I stood in our bedroom doorway and hoped beyond hope that Eric would change his mind. A relative I loved dearly needed a huge favor from us. And even though it would have presented our household with a bit of stress, I was ready to help him.
“No, I am not comfortable agreeing to this request. We are not going to help in this case.”
Madder than fire, I returned to my laptop and told my relative, whom I love, that Eric and I would not be able to help him out this time. If you could have seen what was going through my mind, you might have been horrified. I was ready to burn Eric at the stake!
“We are supposed to help our family! That is what family is for, after all! He does not even care what an awkward position he has put me in with my family! Just because he was not close to his extended family does not mean he can mistreat mine!”
Later that evening, when I was slightly less perturbed, Eric and I talked about the situation. Not that I truly wanted to hear his thoughts on the matter (because I was so sure he was wrong); but, in retrospect, I am glad I listened. In his explanation, he gave me two or three understandable concerns which led him to his decision. Even though I would have handled the situation differently had it been entirely up to me, I did appreciate his perspective once he articulated it. Had he not, I would probably still be mad at him to this day.
Even after all these years, I am convinced God and thousands of angels laughed hysterically as Eric and I took our wedding vows. Never in my entire life had I experienced the kind of clear and steady peace I felt when Eric and I decided to promote our friendship to courtship and then to marriage.
We expected our life together to be amazing! We both loved psychology, relationships, and wanted to help people. Not to mention, we could not leave a room without hugging each other – yes, we were that couple. But, regardless of the peace and comfort I felt, Eric and I had a rough path ahead of us – and we were not as prepared for it as we thought we were. Just because God leads us in a particular direction does not mean every step will be painless.
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV).
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).
“For the Lord will not forsake his people; He will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it” (Psalm 94:14-15, ESV).
Scripture clearly shows God’s heart for His people. He wants to lead us, and has promised never to leave us; yet, like the good Father He is, he allows us to hurt sometimes. He teaches us lessons. He is gentle and kind, and also firm and consistent. His Word does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). God guiding Eric and me to matrimony was not a cruel joke. He was not laughing sinisterly at the thought of all the communication struggles and hurt feelings we would face thanks to our numerous personality and cultural differences.
Still, I like to think He smiled – maybe even chuckled – as he watched two of his imperfect children vow to love and respect each other until death. He knew. He knew Eric would have a front row seat for all of my hidden imperfections and vice versa. He knew I would come to Him, sobbing and asking, “Why did you give me this man?!?!?!” He knew we would have some belly laughs and some cold and lonely nights. He knew this marriage would be a major part of our sanctification process.
The Early Years
…when I see happy newlyweds on Facebook, grocery shopping together, or frolicking around town hand in hand, I feel a bit sad. Though we have grown tremendously over the course of our marriage, our first few years together were far from sweet and happy. Once we returned from our honeymoon to full-time jobs, part-time graduate school, and part-time personality clashes, we both felt disillusioned, and honestly, somewhat angry.
“This is not how our marriage was supposed to be!” I thought.
Since those early days, I have discovered that every couple, no matter how compatible or well-matched, has disagreements and struggles. No one can escape this truth. You and your future spouse will not always see eye-to-eye. The man or woman you love with all your might will hurt your heart from time to time. Occasionally, you may feel hopeless. Some days, you may want to leave.
The good news is you are not alone! Thousands of nearby couples have been there and thousands of couples will be there someday. You cannot drive down your street without seeing at least one couple who gets it. Feeling anger towards your spouse will not be native to you and you will not be the first one to think, “Did I make the right marital decision?” Conflicts will come, but you can prepare for them.
Preparing for Conflict
The first step in preparing for disagreements is simply to know they are coming. In my hometown, we prepared for hurricanes because we knew they would eventually hit us. Kansas and Oklahoma residents take precautions against tornadoes because history warns them to do so! Californian children learn how to take cover in earthquakes.
Step one in preparing for conflict is to know the storm is coming. If you do not believe the winds and rains are heading your way, you will not be motivated to tape your windows or build your shelter.
Step two in preparing for conflicts is to consistently meditate on the following phrase: “My perspective is not the only one that matters. My spouse’s outlook will be as ingrained in him (or her) as mine is in me. I must seek to understand where my partner is coming from if I desire a victorious marriage.”
So many times I have judged Eric harshly after filtering our disagreements through my lenses – convinced of my rightness to the point of absolute conviction. Yet, time after annoying time, I have been humbled when faced with the legitimacy of Eric’s viewpoints. Apparently, I do not know it all! Is anyone else as surprised by this as I am?
My Latest Humbling Moment
Recently, Eric and I experienced an unpleasant “exchange of ideas,” and at the time, we both could have benefitted from chilling out and seeking to understand each other better. Over the past several months, Eric has been conducting most of his work from home; and, thus, I found my haven of solitude disrupted. Working from home over the last six years, I have become accustomed to having the house to myself during the daytime; and, though I enjoy having my cuddly husband just down the hall, sometimes I miss having complete alone time. Forty hours a week is not necessary, but two hours once in a while is quite nice.
Last Wednesday, I was pumped about my impending introvert bliss. Eric was going to a friend’s house for a weekly-scheduled game night and I was going to clean and write all by my lonesome. Unfortunately, he had to work late. Then, he decided to complete another task which would make him even more late to the game night. Then came the words I expected, but dreaded, “It is already after 8 pm. Maybe I should stay home.” I went to another room and put my hands over my face. I just wanted my night alone!
