Many marriages end in divorce while other couples subsist in misery.
If you long for a more fulfilling marriage, here are a few suggestions.
The secret of a happy marriage
The ability to resolve conflict is the secret to a happy marriage.
When conflict is resolved, you give one another pleasure rather than pain.
Notice I said RESOLVE, not concede or take refuge in silence.
Conflict will occur. While some couples are painfully aware of
areas of conflict, others maintain they don’t fight. Conflict is
not necessarily fighting. Conflict is wanting different things
The sure sign of trouble
Withdrawal means trouble. You may withdraw emotionally
and/or physically. To withdraw emotionally is to spend a whole day
together and yet be alone. Emotional withdrawal means you refuse
to let the other person past your barriers to know what you really think
and feel. A couple may sit in the same room for five hours watching
TV like two rocks side by side on a beach.
Physical withdrawal is when you avoid your mate. If he is on the
golf course while she is shopping, they avoid painful encounters.
Emotional withdrawal occurs before physical withdrawal.
It does matter
So many couples live parallel lives that many consider separate
lives normal. However, you are headed for trouble.
If your mate is not a source of pleasure for you, why be married?
For the children? Because of religious convictions? Because
of duty? The pressures of society to remain married have relaxed,
and women are more financially independent. With the outside pressures
relaxed, many women simply file for divorce rather than remain in an unhappy
Also, people who live parallel lives are ripe for an affair. One
day someone listens to you, really listens. He looks you in the eye,
takes you seriously, and draws out your secret dream. She doesn’t
correct you, believes in you, and laughs at your jokes. And it feels
so good. This other person gives you pleasure rather than pain.
Chemical changes occur in your brain, and you are in love.
You go home to nothingness, to problems, or to painful encounters.
More and more you think of this other person, find ways to be with him,
tell her how you really feel, and you probably will end up in a sexual
relationship. At the very least, you will withdraw further and further
from your mate.
Divorce is overrated as a solution
I just finished Continuing Education Unit on Texas law as it
relates to family issues. No wonder people find their lives in such
turmoil after a divorce. The legal complications of a divorce are
overwhelming, especially if children are involved.
Another reason divorce is overrated is that most people will not choose
to live alone. Most people will remarry. Thus, we have a family
composed of yours, mine, and ours where children are concerned. Not
only is such an arrangement draining emotionally, the financial obligations
can be overwhelming.
Just living together solves little. Common law marriage has unbelievable
Back to conflict
The real problem is that conflict will inevitably enter any
relationship. Conflict will occur even in an affair as two people
find areas in which they want different things. The bubble bursts, reality
sets in, and the chemical high in the brain subsides. Now he wants
to go home to his wife, his kids, and his dog. Probably only the
dog will be glad to see him.
In a new marriage, conflict will occur. If you do not know how
to resolve conflict in this marriage, why do you think you will know how
in the next marriage? How many marriages do you plan to have?
Do you believe that a relationship is based on magic?
Somewhere I read that divorce courts are full of people who love one
another. That is exactly right. More is involved in a lasting
relationship than feeling love. The skills necessary to resolve conflict
can be learned. And, as you give one another pleasure rather than
pain, the feeling of being in love will return.
HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT.
Here is how you resolve conflict, restore pleasure to the relationship,
and be madly in love after thirty years of marriage.
Don’t be reasonable
Most couples fall into the truth trap. They assume that
determining the truth will resolve the conflict, as though we are perfectly
rational beings. Actually, the truth is often unpleasant and can
be cruel. The truth can even intensify rather than resolve conflict.
More is involved in conflict resolution than being rational.
Besides, the truth is always wrapped in perceptions. He sees the
glass as half full, and she sees the glass as half empty. He sees
a great opportunity, and she sees a threat. She sees a wonderful
time with the family, and he sees a day with whining children. One
person looks at a cloud and sees Beethoven while the other looks at the
same cloud and sees a doggie. I believe in Truth, and I believe that
Truth is out there, but our perceptions color our vision.
We are trying to resolve conflict rather than do philosophy. If
you approach conflict resolution as finding Truth, then points must be
argued, evidence supplied, and the other person proved wrong. The
best debater may carry the day, whether or not truth has been found.
Unpleasant arguments and recriminations make us avoid such attempts to
The truth will assert itself, but conflict resolution is not primarily
a search for truth.
Agree to resolve conflict
The first step is to agree to resolve conflict in the sense
that each of you must be happy with any solution. Make a pact.
Agree that anytime you find you want different things, you will brainstorm
together until you find a happy solution.
Agree to take breaks
When your button is punched, you go deaf. Maybe you have
a HURT BUTTON, a GUILT BUTTON, or an ANGER BUTTON. When you talk
with your mate, your button gets punched. From that moment on, you
are on automatic. You hear and understand all the words, but you
are deaf. Think of the times you have talked and talked and never
resolved anything. Someone got a button punched.
Agree to call time out. When you sense your button is getting
punched, call time out and take a break. You will develop skills
and self control, but don’t expect to resolve all conflicts in a single
sitting. In difficult situations, you may have to brainstorm together
for weeks to find a happy solution.
See the article on Dealing
with Anger and Other Negative Emotions for more help in this area.
How brainstorming works
Here is a simple illustration of the brainstorming process.
You want to go to be with your family at Christmas, but your mate wants
to stay home. Here is an opportunity for a real mess replete with
hurt feelings, guilt, anger, and unresolved conflict. Avoid the truth
trap, and start throwing out ideas. The dialogue might go something
“You want to stay home? Well, let’s brainstorm.
Let’s go to see my folks this Christmas and we’ll stay home next Christmas.”
What happened in that exchange? By dealing with wants, the couple
dealt with the subconscious: old memories, dreams, goals, and hurts, both
rational and irrational. By brainstorming, they brought the rational
into play, but not in a way that would lead to an argument.
“You say that, but next Christmas you’ll want to go home again.”
“Maybe we can fly up for Christmas day.”
“It’s too expensive.”
“Well, I really want to be with my parents for Christmas. You
want to be here. What’s your idea?”
“I don’t know. Would they come here for Christmas?”
“They probably would.”
“Why don’t we ask them?”
By taking what each mate wanted seriously, they expressed love by an
action. Finally, a temporary solution was found that could be tested.
Both people felt happy about the solution, for the solution met the subconscious
as well as conscious needs. In other words, both conscious and subconscious
needs were dealt with in a rational way without a lengthy process of psychoanalysis.
You can have a happy marriage
The ideas sketched out here work. If you have trouble, I do a limited
number of free
consultations online and take on a limited number of online clients.
At first you might need some help in sorting things out and gaining the
Let me know how it works out.
(C) 2000, Don Mize