5 Ways to Minimize the Negative Impact Conflict Can Have on your Marriage

imageIt wasn’t long into my marriage, probably about a week in, that I realized conflict starts right away. There is no waiting period for conflict when it comes to marriage. One thing that I have learned is that conflict is a normal and healthy part of every marriage. It isn’t simply having conflict that negatively impacts a marriage, it is the way in which conflict is dealt with that can negatively impact it. I have often heard people say, “oh we don’t ever have conflict.” As a counselor, and a human being for that matter, I just don’t buy that! In my personal opinion, if a couple tells me they don’t have conflict they are either lying or suppressing conflict for fear of damaging the marriage.

So what can be done to minimize the negative impact conflict can have on marriage? Here are a few things that I have learned since being marriage that have helped me to positively handle conflict and in turn strengthen my marriage and connection with my husband. Maybe they will help you out as well.

Be aware of your weaknesses: I feel like I can’t say enough about being self-aware. To me this is one of the most important things a person can do in life and will determine  not only the impact he or she has on others but also his or her ability to improve. So how does being aware of your weaknesses help you handle conflict in your marriage? If you know where you are lacking, whether it be with personality traits or your responsibilities, when your spouse makes a complaint you can more easily accept responsibility for it. Let me give an example. When my husband brings up the fact that I sometimes leave a small hurricane behind when I leave the house I can calmly take responsibility for this. Why can I do this? well because I know that I am easily flustered and don’t always manage my time wisely. My weakness is not being messy or careless, it is rather thinking I have more time than I do, realizing I don’t, not getting to all the things I needed to get to before I had to leave,  and then rushing out in a mad dash so that I wont be late, sometimes leaving a disaster behind. Because I know this about myself I can accept his complaint, apologize, and let him know I am aware and want to improve this area of weakness. If I lacked awareness I might get angry and accuse him of blaming me without reason. Of course, one key to this is actually working toward change. For tips on increasing self awareness you can check out my recent blog on the topic here.

Be aware of your partners weaknesses: Not only should you be aware of your own weaknesses, but of your partners as well. This helps you to show more compassion and less anger when confronting an issue. Don’t assume your partner should be just like you. Our differences are what make us better together than apart. If you know your husband or wife has a hard time showing emotion try to be more gentle with him or her when you expect an emotional reaction. Its not wrong to complain about an issue, what is wrong is complaining with anger and dislike. Try to remind yourself of all the things he or she does right before bringing up whats bugging you. This can minimize your anger and help you to get your frustration across in a more loving way.

Minimize your reactions: I have always struggled with reacting defensively when confronted with any kind of complaint. This was because I was totally freaked out by the thought of possibly not being good enough (something I discovered through self-awareness). Once I was able to recognize this I was able to learn how to minimize my reactions to conflict. If your spouse attacks you or criticizes you, instead of getting angry or attacking back, try saying something like this “You know what hunny, you’re right. I did drop the ball on that and I’m really sorry.” He or she may look at you like your crazy. This one takes a lot of practice and requires some serious self-control. try to be genuine. We can typically find some kind of truth in our partners complaint, something we are responsible for. Find it and admit it calmly. Over time this will change the way your partner brings things up to you. Typically we bring things up in a negative or critical way because we assume that our spouse will react negatively and deny responsibility. If we show our spouse the opposite, eventually he or she will start bringing up complaints in a more calm and loving way, expecting a calm and loving reaction.

Allow your partner to feel exactly what he or she says he or she is feeling: Stop, I repeat STOP telling your spouse he or she shouldn’t feel a certain way. I have been guilty of this many times. Over time this can cause your spouse to stop sharing his or her feelings with you altogether. Not only that, it tells your spouse that you simply do not care about what he or she is feeling. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not, a person’s feeling is a person’s feeling and it deserves to be cared about and explored. I have learned that when I stop making it about me, and start making it about my husband I am able to accept his feelings with love and compassion. If your husband tells you he feels rejected by you it might make you feel guilty and tempt you to defend yourself. An easy way of doing this is to tell him he shouldn’t feel rejected because you accept him. This is wrong and will only lead to more issues. If he feels rejected there is a reason for it and you should want to do what you can to fix it. Even if his feeling ends up being irrational it is still important to care. After all, how many of my feelings are irrational? A LOT! I still want my husband to care. Additionally, you may feel that you are accepting him but you might be doing something that tells him otherwise. denying his feeling takes away the chance to explore it and come up with a solution, showing him you love him and care in the process. This leads to acceptance and a deeper emotional connection.

Increase your positive interactions: Dr. John Gottman says that happy couples have a positive to negative interaction ratio of 5:1. Increasing positive interactions is a great way to improve the way you handle conflict. When do you feel the most frustrated with your spouse? I feel this way when my needs aren’t being met. When my husband is showing me affection, attention, encouragement, and love I tend to be less irritated by silly things. Additionally, I am more capable of handling big frustrations in a more loving way. When my husband feels supported, respected, and appreciated he is less likely to be bothered by my weknesses and responds more lovingly to conflict. Meeting needs comes through positive interactions. This might include going on a date, reminiscing about happy memories together, leaving a loving note, making love, eating dinner together, expressing appreciation, etc. If you focus on increasing positive interactions conflict will be much easier to deal with.

