Conflict and Communication….Ongoing Challenges for Every Marriage
“So not only are you late for dinner, but once again you come home and head straight for the mail,” Leslie complained to her husband, John. “It’s unbelievable! Maybe I should become a piece of mail and put a stamp on my forehead. Then I might get some attention and feel important.”
John rolled his eyes and sighed, continuing to sort through envelopes. Here we go again, he thought, turning his back to her.
Leslie’s anger intensified. “John, don’t ignore me.”
John walked away. “I’m going to the gym,” he said.
Like many couples, Leslie and John came to us for counseling because they were unable to resolve conflict. “We have communication problems, and we never solve anything,” Leslie complained on their first visit.
Most couples have patterns of reactivity that block communication. There are three basic responses to stress: fight, flight or freeze. People often adopt one of these reactions when they’re kids, and the patterns continue into adulthood. Your marriage problems probably started early in your childhood years.
Leslie is a fighter. She is vocal and complains when she’s upset. John’s response to stress is to flee. He minimizes and avoids conflict with Leslie and looks for an escape route when she’s angry. Some people freeze — they become anxious and paralyzed when they feel stressed or face conflict.
Your reaction to stress
What do you tend to do? Protest and fight? Flee and detach? Freeze in fright? To communicate effectively, you have to become aware of your automatic responses to stress and conflict — and develop new skills to stay present and engaged.
All marriages experience conflict, in fact, all meaningful relationships tend to experience some level of conflict over time. Conflict can be healthy and allow for growth and improvement in a marriage. However, couples can also find themselves in a dead end cycle of hashing through the same issue over and over, never getting to a healthy resolution. Does your conflict cycle look like John and Leslie’s ? Are you and/or your spouses reactions silent and distant or filled with harsh words ? Learning more about you and your spouses reaction styles can help improve communication and create growth in the marriage.
Contact Love and Grace Counseling today to learn more.
The example shared in this article comes from Kay and Milan Yerkovich, authors of How We Love.