We sure have learned a lot about each other and about marriage in the many years we’ve been married! One thing we’ve learned is how differently we approach matters when we’re upset. Before marrying we didn’t really notice it that much! (Isn’t that usually the case?)
But after marrying we did. And it really caused a lot of added tension because our resolution approaches are so different. We’re doing better now (because we’ve learned and are applying a lot that helps us to do better). Even so, we still have to be careful. It’s easy to trip over matters like this. You may find that true in your marriage too.
When an issue upsets me (Cindy), I’ve had a tendency to want to talk about it and settle the matter then and there. I really thought that was the healthy way to do things. And yes, that can be a healthy solution. But sometimes it isn’t. (I’ll explain more later.)
Now, when Steve was upset he often wanted to retreat and sleep. It was his escape posture. Or he avoided the issue and tried to get closer to me by being all lovey-dovey. This often included him approaching me romantically to smooth things over. This would upset me all the more! It seemed dismissive of the importance of the matter. Plus, it’s the last thing I’d have on my mind.
It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around Steve’s methods. When anything upsets me either one of those methods is the last thing that occurs to me. I’m restless, can’t sleep, and I certainly don’t feel romantic!
I’m sure I’ve looked at him as if he’s an alien from outer space when he makes those approaches when we’re conflicting. How could he even START to think about sleeping when there are unresolved matters going on with us? And romance? Forget it! And yet to him—that made sense.
It has taken us a lot of years to learn NOT to fight about our differing approaches. (Although, we confess that occasionally we still do fall into that toxic rut.) But through the intentional effort we put in to have a great marriage (which we do), we’ve come a long way. How’d we get to a better place? What has worked for us?
Essentially, we’re learning to give each other more grace and space. Ultimately we’re not so bent on changing each other. We’re instead resolved make our approaches work for both of us rather than pitting us against each other. And that involves give and take on both of our parts. It also involves humility, kindness, forbearance, and sometimes repentance and forgiveness.
Working Through Our Different Approaches
Steve: Earlier in our marriage my approach was to run away from conflict. It could be physically and/or mentally. My typical “go-to” method was to go to sleep—even in the middle of the day. At this stage of our marriage I have no idea why I thought that was a good thing. Maybe I thought that if I just slept for a while when I woke up the problem would have magically disappeared. But that NEVER happened. In fact, when I woke up I found a wife who was hurting more because I abandoned her; and the problem had only gotten bigger. Eventually we would work things out and life would go back to “normal.” Sadly, I felt satisfied with this. Gradually, however I felt convicted that I needed to address my immature ways of dealing with conflict.
A major turning point for me was when we attended a 3-day marriage seminar put on by David and Teresa Ferguson. They drilled down into why healthy conflict resolution is so necessary in our marriages. That’s where I had my “ah-ha” moment. I then started applying their principles. In all honesty, I didn’t change overnight; but today it’s a rare occurrence when I will try to withdraw from an argument with Cindy.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
First, 1 Peter 3:7 is very clear about our responsibility. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman…” I’ve found there’s only one way to live in an understanding way…ENGAGE with her. And the second is a line from a song from Steve and Annie Chapman. It says, “If you leave a hurt in the heart of your woman God will not hear your prayers.” (The lyrics are based on Malachi 2.) Those two thoughts alone are enough motivation for me to change my approach to resolving conflicts with Cindy. I hope it’s enough for you, too.
What’s “funny” is that in recent years I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s best to pause before we work to settle our issues. That’s not always the case—just sometimes. That’s quite the reverse for me. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to wait a bit to resolve the matter. This is especially true when you actually should pray about it first. God knows that can help!
Sometimes your emotions are too raw to get to a healthy place of resolving matters. Other times the timing is all off (like when you’re hungry, too angry, feeling lonely, or tired.) And then it could be that you have an audience that shouldn’t be listening to your arguments. (This can include your children, other family members, friends, or strangers.) Other times you may be too bent on “winning” the argument to the point that you run your words right over your spouse. And that’s NOT good. Those are just a few of the times when it’s best to stop, and take a short break away from each other.
Just make sure you pray about the whole issue. (It can be especially helpful to pray individually AND together.) And then come back and approach the matter from a “we” stance, rather than just a “me” stance.
