Tag Archives: conflict in marriage

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.

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.

Materialistic Marriages are Unhappier, say Researchers

No matter what your income level is, if you love money and the pursuit and accumulation of goods, your marriage will be less happy and less stable. In addition, if your spouse shares these interests, you may be doubly hit, say researchers.

They originally theorized that couples with one saver and one spender might be most at risk, because of the amount of conflict the difference in behavior can cause. However, researchers found that two spenders further dooms a relationship. When both spouses have high levels of materialism, the marriages struggle the most. (As my husband most aptly puts it, these couples argue about how broke they are.)

Researcher Jason Carroll, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University conducted online questionnaires with 1,734 married couples and used a commonly used relationship assessment tool. The couples answered questions about marital satisfaction, conflict and communication. They also rated their agreement with the sentence, “Having money and lots of things has never been important to me.” Those who agreed with the phrase were deemed non-materialistic, and those who disagreed were categorized as materialistic.

Among couples who had at least one materialistic spouse (either the husband or the wife), their marriages were worse off on all measures as compared to couples in which neither was materialistic. Couples who were deemed non-materialistic had 10 to 15 percent higher responses in terms of marital satisfaction and stability, and lower levels of conflict. On the flip side, when couples shared the value of materialism, it compounded problems.

While the study didn’t get to the bottom of why this correlation occurs, Carroll reports two theories. First, materialism leads to poor financial decisions, resulting in debt and higher stress levels. Second, materialistic individuals spend less time nurturing their relationships with people and more time acquiring things, while non-materialistic people place a higher priority on relationships.

I think both theories sound very reasonable. Do you agree with either of these theories, or do you think another reason could be attributed to the link?

Carroll suggests couples take an inventory of their values and determine what is really important to them, then ask if their ambitions for certain things may be getting in the way of what they say is important. While couples think they can pursue things and relationships, “they may not realize how much their ambitions are hurting their loved ones,” says Carroll.

So, are you a spender or a saver? Is your spouse a spender or a saver? If either one of you is a spender, it may be time to have a chat about your values and priorities.

For details, read Love of Money May Mess Up Your  Marriage.

Read Smart Ways to Keep Your Marriage Healthy, from CNN.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Conflict Levels Mostly Unchanged During Marriage

The amount of conflict you have in your marriage today is not likely to change during the course of your marriage, says a brand new study that followed 1,000 couples over 20 years. This level of stability is positive for the 16 percent of couples who have low levels of conflict, and perhaps not bad news for the 60 percent of couples who have moderate levels of conflict. However, 22 percent of couples had high conflict levels, with lots of fighting and arguing, and that wasn’t likely to change over the years.

Claire Kamp Dush, assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University was the lead author of the study. “There wasn’t much change in conflict over time,” she said.

Many of the couples were interviewed five times during the duration of the study from 1980 to 2000. Conflict was measured based on how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse.

Learn to make decisions jointly

One tip learned from the low-conflict couples is that they were more likely than the moderate- or high-conflict couples to say they shared decision-making with their spouses. “That’s interesting because you might think that making decisions jointly would create more opportunities for conflict, but that’s not what we found,” said Kamp Dush.  “It may be that if both spouses have a say in decision making, they are more satisfied with their relationship and less likely to fight.”

Researchers also found the low-conflict couples were more likely than others to say they believed in traditional, lifelong marriage. Because of this belief, they may be more apt to let disagreements go, say researchers.

The healthiest marriage types were those in which spouses validated one another, were engaged with one another and were happy. About 54 percent of couples had lower conflict levels, equal decision making and high and middle levels of conflict. They had low levels of divorce.

Less healthy types were those who were in avoider marriages; 6 percent of couples studied included this type in which husbands were not involved in housework. They had traditional gender roles, and avoided conflict because of their belief in lifelong marriage. And 20 percent were in volatile marriages. Those in hostile marriages were most likely to divorce.  For more details on the study, read the article provided by Ohio State University at PhysOrg.com.

If your marriage has high levels of conflict or hostility, you may need professional help to change these patterns, which are clearly very difficult to break.

Photo courtesty of PhotoXpress.com

Low Conflict Does Not Equate with Great Long-Term Marriage

A three-year study completed at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated 156 newly married couples regarding their conflict levels and marital happiness. They were followed for three years to determine whether low-conflict marriages were the happiest. The answer: yes in the short-term and no in the long-term.

At the beginning of the study, when the couples were still newlyweds, they did indeed equate a happy marriage with low levels of conflict. In other words, couples who argued less were happier. However, after three years, things changed. Those who argued a lot early on reported large increases in marital satisfaction after three years, as they had resolved many of their differences.