Have I Really Forgiven?

Forgiveness.jpgWhen I was reading my book Hope Focused Marriage Counseling written by Everett Worthington last night I came across something about incomplete forgiveness. It talked about how sometimes we think we have forgiven someone but we might not have fully forgiven. What it talked about next really got my attention and got me thinking. Do I feel a sense of happiness or satisfaction when I find out that something bad happened to or went wrong for someone I have “forgiven”? This was tough for me to read and really convicted me. Here I am thinking I’ve been obedient and have forgiven specific people who have hurt me, yet reading this made me realize I really haven’t.

Think about someone who has caused you pain that you think you have forgiven. If you found out tomorrow that something went wrong for him or her would you be happy about it? or would you feel compassion? My answer to this question definitely did not thrill me. To be honest with you, after reading this my initial thought was how in the world can I truly and completely forgive? What I realized was that forgiveness is a choice, one that takes purposeful action and God’s grace.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

This verse tells me that I am to lay down my bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking. When I feel a sense of satisfaction at the expense of someone I claim to have forgiven I am not obeying this command. Additionally, as I mentioned before, If I have truly forgiven someone I should feel kindness and compassion towards him or her, especially when things go wrong. This can truly seem like an impossible thing to do, which is why I must rely on God’s continuing mercy and grace to accomplish this.

We have to remind ourselves of the forgiveness and grace that we received from God through Christ in order to offer this to another. One thing I have found helpful when I am lacking forgiveness is to pray for those I can’t seem to forgive. That God would bless them, encourage them, and heal them as He has healed me. Asking God to help me forgive is also something that has made a huge difference for me. Praying for strength to forgive doesn’t mean you are failing, it means you admit that you need God to accomplish such a difficult task. I’m still on my journey of forgiveness and hope that this encourages you on yours as well.

Five Tips For Accomplishing Change

changeInsanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is a well-known statement and one that couldn’t be closer to the truth. How often do we hope for something different but aren’t willing to DO differently? This is insanity! I have changed so much over the last five or six years and want to share some tips on what helped make it possible.

Tip One: Be aware of what needs to change: This might seem obvious, but if you aren’t willing to look at yourself and determine what changes you need to make you will likely miss it. If you think there is nothing at all about yourself or your behavior that needs to change then you probably don’t have very good self-awareness. (My blog on self-awareness might be a good place to start). Becoming more aware of self (my behaviors, feelings, and thinking processes, and how this affects those around me) has helped me to discover things in my life and my personality that need changing. This is only the first step. Being aware of what needs to change doesn’t mean it will automatically happen; you have to be willing to put in the effort.

Tip Two: Surround yourself with people you want to imitate: Maybe you want to be more thoughtful of others but this doesn’t quite come naturally to you. Find someone who is thoughtful and spend some time with him. Learn from his behavior and model it. Perhaps you struggle with being too negative. Do you think anything will change if you are surrounded by negative people? Their negativity will only fuel your own, which is why surrounding yourself with positive people will help you see things in a more positive light.

Tip Three: Discover God’s purpose for your life: This is highly debated, as many people believe God doesn’t really have a purpose planned out for each individual. As for me, I believe that He does, and that He wants you to discover what that purpose is. When I first met my husband I had quit college and felt that it just wasn’t for me. I had no idea what God wanted from my life. After being encouraged by my husband, I began praying and asking God what His purpose was for me. I took some aptitude tests to gain a better understanding of myself and what I might be good at. This is when I discovered the option of becoming a counselor. I was immediately drawn to this idea and began praying about whether or not this was from God. After determining that this was in fact what God had planned for me I began the journey toward becoming a counselor. This required a LOT of change but with God’s strength He has enabled me to accomplish my goal. I personally feel that serving God and being a wife and mother is my greatest purpose, but after that, counseling hurting people towards hope and healing is what I was made to do. Remember, when you discover God’s purpose for your life you can expect that it will require a lot of change and dependence on God to accomplish.

Tip Four: Be willing to face some fears: This is a scary tip! One that I know all too well. If you aren’t willing to face your fears you probably wont experience much change in your life. I used to be a socially awkward anxious individual who would rather sit inside than have to talk to someone I didn’t know. I HATED this about myself! For a long time I was too afraid to do anything about it and I suffered for it. I finally had had enough. I remember when my boss asked me if I wanted to do a sales training on a new tool my team had developed. This was the last thing in this world I wanted to do, but I knew it would only help me overcome my fears. It was awful, but I did it. Each time I took on a challenge like this it got easier and easier, until before long, it really wasn’t that scary anymore! It took some time (Like 5 years!) for me to go from being the anxious, socially awkward girl to the confident and friendly girl who could comfortably talk to new people and make some friends, but I eventually got there and I did it by facing my fears.