In our marriage:
I’ve learned to not to make our talks marathon events. That’s because it can put Steve’s brain on overload. It’s not that he’s dense. He just needs more time to process emotional issues. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different approach than mine.
Through the years I’ve learned that it’s important that I’m considerate of his emotional make up too. Many times marathon “talking” doesn’t prove to be productive for us. That’s when it can be better to revisit the issue several times in shorter spurts than to keep going on and on. (That is, unless we mutually agree to do so. And we’re able to do that more and more now.) This is a good compromise for us. Marriage matters are not all about “me” feeling better. It’s about “WE” and how WE can both get to a better place about that, which concerns us.
Different Approaches in Upsetting Circumstances
As for Steve’s approach to upsets, he now acknowledges that it isn’t healthy to leave them unresolved for too long. And yet I’ve learned that often he needs some space at first. This can be achieved through his taking a nap, or going to bed early. And sometimes he just needs to watch TV for a while to depressurize the situation in his mind. That’s how he clears his mind. So, if he asks for grace and space, I give it to him (if the matter isn’t time-sensitive). This helps him to get to a better place mentally. But most importantly, we agree to eventually work matters out TOGETHER at some point.
Steve also is now more prone to talk through our differences—rather than retreat. And both of us have learned (and are still learning) to be more respectful towards each other when we do “talk” about conflicting matters. Being kind and respectful is important! There’s nothing pleasing to the Lord about angry tirades. And it shouldn’t please either one of us either.
As for the romancing thing when we’re upset… nope! It just can’t happen when disturbing things are up in the air. That’s just not going to happen. Now later… that’s a whole different matter! So we’ve come to a place of compromise on this area of conflict.
I’ve learned that Steve needs physical touch. It’s an important “emotional connection” that he needs when we’re upset with each other. He can’t stand it when there’s a disturbing matter in the works. It could be the death of a family member, an argument, or distressing news of some sort. The first thing he wants is assurance that the “WE” in our relationship is in tact. This is an important emotional connection for him.
Different Approaches in Upsetting Circumstances
Cindy: As for the romancing thing when we’re upset… nope! It just can’t happen when disturbing things are up in the air. That’s just not going to happen. We both see that now. On the other hand… later—that’s a whole different matter!
But I now express physical love sooner than I did before. It’s now my priority because it’s something Steve needs. This compromise works for both of us, and for our marriage relationship.
Steve craves physical touch—especially when we’ve been upset with each other. (You or your spouse may feel the same way.) It’s a “connection” Steve needs to feel better emotionally, as well as physically. He can’t stand it when there’s a disturbing matter in the works. It could be the death of a family member, an argument, or distressing news of some sort. The first thing he wants is assurance that the “WE” in our relationship is in tact. We’re there for each other no matter what. This is an important emotional connection for him. And now it’s important to both of us.
This goes along with the point made in 1 Corinthians 7:3-6:
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and like-wise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.”
What’s our point in telling you this? We hope and pray it will inspire you in your marriage. Our marriage is doing great now (with a few bumps here and there). But it wouldn’t be good at all if we didn’t continually work at it. We don’t doubt that at all! We hope that if you’re having problems in your conflict approaches you’ll also work together to get to a better place.
Rather than looking at your spouse’s way of approaching upsetting matters as wrong (unless it’s abusive), look at it as “different.” Don’t judge just because it makes no sense to you. Instead, become students of each other and students of marriage. Make an effort to give each other grace. Also, make a concerted effort to learn skills to help you to overcome that, which is dividing you. Marriage is about learning to “marry” your differences, as God would have you. It’s about finding ways to work together so the “me” in each of you doesn’t overtake the “we” that you vowed to grow on your wedding day.
The point here is not to erase each other’s differences. The point is that when you marry, you continually work to erase the “selfism” you can grab onto. You won’t always think alike after marrying. But it’s important to THINK TOGETHER. You are to help each other grow as individuals and as a couple—especially spiritually, as you face everyday matters presented to you.
The following is our prayer for you and your marriage relationship. We’ve prayed this prayer for you over the years and we feel led to pray this for you here.
May God be honored and glorified in the ways in which you approach your marriage!
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 15:5-6)
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
We give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below to do so:
If you are not a subscriber to the Marriage Insights (emailed out weekly)
and you would like to receive them directly, click onto the following:
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Communication and Conflict