bring us closer when used appropriately. So, here are the tips from Bruce Feiler who wrote “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” for the NYT:

  1. Beware of the transitions in your day. The times when people are either coming or going are the source of the biggest fights within families, say researchers. For example, getting yourselves and/or your children ready to head out the door, or coming in after a long day of work, wondering what will be for dinner and who will be making it. These are the vulnerable times. The “most highly charged” time of day was between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. So, give one another a bit of space and time and don’t bring up difficult topics until things are calm.
  2. Sit at the same level, with the same posture. This is important, particularly if one partner tends to adopt a “power position” i.e. in a higher chair, standing over the other, or with laced fingertips behind the head and feet up. Higher positions create elevated testosterone, reduced cortisol and increased feelings of superiority.  On the flip side, sometimes a spouse adopts a frequent “lower position” i.e. slumped, slouched, or arms crossed. Instead, sit alongside your spouse in your discussions.
  3. Select your seating surface well. Researchers found when people sit on a soft, cushioned chair, they are more accommodating and generous, while those who sat on a hard wooden chair were more rigid and inflexible.
  4. Go to the balcony. When things begin to escalate, imagine in your mind that you are on a balcony overlooking your interaction, suggests Bill Ury, founder of a Harvard program on peace negotiations. From the “balcony” you can see the macro view, calm yourself down, and see alternatives that you might not see if you didn’t disengage. Often there are other alternatives you haven’t considered. “The goal is to expand the pie before dividing it,” says Ury.
  5. Keep it short. The most important points in an argument are found in the opening minutes. After that, it’s just repetition and escalation. So say what you need to say, then take a short break or walk to prevent the escalation.
  6. Avoid saying “you always” and “you never.” In fact, switch from “you” to “we” so that you don’t sound so accusatory.
  7. Say you’re sorry, and most importantly, take responsibility for your choices/actions, even if you aren’t feeling very sorry during the argument.

What tips do you have to keep your disagreements from creating divisions in your family?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

Top 15 Reasons Romantic Partners Fight

The following list from Science of Relationships shows the top sources of conflict in order of the most common themes. Only about 100 people were surveyed for the results, so it’s not a large sampling. However, I found several things interesting. For instance, being overly self-absorbed about your appearance causes more conflict than being disheveled in your appearance.  And being condescending is number one on the list, something you would think most romantic partners would be above. I was also surprised that being jealous, possessive or dependent ranked so high on the list at number two. Read the rest of the 15 hot-button conflict issues for couples here.

Keep in mind that the degree of conflict can vary greatly on the list. For example, not factoring in your partner’s feelings is a much smaller slight than being sexually aggressive or forceful. As you read the list, think about whether there are any areas in which you have been guilty or less than loving. If so, ask yourself what the underlying reasons for your behavior might be and how you can change and improve. Then, go to your spouse and ask for forgiveness along with sharing your decision to improve that behavior. Ask for their input. If your spouse needs some time to think about your actions before discussing it or forgiving you, try not to be defensive. Sometimes it takes longer to get over slights and emotional wounds than you think. Often, your loving actions will speak louder than your promises to do better.

I don’t advise you to use the list to point out all the ways in which your partner could be a better spouse. The most effective way to improve your relationship is to focus on what you can control–your own actions and responses. Be the spouse you would like to have. Act with love and respect. Even in cases where your spouse is in the wrong, you can address the situation in a loving manner and stand up for yourself. That means loving and respecting yourself, too.  

Do you feel as if you have good conflict management skills, or that conversations quickly turn into arguments, which get heated and don’t usually get resolved? Remember that conflict management and communication are easily learned skills that are taught both online and with skills trainers at retreats or with coaches/counselors. If conflict is bringing your relationship down, invest in learning these skills. One inexpensive place to learn relationship skills online while retaining your privacy and using as much or little time as you wish is PO2.com, or Power of Two Marriage. (I don’t receive any compensation for mentioning them, I merely think they offer an innovative service.) The organization provides entertaining videos and tips to help you practice and improve various skills.

Which areas of conflict are most frequent for you?  I noticed many of the commonly mentioned topics are not on the list, such as financial conflict and conflict having to do with extended family or friends. I was also surprised that chores/childcare/division of labor wasn’t on the list. Are these biggies for you?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Does Your Marriage Have Areas for Improvement?

If you are hoping to improve or even maintain your relationship in 2012, it may help to know what the major sources of conflict are. What do couples fight most about, and can you assess your personal behavior in these areas to ensure you are not contributing to that conflict?

The Science of Relationships provides the Top 15 Sources of Conflict in Relationships with a brief explanation of each that I think is very helpful. It includes everything from being inconsiderate to poor grooming. First, ask yourself what the most common conflict topics are in your relationship, then check the list. Be honest about an area in which you might be able to improve. This isn’t the time to blame your partner, but rather to look a way you might take some responsibility for a bit of self-improvement. Personally, I hope to improve my daily efforts toward generosity this year.