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Eric asked when I seemed borderline insistent that he go.
I paused. Finally, hoping he would understand and not be hurt, I replied, “I would not hate having a few hours to myself.”
“So, go have a few hours to yourself.”
Ah, men! I wanted to clean… alone. I wanted to write… alone. I wanted to do whatever I had a mind to… alone; and, though I am unsure why I was so particularly determined to decompress Wednesday as opposed to other nights, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at this change in plans – change over which I had no control. Throwing him over my shoulder and walking him to his car did not seem wise.
My Internal Perspectives
- I am an introvert and I need a night to myself. Just knowing he is here takes away that complete solitude I so desperately crave right now.
- He does not care about my needs. He is only thinking about himself. He would go crazy if he never had extrovert time!
- He would be angry with me if I ruined his people plans! Why can he not understand that I have the same need for people-free plans?
So, I wish I could tell you I took a deep breath, regrouped, and looked for a silver lining (as I am sure there were several), but I did not. I literally stomped through the house. I changed out the laundry while muttering under my breath. I slammed cabinet doors as I continued to fuss quietly. Then, I folded clothes and walked past him repeatedly, refusing to smile. You might say I looked like a thirty-four-year-old brat who was pitching a fit. On the outside, I might have simply looked mad; but, on the inside, I was jumping up and down, wailing, and screaming, “But I want it, but I want it, but I want it!!!”
After a little time had passed, I began to regret my display. Surely, it appeared that I wanted Eric gone; and, even though I did want to be alone for a while, it was not because I have a problem with him. The fact that I want him around most of the time is quite the compliment coming from this homebody!
In the midst of my tantrum, Eric did what he often does after a long day and fell asleep on the bed. Suddenly, I was by myself. Sadly, I no longer wished to be alone because I desperately wanted to apologize for my childish demonstration. Though there was nothing wrong with me wanting a few free-to-be-me hours, my delivery was unnecessary – even harsh. My body language and sounds sent a clear message: “I do not want you around” – and that was a message I deeply regretted.
After he woke up, he reluctantly agreed to talk to me about my episode. Then he made a statement which left me feeling sad and ashamed.
“I thought you would want to spend some time with me tonight since I am going to a party tomorrow night which I told you about earlier.”
The Thursday night party – I had forgotten all about it! In less than twenty-four hours, I was going to have an entire night of joyous seclusion! Had I only kept myself from losing it, we could have enjoyed a special evening together. Instead, I pitched a fit and ruined most of the night for both of us. And, though I am not proud of it, I hope that sharing this story will help someone avoid making the same mistake!
His Internal Perspectives
- I am tired. It has been a long day.
- If I go now, the others will be in the middle of their games, and I will likely have to sit and watch for a while.
- I will spend time with Heather tonight and rest since I have the party tomorrow night. She is always saying that she wants to spend more time with me.
My immediate reaction when he decided not to go was negative. “He is selfish. He is not considering my needs.” However, if I had given him the benefit of the doubt, I would have discovered that he wanted to enjoy the evening with me – not rob me of my freedom.
He was gracious and he forgave me. The next night, he went to his party, and I had several hours alone. It was glorious and I was happy to see him when he returned. I have messed up before and I will mess up again, but I hope my blunders will be fewer and farther between as I continue to mature and follow my own advice. ~smile~
Five Steps to Implement When Dealing with Conflict
To gain proper perspective when you deal with conflict in your current or future relationship, consider the following steps:
- Clamp your mouth shut. Waiting a five to ten seconds before letting verbiage fly will save you many, many regrets over the course of your life – and save your family, friends, and co-workers a lot of heartache. Once the words are out, there is no putting them back (like toothpaste out of a tube).
- Step back from the situation. You can do this figuratively, or figuratively and It is a posture of constraint rather than aggression.
- Take a deep breath and name the problem. Sometimes frustration and anger can cloud the facts. The fact in my case was that I needed some time alone, but once my emotions exploded, the situation seemed I made an ocean out of a puddle.
- Softly speak (something similar to) the following statement to your significant other: “I know we do not see eye-to-eye on this. I would love to understand where you are coming from, and then to explain my point of view.” Asking him or her to speak first shows your desire to understand is greater than your desire to win the argument.
- Keep your relationship in perspective. Even if you do not come to an agreement, determine that the relationship is more important than winning any argument. If you need some time apart to think and process, take it; but, before you leave, agree on when and where you will pick up the discussion. If you leave issues lingering, it is tempting to “conveniently forget” them and leave them dangling (until the next argument).
Had I followed these steps on Wednesday, Eric and I would have enjoyed a far better evening. I would not have hurt him. I would not have felt like a jerk. We might have gone on a date! We could have watched a movie or played a game rather than working through our hurt feelings.
Perspective matters – and, before we lose it with our loved ones, we should strive to gain some.
How often do you jump to conclusions without seeking to understand your significant other’s point of view? Are you often saddened or embarrassed when you review your behavior? If so, I encourage you to try these five steps. Write them down and post them where they are easy to see and remember. Refresh them regularly in your mind so you automatically think of them when you come face-to-face with an argument.
You can do this! We can do this! And, our relationships will be all the better for it! Even relationship coaches have to stop, take a deep breath, and go back to the basics sometimes. No matter how long you are married, there will always be something new to learn about your partner – and about yourself!
Do you currently seek to understand your partner’s perspective before reacting negatively?