When my husband and I married in our late teens, we had yet to discover how adults should be resolving differences.
He was a morning person, and I was a night owl. I leaned toward the introvert, while he leaned toward the extrovert. He liked rated R movies, and I was easily scandalized. He was laid back and let conversations go, while I was demanding and remembered every word that came out of his mouth. Sometimes we complemented each other and filled in for the other’s deficiencies; however, for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on those other times.
I’m sure you can imagine and/or remember the types of conflicts that arise when two young adults try to raise a baby for the first time. My husband joined the Army in order to support us, so we had to figure things out states away from family. Army life also meant that frequent separations would often complicate our relationship.
It took years for us to realize that different people resolve differences, umm… differently.
My husband’s solution to conflict was to ignore it… like it never happened, and everything is fine. My mode of operation was slightly more in your face and throwy. The harder I pushed, the more he joked. The louder I yelled, the less he heard. The more desperate for a reaction I became, the tighter the reign he took on his emotions. I didn’t understand that his parents never fought in front of him; that they only disagreed behind closed doors. He didn’t understand that my parents let their tempers openly fly and then simmer until they were calm enough to work things out.
It was a game of “what you said & what I heard”.
Differing perceptions had the potential to blow up in our faces because neither of us could address the issue with love for the other in mind; we only cared that the other wasn’t respecting our wishes. If he said, “I’m going out with the guys after work tonight”, I heard “I don’t love you enough to spend time with you or our baby.” If I answered, “No, you spend all day with those guys, come home”, he heard “Go ahead honey, I love you!”
It took more years than I’d like to admit to for us to learn how to resolve our differences respectfully.
Respect and trust make all the difference in any relationship. My husband and I loved each other very much, but we didn’t understand how the roles of respect and trust were being neglected in our relationship. When you respect the other, their differing opinion isn’t taken as a personal attack. When you trust that the other is doing what is best for all, you don’t jump to the conclusion that they are only thinking of themselves. Consider this quote on the importance of respect from psychologist, Dr. Gray:
To respect is to understand that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product.
Respect and trust came with experience and example; that ever-present learning curve. Many times I’ve had to swallow my pride and respectfully rephrase my words after my husband gently pointed out, “That wasn’t very nice.”
I remember the day it finally dawned on me that my husband and I are fundamentally different in terms of expressing emotions.
After a typical argument that was left unresolved, we got into the car with the kids to meet their grandfather for lunch. After a few minutes of awkward silence, one of the kids asked, “Where are we going?” I flippantly answered, “to hell”. Without skipping a beat, my husband said, “But we’re just dropping your mom off, then we’re coming right back.” This was when it finally dawned on me that my husband handles stress (like our arguments) by laughing at it. Admittedly, it really shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to grasp and accept this about the man I married, but at this moment, I finally understood. And then, I began to change… not right then and there, I still had an argument to win… but slowly our arguments became easier to resolve.
At some point, my husband became aware that his refusal to engage in resolving our conflicts made me feel rejected. He started verbalizing what his problems were, and then adding a little something to soften the blow: “What you texted earlier made me upset, so I stopped texting you back. But I still love you.”
What have we learned about Resolving Differences?
Before we could take the first step toward finding the middle ground and moving on together as a couple, we had to understand and respect the fundamental differences in how we approach conflict. Now when my husband says something “funny” while I’m trying to “fix” something, I don’t jump to the conclusion that he doesn’t care. I realize that he is just trying to lighten the mood, and de-escalate the situation. I’ve learned from him that facing challenges with humor is useful on so many levels. What has he learned from me? He’s learned that avoiding conflict never resolves it; he’s learned not to press an issue before I’ve had a chance to get control of my temper; and most importantly, he’s learned NOT to duck, because there might be an innocent bystander behind him.
If you are interested in learning more about conflict resolution within your marriage, I recommend reading 6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage (Family Life). These are some tips in resolving differences that my husband and I needed all those years ago!