For some additional helpful reading, The Generous Husband’s Paul Byerly has done a good job dissecting The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2011—research completed by the National Marriage Project. This is the research I wrote about recently in which generosity in marriage is said to be the best indicator of a very happy marriage. There’s much more to the study. Paul explains the findings on Money and Housework, which show happier husbands and wives are part of couples for which household chores are shared equally. In addition, the study showed that financial pressure and debt decrease our marital happiness. No matter what our income, increased consumer debt is a hindrance to a happy marriage, particularly for women. He also reports on the impact of family and friends in marriage, which reminds us we should be connecting with those who support our marriage, and preferably spend time with others who have strong marriages. Finally, this is an interesting bit about the importance of shared faith within a marriage. If these reports are interesting to you, check out the full study results. (See link at beginning of paragraph.)

What area of your marriage could use some tweaking—or a complete overhaul—this coming year? Perhaps how you communicate, how you manage your finances, how you share your faith, how you share housework or raise your children, how you manage your time or your home, how you show affection, your sexual satisfaction with one another, making time to spend each day with each other? The options are nearly endless, but discuss one area with your partner in which you both will make an effort to improve, will seek out tools for improvement, and will provide honest and productive feedback with each other. If you have particular topics you would like more information about, please message me or leave it in the comments and I will provide expert insights and research-based tips for you.

For all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday this coming week, I wish you all the blessings and joy of the season. I hope for you a holiday with minimal stress and abounding love. And I wish peace and joy to all of you and to your families and friends. Thank you for allowing me into your lives.

NOTE:
My new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Nook or e-book. If you’ve already bought the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex-life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by Arvydas Kriuksta courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Bypass Your Conflict to Jumpstart Love Again

“My heart skipped a beat.” “My heart was racing.” These are the comments of someone experiencing excited new love or infatuation. But these feelings don’t compare with the strong, steady heartbeat of a stable, loving marriage.

What about spouses who fall out of love? Sometimes a couple loses all but a glimmer of hope and thinks it won’t be possible to work through a stalemate that is blocking all loving feelings. Yet, bypassing the hurt can often be a much better strategy than working “through” it.

My father had open heart surgery yesterday, following the urgent discovery of two badly placed blockages that closed 95% of two arteries.  His surgeon didn’t fix the arteries by clearing the blockage; instead, he stopped the heart, grafted a new vein around the blockage and restarted the heart. Through miracle of technology, divine intervention, or the good fortune of his 63-year-old genes, he was sitting up and talking this morning. The doctors said working through the blockages was not a successful strategy, but the workaround was a success.

Michele Weiner-Davis, a progressive marriage counselor and author of the very popular book Divorce Busting, explains this “bypass” strategy in her book and in various writings. Whereas some therapists, especially in decades past, focus on a couples’ hurts and the deeply rooted causes and effects of negative behaviors, Weiner-Davis advocates a couple change strategies entirely to focus on a time when they were happier and on behaviors that they know in the past made their spouse happier.

For example, a wife might recall that in their newlywed years they took off for fun weekend excursions, so she might plan a similar getaway to reconnect. A husband might recall how much his wife appreciated it when he paid her more attention and was a more active father. Then, he might choose to adopt those behaviors and not focus on a conflict they were having or a negative trait he sees in his wife. Soon, the feelings are following their actions.

The sad fact is many conflicts we have with our spouse will NEVER be solved. (That’s true of all marriages.) But if your marriage is 95% blocked and you see no way out, find a work-around; don’t throw in the towel. If your life were on the line, you’d find a skilled surgeon. You’d take risks. You’d try experimental treatments. You might even change your lifestyle.

You can indeed restart the loving feelings if you reach down to locate the fond memories and experiences of your past, and use them to graft a bypass around your problem.

I’m celebrating my 15-year anniversary today (happy anniversary, sweetie!) to a guy who isn’t perfect, but he’s pretty close. We have, of course, had our problems and frustrations. But I have such a wellspring of positive experiences with him from which to draw upon.

I can cause myself to have more positive feelings toward him when recall the great days—strolling through Paris, exploring wine country, dancing with our children, celebrating in Vegas—than when I think about our struggles or his perceived faults. In actuality, thinking of these positive times makes my heart skip a beat.

If you’re having a rough time or a difficult conflict with your spouse, change strategies and work on a bypass. Have you ever tried this? If so, was it successful or not?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Read This if You EVER Have Conflict in Your Marriage

Well, that should be all of you, then, because we ALL have conflict in our relationships. (If you don’t, that’s also a problem. Read Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio.) And hopefully we have learned that not all conflict is bad, because it can help us improve situations where one or both of us isn’t feeling satisfied. Conflict helps us clear the air. That being said, conflict in marriage sometimes really stinks. We can’t wait to get over it, and we know we can’t always avoid it.

Let’s assume you aren’t expecting too much of your spouse, and realize your spouse can’t meet all your needs. You’ve already tried the four no-talking tools to boost your relationship. But you continue to quarrel. Here’s another idea to try during a disagreement. The suggestion is followed by some strong relationship research reminders thanks to all those love doctors out there.

