In marriage, as in life, conflict is unavoidable. Though few of us enjoy it, conflict can actually become a powerful tool to help us grow, IF we learn the lessons it’s trying to teach us.
Most of the time, we fight about ice cubes. In reality, it’s not about the ice cubes. Let me explain. Several years ago, Christopher was visiting one of his elderly relatives. His aunt pulled out the ice cube tray only to discover it was empty. She went from zero to 60 in less than a minute, blaming her husband for always neglecting to fill the trays back up—among the things. She may have really wanted ice cubes, but the intensity of her anger suggested that just maybe, it wasn’t just the lack of ice cubes that she was so angry about.
When we find ourselves angry or fighting about the same things, most likely the actual issue is much deeper and more significant. Though Christopher did not have the opportunity to debrief with his aunt, we’d put money on the possibility that she actually felt hurt and disappointed that her husband was not more thoughtful. The empty ice cube tray symbolized her husband’s inability to track her needs and change his behavior in order to love and serve her.
It’s much easier to focus on the ice cubes than the deeper issues. However, this short-cut will rarely—if ever—solve the problem. If you and your spouse eddy around the same conflicts, we encourage you to de-escalate the conflict and see if you can figure out what’s really going on.
Here’s a few big picture possibilities:
- One of you feels undervalued. Perhaps your spouse rarely says thank you or lets you know how much you are appreciated.
- One of you feels taken advantage of. This could point to a need for better boundaries and willingness to say No. It could also mean that there’s an inequitable distribution of chores. (Or, perhaps one of you has some residual resentment?)
- There’s unprocessed hurts that need to be worked through. If we have not completely forgiven our spouse for past hurts and offenses (or family members and events from childhood), there tends to be cumulative effect. A seemingly small trigger (like empty ice cube trays) can cause a level 8 response when it only deserves a level 2. Since we’re all pain avoidant, this is completely natural. But, if we want to grow and stop getting stuck in conflict, we have to go through the pain.
- Your cultural or gender differences are causing friction. Though Christopher and I are both of European descent, he’s from the south and I’m from the north. Latins exude warmth and are time optimistic. (Christopher thinks of time as a metaphor.) Germans tend to be reserved and more precise regarding time. Add gender differences in and you can imagine the sparks.
- Your personality traits are causing friction. I’m an introvert who cringes when the phone rings with a limited capacity to listen. Christopher is an extrovert who can run circles around me with his words. I’m kinesthetic and love to move. He’s auditory and prefers sitting. Can you see how such differences become conflictual?
- You came into the marriage with unrealistic expectations and you have not yet realized that they are unrealistic. Since this is a HUGE issue, I’m going to devote the next blog post to this topic.
Notes from the field:
Two weeks ago, I was invited to talk with Krista from the Hey Sisters! podcast about marital sex. This was one of the most vulnerable—and fun podcasts/interviews I’ve ever done. Here’s the link for the audio.
And it’s not like sex is all I think about, but, it just so happens that an article I wrote a while back on, um, sex, posted this week over at The Mudroom.
March is a big month for Making Marriage Beautiful. On April 1, bookstores have the opportunity to send back any unsold copies for a refund. So, if you’re thinking about buying a copy for yourself or one to giveaway (It would be a great wedding gift!), this is a great time to do so! Buying through a bookstore like CBD or Barnes & Noble is the best option. If you liked the book, please consider reviewing it on Amazon.
Thanks for your support. Happy March. (Our forecast is for up to 20 inches of snow today.)