By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Perpetual disagreements don't have to derail your marriage. Most unsolvable problems won't harm your relationship if you follow some guiding principles to help manage that conflict. If you find yourself facing the same walls of disagreement repeatedly, you are in good company. Dr. John Gottman, a prominent researcher on the inner workings of marriage, has stated that nearly 70% of all marital conflicts are what he calls “perpetual” meaning they are very hard to resolve.
This happens because the two individuals who pledged to become one are different people with different temperaments, thought processes, biases, family backgrounds, life experiences, opinions, likes, and dislikes. The reality is that no matter who you marry, you will face some level of perpetual conflict with this person. Your spouse brings one unique set of disagreements, and if you had married someone else, you would have chosen a different set of perpetual disputes. Unresolvable conflicts are part of every relationship. If a husband and wife appear to agree on everything, what is more likely is that one has dominated the other to the point that they are afraid to speak up (or have forgotten how). Bottom line: conflict is a healthy part of marriage and can be productive if managed well.
When you and your spouse face a particularly large decision you disagree on, these perpetual bends towards a particular way of thinking can become more obvious. It's in these tough moments when we face significant crossroads in our lives that it's so important we lean into the principles that promote unity. Finding common ground is so important even when you each see the ground very differently.
1. Do not try to argue your spouse into changing how they feel.
For those of us who are die-hard debate addicts, this principle may feel impossibly hard to follow. To find peace in your home, you must approach your spouse and the topic with empathy and open ears. Don't try to argue your spouse into changing how they feel. If our spouse is convinced that one way, thing, or idea is better than another, there is not much to gain by trying to fight them out of that point of view (believe me, I have learned this the hard way).
When you face a tough decision, the best approach is to encourage thoughtful conversations in which you each unpack your feelings about the topic. Carefully taking time to hear each other out may lead to a shift in opinion, but more than anything, these conversations grow your level of intimacy and unity, which is so valuable for your marriage.
Check out these simple ways to find common ground when you face a big disagreement:
2. Remember that it's okay to disagree.
Most of the things you will disagree on are not die-hard moral issues. They may have to do with work, parenting, a preference, or even hurt feelings. Remember that disagreements are a normal part of life. Especially when an argument feels like it keeps bubbling up over and over, it can be easy to catastrophize your relationship and say that all hope is lost. Even when you face the same differences of opinion, there is still hope. Being the same is not required for a perfect marriage but continuing to do the work of communicating and showing up is necessary for a successful marriage.
3. Acknowledge each other's point of view.
Our counselor said conflict is an opportunity that we should get excited about if we take the right approach with each other. It's a chance to learn about each other. To hear how the other person is feeling, thinking, and processing a set of circumstances. When you start digging into a conflict, you should be working to find out more about each other's hearts. Most of us fight to win, and when we approach our partner with this stance, we both always lose. There is no bridge towards resolution when we are just trying to push way onto each other. Be okay with passionate expressions of your opinions that lead to discovery in your relationship.
4. Seek to understand our spouse.
Sometimes the issues we face as a couple is about more than what meets the eyes. A negative tone about a big change can result from fear, a lack of communication, an incomplete understanding, or other insecurities. Active listening allows you to probe together past the surface to really discover what makes this issue so contentious. The empathy you develop for one another through these intentional conversations can be the key that unlocks the understanding you guys need in order to move forward together.
5. Commit to praying over the decision.
Thankfully, three very important entities exist inside our marriages: us, our spouse, and the Holy Spirit. When we face things that feel like mountains, we are not alone in finding the right path forward! We have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, and he is faithful to guide us. Commit to praying together and individually over the situation when big decisions arise. Ask God to give you unity, wisdom, humility, and grace that will help you be able to walk forward together.
6. Look for creative ways to compromise.
The reality is that marriage takes compromise. When you put two wills against each other, there are going to be times that you will have to compromise some of what you want for the sake of your relationship. If you're unsure how much to give towards a cause, pick a number in the middle of what is on both of your hearts. If you can't agree on who to spend the holidays with, maybe trade off spending holidays with different family members during the year. When you don't see eye-to-eye on a parenting decision, perhaps devise a new plan that combines both of your suggestions. Whatever the issue, looking for manageable compromises is vital to having a peace-filled marriage.
Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." Ultimately, we are free to hold our own opinions, we all come with so many complex and valid feelings, and our opinions matter, but marriage is about service and love. There are times when we are called to set aside our inclination to use our freedom to indulge ourselves and instead choose to support and love our spouses through the work of listening and compromise. It's hard work but so worthwhile for the rich gift of intimacy and unity that grows from this God-honoring posture.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.