The first tip is from personal experience. There are times when talking things out just get too heated, or you don’t feel like you are expressing yourself in the way you mean to. Or your spouse keeps interrupting to give his/her side (that’s a no-no, folks). Anyway, I’ve found typing out an email expressing my feelings or frustrations is sometimes easier than speaking them. (I’ve also written notes, but typing is faster for me.) I can read them to make sure I’m saying what I mean and using “I” language rather than accusatory “you” language. Then my spouse has time to think before responding, to consider my feelings and either email back or talk to me about it. Usually after a few emails back and forth, we have come to an agreement or at least have acknowledged where each of us is coming from. I wouldn’t recommend texting for the same purpose, because we  don’t think long enough before sending texts, and they are written for speed more than for clarity of communication. Even if you want to have the discussion in person, it may help you to jot down your key points or concerns.

Whether you are writing or speaking about an area of conflict, remember that how you begin a fight determines whether it’s harmful or productive. Choose the right time and place, and plan your opening statement carefully.

Even if you are not at a crisis stage right now, think about how you would react in a crisis. Remain calm and try to keep the balance of power in your relationship on even terms (more on this in a later post).

Finally, remember that listening will get you much further than talking. With the right listening skills, you can learn to reach your spouse on any topic. Read 10 Great Tips to Get Through to Your Spouse for some insightful strategies to reach out to children, friends or marriage partners.

Have you ever worked through a conflict by writing down your concerns? Did it work well or fail? Do you have any other useful conflict management strategies to share?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

How You Begin a Fight Determines Whether It’s Harmful or Productive

“I’m feeling overwhelmed and need your help in figuring out the kids’ schedules and activities on the weekends.”  Versus:

“All you think about is yourself. Does it never occur to you that I might need some help with the kids or time to myself?”

Both of these comments address the same problem, but the approach is very different. Author Tara Parker-Pope in her book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, suggests how you bring up a problem is paramount. Your choice to begin with a complaint or a criticism will determine if it becomes a productive fight or a harmful fight. Of course, the second comment puts your partner on the defensive rather than in problem-solving mode. Criticism isn’t helpful in addressing problems or concerns, while stating your needs clearly can help you both come up with solutions.

Parker-Pope is a New York Times health reporter who presents researchers’ findings rather than investigating them on her own. For instance, she discusses Dr. John Gottman’s recommended 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments, and she summarizes the study that suggests the happier wives are about the division of labor in their homes, the happier their husbands are with their sex lives.

The next time you have a concern you want to address with your spouse, think carefully about the timing of your discussion as well as how you bring it up. Find a non-confrontational way to broach the subject with the goal of discussing solutions or sharing your feelings.

Have you or your spouse recently been frustrated enough to blurt out a criticism that ended up causing a fight? Did it cause you to dig in your heels rather than seek compromise?

How to Avoid a Common Pitfall of Unhappy Marriages

What are your goals? If you are like most people, you initially think of your personal goals—work, hobbies, spiritual, etc. A few people view themselves first as a part of a family or couple, so they initially think about things they want to do with their spouse/family. While of course married men and women should maintain individuality, there are some particular times in life when it is especially important to view yourself as part of a team, rather than as an individual goal-seeker. Times of transition or crisis are two such examples.

Marriage and family researcher John Gottman, PhD, studied couples transitioning to parenthood; some had a more difficult adjustment and others fared better. He found that when as new parents, husbands and wives were able to move from a “state of me-ness” to a state of “we-ness,” whereby they sacrificed for the team, they were able to make a successful adjustment.

You may also know some marriages (or maybe even yours), that tend to have a fair amount of conflict. These couples may disagree about how to spend time or money, how to parent, etc. They view one another as being on opposite sides of a tennis net, hitting those issues back and forth, over and over. One couple I interviewed from California said they felt like they were on a long path heading in different directions. After a difficult reconciliation, they felt like they were climbing a steep mountain—but they were doing it together. Eventually, they felt they reached the top. Essentially, they figured out how to become part of the same team, although the struggles of the world did not disappear.

Another couple I interviewed recently was absolutely devastated at the death of their infant child. Their marriage became severely fractured when they were unable to see themselves as part of a couple, but rather saw themselves as individually experiencing such deep sorrow and pain in their own unique ways that they were unable to connect with one another. After a series of events, they finally began grieving together and slowly began to heal and grow in their relationship.

It is not always simple to make this change to move to the same side of the net. Often, a counselor, pastor or mentor can help. I detail in my book on how these couples achieved this successful transition after overcoming some extreme obstacles. However, even in everyday life, it can be challenging to view issues and opportunities as a couple. Did you both agree on where you took your last vacation, or how you celebrate the holidays? If your family has one breadwinner, do you discuss job changes, promotions and relocations before making decisions? If you are parents, do you make parenting decisions privately, then present them with unity?

I enjoy watching my young kids play soccer. Frequently, I see two teammates struggling with each other for the ball, when an opponent is not near them. You often hear the coach yell, “Same team!” I think it’s the same for marriage: If we spend all our time struggling with one another, when the real opponents come around (and they will come), we won’t have a fighting chance. Do you feel like you’re on the same team, or do you need a coach to help create unity?