Raise your hand if you avoid conflict! We grew up being told “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” We watched sitcoms and dramas where the conflict was resolved in 30-60minutes, and we cut our teeth on Disney’s animated fairy tales, ending in, “And they lived happily ever after!”
No wonder we avoid conflict!
I got married thinking we would love and enjoy each other forever…and then reality hits!
For me, waking up to real married life meant dealing with socks on the floor, insensitive comments, work taking over our lives, my husband didn’t read my mind, and his idiosyncrasies I thought were cute, became rather annoying. We were not living happily ever after. Not by a long shot! But they don’t tell you about reality during ring shopping and wedding planning! After the “I Do’s” real life hits and developing a strong and loving relationship is hard work.
Every couple has issues, struggles, and conflicts; how we handle them can make all the difference in the health of our marriage relationship. In difficult or tense moments, we fear a less than positive outcome so we bite our tongue, swallow our words, and/or avoid addressing the issue entirely. While these tactics may offer some momentary calm, repeatedly avoiding conflict yields a giant mound of hurt feelings and misunderstandings swept under the carpet. We can pretend the mound doesn’t exist, but eventually we are tripping over it or avoiding interactions with our spouse all together.
Many couples falsely assume that “we never fight” is a sign of a strong marriage. In fact, avoiding conflict through distance, keeping the peace, and/or ignoring our feelings, erodes the foundation of our marriage relationship. The ability to discuss tough issues and reconcile differences helps us become more loving and connected in our marriages.
In moments of conflict we have a choice that sets in motion a dance we will do for years to come. When a couple learns and uses the Dance of Healthy Conflict, rather than the Dance of Avoidance, they actually improve their relationship and increase their odds of staying married long term.
The Dance of Healthy Conflict sounds a bit odd, not nearly as sexy as the Tango, as fun as the Charleston, or as romantic as a Waltz, but it’s an essential dance for couples. Healthy conflict enables couples to share their struggles, complaints, disappointments, and hurts in a way that creates greater understanding and ultimately closeness. Of course, this may not happen instantly; but it is an inevitable byproduct.
Dancing is the perfect analogy because dancing takes two people learning together, making mistakes together, trying again, being patient, encouraging and persevering together to master a dance. Relationships and healthy conflict are similar, as they too require skill, practice, patience, perseverance, and understanding.
The first and most important step in the Dance of Healthy is to develop good communication skills, which are essential in every relationship, and foundational for a good marriage. Communication skills training should be a prerequisite for all couples, or at least a bonus gift when buying a ring!
Three tips for developing good communication skills are: Pause and Pay Attention, Practice Reflective Listening, Use “I feel” statements rather than “you did/didn’t” statements when expressing your thoughts and feelings. While I teach these skills in depth at my Communication Workshops, here are a few ways to start using them now.
When your spouse is sharing their thoughts and feelings, rather than thinking about your response, or defensive rebuttal, Pause and Pay Attention to what they are communicating both verbally and nonverbally. Then Practice Reflective Listening by repeating what you heard them saying, then ask if you understood them correctly. If they say, “Yes!”, then move forward with your response. If they say, “No.” then ask them to share again. Repeat this process until they feel heard and understood!
Finally, use “I feel” statements rather than “you did/didn’t” statements when expressing your thoughts and feelings. We tend to do the opposite when we are hurt or disappointed, attacking and blaming instead of sharing. “I feel hurt when you are checking your phone during dinner.” is far more effective than, “You are always on your phone when we are together.”
We don’t begin our marriages thinking this wonderful person- the love of our life-will ever annoy, disappoint, or infuriate us. But it happens to every couple – if they are honest. We must chose to do the Dance of Healthy Conflict in order to have a strong marriage, so we can not only address the difficulties, but grow closer to our spouse through the process. So the next time conflict arises, take your spouse’s hand and ask, “Shall we dance?” and continue perfecting your steps together.
Susie Miller, is an Author, Coach and Speaker, dedicated to helping you create better personal and professional relationships in 30 days or less! Susie equips high potential entrepreneurs and executives to reduce stress, improve communication, and most importantly, not bankrupt their relationships in pursuit of profits – so they truly can Maximize their Success!
Susie has been featured in Forbes, Fox News, Entrepreneur, The Good Men Project, SUCCESS media, and more. She is the bestselling author of Listen, Learn, Love: How to Dramatically Improve Your Relationships in 30 Days or Less! Susie has been married to John for 32 years, and they have 3 adult children.
Originally published: Farmington Daily Times 10/18/15