On the other hand, many of the couples who had little conflict at the beginning of their marriage missed opportunities to cultivate and grow their relationship. Their desire to avoid conflict kept them from working out problems and reduced their marital satisfaction level, say researchers.

A Times of India article about the study concluded that “disillusionment in the early part of the relationship was a powerful predictor of divorce.”

The well-known recommendation by research John Gottman, PhD, advocating five positive interactions for everyone negative interaction comes to mind. The so-called 5:1 ratio is not only about staying positive with your spouse. It’s also about using the one negative interaction as an opportunity to discuss, negotiate or work through areas that are problematic for the couple—in hopes of moving forward and having more satisfied partners.

Are you using your conflicts in a productive manner, approaching them gently in hopes of moving forward in the relationship? Are you balancing them with plenty of positive interactions?

Photo: ©Mykola Velychko/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

Do You Have Boundaries for Fighting Fair?

Every marriage experiences some sort of conflict. We all differ in how we handle it. In some marriages, one person is aggressive, while the other is passive. In other relationships, both spouses do their best to avoid conflict, but they never address the underlying cause of arguments, instead merely sweep them under the rug.

For those who fight it out, or talk it out, or work it out, it helps to have a list of boundaries that are agreed upon ahead of time. Ideally, this list would be created early in a marriage, but if you don’t have one yet, use your personal history to guide you.

The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick recommends agreed-upon boundaries to prevent fracturing the relationship in a way you will regret when the heat of the argument cools off. When we are angry we can say very hurtful things, leaving a trail of pain and regret. The following are some of the book’s examples of boundaries both spouses might decide to follow:

1. We will never mention divorce.

2. We will not bring up old, unrelated items from the past.

3. We will never fight in public or in front of our children.

4. We will call a “time out” if conflict escalates to a damaging level.

5. We will never touch one another in a harmful way.

6. Failure is not an option. Whatever it takes, we will work this out.

The book also recommends creating your own personal list of to-dos, such as, “I will listen first before speaking,” or “I will keep my voice down when arguing.” At the end of a disagreement, you want to be healthier than you were before, not more splintered.

Some people need to be able to have time alone to think things through. For others, it’s important not to go to sleep angry. Decide what is helpful to you. Assess your relationship’s strengths and weaknesses as well as your own personalities. When have you become most angry with one another? Where might you need to agree on boundaries? Are there some areas you wish you had created boundaries?

When you need to reconnect after you have resolved a fight, consider the power of music.

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Connect with Your Love Through Music

Soledad O’Brien recently aired a series on CNN called Black in America, which touched on the decline in marriage for African-Americans and how to turn it around. A featured couple had become so caught up in parenting their teen girls (their #1 priority) and in their careers that they had lost the connection with one another. When they had a major conflict about their daughters, neither would budge. They were discussing divorce, and their daughters knew they were moving toward a separation, when they entered a short, intensive workshop for Black couples.

Rather than focus on “overcoming the conflict” the workshop aimed to help couples reconnect with what they love about one another and to help them realize and renew their commitment toward one another. That can be tough when two people have huge walls up and have obvious anger. You often hear words like this couple spoke, “I don’t want to live the next 30 years like this.”

One technique that was used to get back to the emotional connection that people in love share was the use of music. It’s a great idea that you could use to help reconnect with your spouse at any time. Looking for a new way to spice up date night? This could be fun.

Each spouse was to bring to the workshop the two songs that spoke to him/her about what they love about their partner or their relationship. Music speaks to us in such a different way than words do. There are the lyrics, of course, but songs evoke a feeling, and often a time and place. Hearing those special songs together can help break down some barriers, and even melt away some hostility.

During the show, for instance, the husband brought in a very sexy song that made everyone laugh, and it reminded him of the intimacy he enjoyed with his wife. The song his wife picked made the husband realize how much she really loved him. They smiled and embraced, a turning point in reconnecting. Of course we didn’t witness the entire workshop and how they were able to recommit their marriage, but this couple was in tears by the end, so grateful they had given their relationship another try. They started really listening to one another and were able to come to an agreement about their parenting conflict, once they realized they were mutually committed.

The point is that sometimes we focus too much on individual conflicts when we really need to put them aside so that they don’t eat away at the relationship. Devote much more time to having fun together, enjoying the things that brought you together in the first place. This couple’s other primary mistake was to put their daughters’ many activities above the priority of the marriage.

So, what song speaks to you about your love? Plan an evening in the near future with each of you sharing two songs that signify your love.