June is one of the busiest wedding months of the year. With so many weddings and anniversaries (including mine) taking place this month, let’s take a look at the less shiny, less talked about side of the happily-ever-after coin: Conflict.
It’s reassuring to know that conflict and a happy marriage are not mutually exclusive. Every marriage is going to have conflict – even those dripping in Honey-Baby-Sweetie Pie sweetness. But how couples handle conflict makes a big difference in the health, wellness – and perhaps the longevity – of the marriage.
Within the first year of our marriage my husband suggested we implement conflict boundaries – a list of boundaries we would not cross while in a conflict – a Geneva Convention, if you will, for our marriage.
Honestly, I thought it sounded a little silly and like we couldn’t trust ourselves in the heat of the moment to keep things cool. Then we tried to hang pictures on the wall of our new home. Who knew I would get so worked up over picture height?
It turns out, we couldn’t trust ourselves in the heat of the moment to keep things cool.
We decided we wanted to handle our conflicts in a better way so we sat down together to make a list of conflict boundaries. This is not a cease-fire, but rather a list of the weapons we agree to omit from the conflict altogether.
Our conflict boundaries:
- No raised voices
- No name calling
- No profanity
- No broadening the conflict to include other issues. We must stick to the issue at hand, resolve it and then if we need to revisit another issue, we can do that later.
- No using “always” or “never” (as in “You always do this” or “You never do that”.)
What has been the trade-off of implementing conflict boundaries? We’ve never had to apologize for name-calling or saying words that can’t be unheard. And in our 15 years of marriage, I cannot remember even ONE explosive conflict. Not one. But even better, neither can our three children.
Our kids have witnessed their parents’ disagreements, but they see us engage with each other in a way that still honors the other.
I don’t mention that as a point of perfection. I am a very passionate person who may or may not enjoy a good battle now and then. These boundaries have kept me from saying or doing things I would later regret. I’m sharing these boundaries because they have served us well and I know exactly where we’d be without them.
The key is to create a list of agreed upon conflict boundaries when you and your spouse are not in a conflict. And please understand, you will want to plow through those boundaries when the first few conflicts arise. But, when you start to see the fruit from remaining within your marriage’s conflict boundaries, the temptation to cross them becomes less and less appealing.
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When I’ve shared our list of conflict boundaries with other couples, I’ve heard things like “Awe, those are so cute, we blew past those a long time ago.” And that is exactly the point of conflict boundaries – they keep conflicts from escalating into full-blown battles or a Jerry Springer episode.
Conflict boundaries allow you to address the dispute while still treating each other as friends, rather than enemies. And sometimes it’s good to be reminded that your spouse is not your enemy.
If you’ve far surpassed the list above, it’s not too late to make a change. You may need to include No throwing dishes; No punching holes in walls; No silent treatment for days on end, or whatever your conflict has escalated to. It’s not too late to change the pattern.
If you’ve already swept up shards of glass from broken dishes or verbally shredded your spouse – even last night – there is hope. You can apologize, ask for forgiveness and suggest a better way to handle conflict in your relationship.
The goal of any conflict within marriage should be resolution and restoration of the relationship. It’s not proving who is right or wrong, or making the other person see how foolish they are and how wise you are.
No, conflicts will arise, and with each conflict there is an opportunity to do it well – and also love each other well.
Do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
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