| Can a Great Marriage Have Ongoing Conflicts?
Did you know even great marriages have conflicts that don’t get solved, in fact 69 percent of the kinds of "irreconcilable differences," which actually exist in any marriage, linger on and on?
The good news is that many differences can be managed. Marriage and relationship expert, John Gottman, PhD, states that couples can live with unresolvable conflicts about perpetual issues in their relationship if the issues are not deal breakers.
It’s not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it’s how the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.
Weekly marriage meetings, conducted as explained in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love foster a spirit of goodwill, a live-and-let-live attitude. Couples learn to minimize or manage conflicts that may not be resolvable.
Unresolvable Conflicts Do Not Have to Be Deal Breakers
Here are a few examples of unresolvable conflicts that you can probably learn to live with, assuming you get along well most of the time:
- You think your spouse is too strict (or too lenient) with the children.
- You are irritated by your partner’s frequent lateness.
- Your partner has an okay job, but you wish he or she were more ambitious.
- Your spouse leaves crumbs on the counter.
How can you accept quirks and habits of your partner that continue to annoy you despite your efforts to change them? Look at the big picture. Are you glad, overall, to be married to this person? If yes, do you want to keep carping and become a source of irritation, or do you want a happy marriage?
Ask yourself, “Am I so perfect?”
Certainly, you should address some concerns, and communicate them respectfully. Even if neither of you changes, you’ll feel heard and understood. Sometimes, you’ll see improvements.
For example, Lew is bothered by the casual approach of his wife Ellie to dressing for social and business occasions. During the Problems and Challenges part of their marriage meeting he tells her, “I want us both to look great at the dinner party my boss invited us to. I know you like to dress comfortably, but please wear something especially nice Saturday night. I like how classy you look when you wear earrings and maybe other jewelry too.” He adds for emphasis: “This is really important to me, and for us, because I want that promotion.” Of course, after Ellie complies, he will generously express his appreciation.
How to Manage Conflicts That Are Not Deal Breakers
Character traits and long established habits are not likely to change, at least not without great effort. Lew did not ask Ellie to start dressing better all the time. That would have been unrealistic. Her careless approach to what she wears is an entrenched habit. He is learning to live with that because he loves Ellie regardless and appreciates her many fine qualities.
Lew realizes he’s not perfect either. He appreciates Ellie for putting up with his forgetfulness and for finding ways to work around it. Lew is minimizing their conflict by managing it.
Keeping Your Expectations Realistic
Behaviors that have not become habits can be fairly easy to change — if the person wants to. The key word is want. Your partner may or may not want to change. You may have heard this joke: “How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one — but the light bulb has to want to change.”
If your spouse agrees to change a habit, be patient. Change takes time and be sure to express appreciation even for baby steps in the desired direction.
What if the change still does not happen? If your partner’s fault is not a deal breaker, strive to accept what you cannot change. As Rabbi Joseph Richards quipped, "People are annoying. So find the person who annoys you least and marry that one." Keep the irritations in perspective. Look at the big picture.
Seek Help When Needed
If you’re finding it too difficult to manage a conflict on your own, individual or couple therapy or counseling can help you to communicate more constructively, set realistic goals, work toward achieving them.
It’s Fine to Agree to Disagree
Even in the best marriages, spouses learn to agree to disagree about unresolvable differences. So if you and your partner get along well, all in all, and manage lingering conflicts, you’re in good company.
John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999).
This article is adapted from part of the chapter, “Debunking Marriage Myths,” in the book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love; 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted
(New World Library)]
Happily Ever Laughter
"Couples who laugh together last together," states psychologist and author John Gottman, a leader in researching what makes for marital happiness.
Check out this short, fun video with tips which expands on this theme:
Amazon bestseller Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted, is a warm, informative, practical guide for engaged, newly wed, and long married couples--and for marriage minded singles. Also available at bookstores and libraries.
Tips for Singles
He (or she) is not the marrying type if he's looking for an easy, no effort relationship. You'll want a true partner when the going gets rough, as it inevitably will. The idea that marriage requires effort isn’t foreign or scary to someone who’s ready for marriage.
After all, with marriage and everything else in life that’s worthwhile, the more of our ourselves that we invest, the more likely we are to create something we cherish, states Winifred M. Reilly, marriage and family therapist
Note: Above tip published in July 28 Huffington Post article by Carolin Lehmann. More signs that he's not the marrying type to appear in future newsletters.
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Therapy and Counseling for individuals and couples. More information here.
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Private sessions in person or by phone or Skype.
For individuals or groups
For more information, email mnaomiberger(at)gmail
(dot) com or phone 415-491-4801. www.marriagemeetings.com .
Marcia Naomi Berger is a keynote speaker and presenter at meetings, conferences, trainings, and retreats. More information here.
Marriage Meetings 24/7
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Professional Education and Training Center offers this one-hour online class you can take any time: The Marriage Meeting Program: A Strength-Based Approach for Successful 21st Century Relationships. Professionals earn one continuing education unit. All welcome!
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. You can see her on Mosaic TV show talking about her inspiration for and process of writing this book.
Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW