Marriage, like life generally, is not for the faint of heart. It confounds and confronts us at all stages of the journey. Being in close proximity and confidence with another person has a way of bringing up all kinds of unpleasantness both within and between us. But these very same attributes are what can make a marriage so beautiful and exhilarating. It gives us the opportunity to stretch, grow, and feel support. Hopefully, marriage transforms us into becoming better people because of the unique intimacy this type of relationship provides.
We teach a class on conflict resolution skills (and yes the old adage is true, you teach what you need) and often begin the semester by asking students who do not have conflict in their lives to raise their hand. Without fail, no hands are raised.
Conflict is part of the human experience, and the way we choose to interact can either contribute or detract from the issues at hand. For the most part, people see conflict as something to be avoided. Since we’ve been working in the arena of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), I’ve been challenged and invite others to see the opportunity for growth and change conflict can provide.
One thing we have discovered while working with people in conflict is that there is typically a “what” and “why” involved in conflict. A position is what we want, and an interest is why we want it. This time of year, many couples are starting to scrutinize bank accounts and figure out ways to recover from Christmas and the holidays. Money is the number one reason many couples argue.
We approach money with different lenses, and our “what” causes our tension. Our “why” however is what we can usually agree on. You see, our values fundamentally are the same. We have similar goals on the quality of life we desire that is more about how we want to feel, and this ultimately informs how we choose to be with our finances.
Another area in our relationship where we see things differently is how we love one another. Gary Smalley refers to this as our love language. My love language is “gifts,” and my husband’s love language is spending time together.
Completing graduate school was not only a highlight for me, but for our immediate family. Jonathan was excited to give me my graduation present. The evening arrived and I enthusiastically got all dressed up with somewhere fancy to go. I even wore my red patent heels, which I only wear on super special occasions because they aren’t my most comfortable shoes.
Finally, at our destination in downtown Minneapolis, Jonathan opened the car door. Confused I thought, “Is this is a baseball stadium?” I followed him up several (but what felt like a million) flights of stairs in my red, now burning, heels as my enthusiasm slowly began to deflate. “Aren’t these seats great?” he said! “I got us tickets in the ‘nice’ section.”
He then told me the story of a friend, who had a friend, who got us these amazing tickets. Now if I liked baseball, or could tell the difference between “regular” and “nice” tickets, this gift might have been a woozier, but it was quite the opposite and I had just hiked flights of stairs in high heels expecting the night of my life which, in my opinion, didn’t include watching a baseball game.
We laugh about this story now, but the baseball “gift” pushed us into a new and different conversation that wasn’t easy, but impactful. This past November, after months of saving, Jonathan surprised me with another graduation gift. This time he knocked it out of the park! An unbelievable romantic getaway where he coordinated everything including the childcare. This spoke my love language and brought us both joy.
What is it going to look like for you in your marriage? Where is there tension, conflict or opportunity for your marriage to change and grow?
Resources for you to consider:
• Book-Prepare Enrich- Couple Check up- A great resource to begin some purposeful conversation around nurturing your marriage.
• Love Languages by Gary Smalley
• www.sweetencouragement.org– Need a gift idea? These are sweet treats that come in pretty packages and give to a good cause.
Jonathan Stuart, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. He specializes in training and mediation services. Colette Campbell, M.A., is an adjunct faculty member, speaker/consultant and coach. She offers workshops on connecting to your calling, working with differences, and workingbetter2gether.