Tip Five: Be open and accountable with someone you trust: Having accountability is huge when it comes to making changes. We as human beings are weak and incapable of standing alone. If you have secret struggles that you know you need to change sharing this with someone you trust can make all the difference! In the same way, when you create goals it is so much easier to accomplish them when you share them with someone who cares about you. Someone who will follow up and hold you accountable. My husband and I are so open with each other about flaws we need to change. Because we know exactly what the other needs to improve on its easy to see it and call it out. This can be extremely irritating!! But also extremely helpful. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to bail on some social gathering because of fear. My husband could see the anxiety and terror on my face and sympathized, but he also knew that I wanted to change and that I wasn’t happy with how I was. Because of this he pushed me to face my fears and helped me to make the changes I needed to make. I never could have done it alone and neither can you. Maybe you don’t have a spouse you can depend on for accountability, if not find a friend or a mentor who you can trust to encourage you towards change.

These are just five tips that have personally helped me accomplish change in my life. What are some tips for change that you can share?

7 Tips For Increasing Self-Awareness

%22Until you make the unconscious councils, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.%22Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Being self-aware enables you to truly know yourself as a separate individual: your feelings, beliefs, desires, weaknesses, strengths, and motives, and to also know how you impact the lives of those around you. In contrast, being unaware cannot only wreak havoc on your own life, but on the lives of others as well. Increasing your self-awareness is only the beginning, paving the way for growth and effective change.

Here are some tips for increasing your self-awareness:

Determine who you want to be: If you don’t know who you want to be, it will be easier to ignore who you are. For example, I have determined that I want to be a compassionate person. Because of this I am more aware of my lack of compassion with certain people and in certain situations. My ability to see this deficiency only became possible when I determined my desire to be compassionate. Before, I was somewhat oblivious to it. Now when I am lacking compassion I try to be more aware of it and am able to change it. Begin by thinking about the person you want to be. Write down a few words that come to your mind that describe that aspired personality. Then analyze if those words currently define you or not. In doing this you become more aware of who you are today, and more capable of becoming who you want to be.

Take a personality test: I have learned so much about myself through personality tests. By simply answering some questions, honestly of course, you can gain valuable insights about yourself. An awesome and free test can be taken here. As you read about your personality type things start to make sense that never made sense before. Taking the test helped me recognize that I often take on the burdens of others, becoming overly involved emotionally. My empathy and concern for others is a strength, but it can quickly become a weakness. I have learned how to be responsible TO people rather than FOR people, and how to encourage and guide towards change, rather than “fix”.

Seek trusted feedback: this is a tough one. I for one don’t always like hearing what other people have to say regarding my behavior, especially if its negative. When feedback comes from a trusted individual, who cares for you deeply, it’s important to pay attention to it. There is almost always some valuable truth in it. Having a trusted mentor or accountability partner is a great way to do it. Find someone who will not only call you out on your weaknesses and blind spots, but will also point out your strengths and abilities, offering encouragement along the way. On your own you will fail, but with help and support from others you can overcome and succeed in ways that you never thought possible.

Examine your motives: Examining behavior is not enough; you need to look at the motive behind the behavior. For example, a good deed might make somebody appear selfless, but if buried beneath the good deed is a desire for praise from others it might actually be selfish. It can be the opposite as well. Someone who works excessive hours and makes a lot of money might appear to some as a workaholic or materialistic, but you might look beneath the service and find that he works so hard in order to fund several orphanages in third world countries. Looking at our own behavior or the behavior of others without understanding motives is futile.

Pray, Pray, and Pray: For me personally, prayer is number one when it comes to self-awareness. Who better to spend time with than the one who created me? The devil has done nothing but seek to destroy me and to keep me from the beautiful plans that God has for me. He doesn’t want us to become who God intended us to be; he wants us to be lost and broken, unaware of all we are capable of becoming and accomplishing through Jesus Christ and His perfect love. Additionally, we all have secret sins that we are totally oblivious too. Through prayer God can reveal those hidden places of darkness in our hearts, enabling us to become aware and overcome. In the Psalms King David said, “who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.” (Psalm 19:12) Through continual prayer God can help me become aware of the secret sins in my life and enable me to overcome.

Examine the way others respond to you: We all know that person who acts in such a way that drives everybody crazy! Its obvious based on body language, awkward comments, facial expressions, and avoidance. You wish somebody would just say something to stop it. Being around people like this causes me to think about my behaviors and how they affect others. How do people react to me when I’m around them? Do they seem uncomfortable, desperate to get away, down, annoyed? This can tell you a lot.  Our goal should be to positively impact the people around us, building them up rather than bringing them down. Examine the way the people around you respond to you and this will give you valuable insights into your behavior.

Get Professional Help: Sometimes deep-rooted pain and issues can block our ability to be self-aware. If you are working hard to ignore painful parts of your life you will likely block out important aspects of the self as well. In this case, working with a professional counselor can help to uncover and heal hidden trauma and pain. Maybe you are carrying around pain that desperately needs to be healed. Don’t allow fear or judgment to keep you from getting the help that you need so that you can become who God created you to be.