Are you an avoider? Is it easier to stuff your emotions than deal with the issue at hand? It might be time to reconsider this behavior. According to marital expert Diane Sollee from Smart Marriages the number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. And the sad part of this quandary is that many couples erroneously believe conflict causes divorce. So they avoid the very thing that could save the relationship.
In the initial stages of love, we avoid conflict because we think “staying in love” is about agreeing and NOT fighting. We’re terrified that if we disagree – or fight – we’ll run our marriage off into the ditch. We buy into the belief that if we’ve found our soul mate, we’ll agree about most things – and certainly about the important things. Later, we avoid conflict because when we finally do try to deal with our differences and discuss them, things get out of hand and the fights become destructive and upsetting. Then we simply shut down and after a few bad blow-ups we become determined to avoid conflict at any cost. Then we start wondering if we married the wrong person. We think to ourselves: it shouldn’t be this hard. The biggest surprise is that successful couples do FIGHT –they just have the tools to fight fair.
Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy. They also know how to contain their disagreements and how to keep their disagreements from spilling over and contaminating the rest of their relationship. Their keep the disagreements out of the TOXIC zone. While no one gets married anticipating conflict, if a couple doesn’t know how – or learn how – to fight or manage their disagreements successfully, they won’t be able to do all the other things they got married to do. In other words, it’s hard to have a blossoming marriage if you’re not speaking.
Often, couples are often so determined to avoid disagreements they shut down – quit talking, quit loving. The truth: Research has found that every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of “incompatibility” or disagreement they will never resolve. Successful couples learn how to manage their areas of disagreement and live life “around” them – to love in spite of their differences and to develop understanding and empathy for their partner’s positions.
The divorce courts have it all wrong. “Irreconcilable differences”– like a bad knee or a chronic back – are not a reason to divorce. Irreconcilable differences are a part of every good marriage. Successful couples learn to dance in spite of their differences. They gain comfort in knowing they know their partner, know which issues they disagree on and must learn to manage. They also understand that if they switch partners they’ll just get ten new areas of disagreement, and sadly, the most destructive disagreements will be about the children from their earlier relationships.
In addition to skills for handling disagreements, we also have to learn to welcome and embrace change. When we marry, we promise to stay together till death us do part – but, we don’t promise to stay the same. That would be deadly dull. We need the confidence and tools to welcome, integrate, and negotiate change along the way. The good news is that the skills or behaviors for handling disagreement and conflict, for integrating change, and for expressing love, intimacy, sex, support, and appreciation can all be learned. Couples can also unlearn the behaviors that predict divorce –that destroy love – and replace them with behaviors that keep love alive.
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