I’m not sure when it really hit me, but there it was: we were having the same conflict again that we did the week before. And the week before that, and even the one before that! What was going on? Why did we keep fighting over the same thing?
Being a counselor who is trained to analyze complex situations, I had to figure this one out. What I eventually discovered was transformational to my marriage.
I was glancing through a book by John Gottman on marriage when I read that nearly 70% of all issues that any couple wrestles with are perpetual problems. That caught my attention. Seven out of ten problem areas between Zerrin and I would never be fully resolved! Instead they would come back again and again to challenge us.
Talk about a depressive bit of research!
That was my first reaction at least. Then it began to make sense. One of the areas of conflict that Zerrin and I have had to regularly process has to do with leadership and decision making. We are both leaders. During any given day or week there are many decisions to be made. Guess what? We don’t always agree! No surprise there. So who makes the final decision? Who leads? The result was conflict. Sometimes minor, sometimes not so minor, but conflict nonetheless.
This for us is a perpetual problem.
Perhaps it is for you as well. Or maybe it is parenting, or finances, or issues related to intimacy. Whatever it is for you, if it is an area where you have regular conflict, it may very well be a perpetual problem.
So what do you do?
The first step is to change your expectation from that of resolving the conflict, to that of managing it.
Here’s why: the tendency on all our parts when first facing a conflict is to find a way to resolve it. For some that translates into ignoring it. Not a good solution, but one that many take. For others, it means to barrel their way through to find at least some kind of resolution. If they are lucky enough to talk through it even in a small way, they get back into life assuming it is all taken care of. Within a relatively short amount of time, however, the problem surfaces once again. Then they are really mad because they thought the problem had been taken care of. Well, it may or may not have been at the time.
The bigger issue however, is that because of the nature of the problem, it is probably one that is perpetual. Once you recognize this, you realize that it is not something you can fully resolve. Instead, it is a problem that you must work together as partners to manage.
In my next blog, I will share with you an example by talking about how Zerrin and I learned to manage the problem area of who is to lead and make decisions between us.
1. What are the perpetual areas of conflict in your relationship with your spouse?
2. What difference would it make if you changed your expectation from that of resolving the conflict, to that of working together as partners to manage it?
Share your thoughts below!