Conflict in the family: Couples perspective

June 15th, 2011 @   -  No Comments

Conflict is inevitable. People rarely agree on everything. Even the Prophet (PBUH) had conflict with his wives. However, the frequency and intensity of conflict in a family can vary. In addition, the way the conflict is handled makes the difference between a happy marriage and distressed one.

Preventing conflict:

Good communication is one of the best ways to prevent conflict before it occurs. Communicate clearly from the beginning what you need from your spouse so that s/he knows what they need to do. Your spouse may not be fulfilling one of your needs because they are unaware of it, while you may be thinking that s/he just doesn’t care. When you are communicating, avoid hurtful ways of expressing your dissatisfaction. Create a game plan for handling conflict.  At an early stage in the marriage, preferably even before getting married, couples should discuss what makes them angry.

Be honest about it, because it will come out sooner or later. Once you know what makes your spouse angry, you can try to avoid it. Even if you have been married for 10 years, you can still have this conversation with your spouse. Couples should also discuss how they would handle conflict when it occurs and what their preferences are. Someone may like to be alone for a while before they discuss the situation in order to cool off, while another person may like to talk about it right away. Couples should figure out together how they will handle it. But this should be agreed upon before the conflict occurs, not during an argument. For example, “we will only discuss it when we both calm down. Let’s cool off for an hour and come back here and discuss it”. Do not let your dislike for something fester until it becomes a big problem. Some newlyweds avoid pointing to their spouse something that displeases them because they want to avoid conflict. But what ends up happening is the displeased spouse becomes less and less satisfied over time and may build resentment which can blow up one day. The other spouse may not have any clue that his wife or her husband does not like what s/he is doing. But if this was addressed in a calm way the first time it happened, the offending spouse may stop the disliked behavior and resentment will not build up and conflict can be prevented.

Resolving Conflict:

Listen: Try to understand the other person’s perspective. While your spouse is explaining why s/he is angry, do not try to think of a counter-argument to defend yourself. Just listen to what s/he has to say.

Try to paraphrase to your spouse what s/he just said in order to demonstrate that you have been listening and to make sure that you have understood the matter at hand correctly. Sometimes just showing your spouse that you have listened helps diffuse the situation.

Remain quiet, this does not mean the silent treatment; it just means that sometimes your spouse needs to vent their frustration or anger. If you just listen attentively, you may find that your spouse is calming down and will even apologize for yelling, even if it was your fault! Before pointing out your spouse’s role in the conflict ask yourself, how am I contributing to this negative situation? Always discuss the situation. Many people avoid these discussions and the conflict never gets resolved. Resentment builds up between the couples and negative feelings remain which is just breeding ground for further conflict.

Reach a compromise, a healthy marriage is full of compromises and sacrifices. You may have to sacrifice at one point and your spouse will sacrifice another time. If you find yourself fighting about the same issue numerous times, try to find out what the issue is really about and try to resolve it once and for all. If you cannot do this on your own, elicit the help of someone you trust or a professional.  Maintain some positivity, even during the conflict, by being kind and not too harsh.

Avoid expressing contempt. Avoid accusatory talk (e.g you’re so selfish) or generalization (e.g you never do…) After the conflict has been resolved: Forgive, apologize, and forget.  If you were wrong don’t be afraid to admit your mistake. There should be no pride between spouses. “We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, but for just ends. And the Hour is surely coming (when this will be manifest). So overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness” (15:85). How long do you want to hold on to your anger? It only makes you unhappy and it will not allow you to make progress in your marriage.  Research has shown that people who keep ruminate negative incidents in their heads are less likely to be happy. This is something women are more likely to do than men. Observe yourself and whether you engage in this behavior and replace the images with positive memories instead. It will help elevate your mood, view your spouse in a more positive light and it will reduce the chances of further conflict.

Learn from the situation so it does not occur again. Discuss the situation, what made you angry, which needs did you feel were being neglected and how you can ensure this does not happen again. Sometimes relationships grow after a conflict because the spouses end up learning more about each other. But if you don’t talk about it, you will only grow apart from each other. If you have developed a plan stick to it, otherwise you will have the same fight again when you can be doing much more pleasant things together.

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