There are two character qualities needed to solve marital conflict. There are many other traits that will help work through things more successfully as well. That said, if you work on these two components, you will be able to approach your spouse in a way that seeks resolution more quickly. We have already established that conflict is an inevitable part of living in a family and talked about how to fight fair with your spouse. I want to add some more insight and depth into that discussion today.
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A few friends of mine have an amazing marital counselor. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this guy. One of the tips that was shared with me from this counselor involves two attitudes you should always have toward your spouse – especially when it comes to navigating your disagreements.
Two Character Qualities Needed to Solve Marital Conflict
So what are these two magical character qualities needed to solve marital conflict? Humility and curiosity. I love that. Did you hear that? It’s good stuff. I’ll repeat myself just in case you missed it: To solve martial conflict well, you need humility and curiosity. Now, let’s unpack that a little bit.
Humility – Humility is such an important character trait in marriage. It is one of the reasons why I teach this quality to my kids in my character development series. Just see those lessons on humility here.
I absolutely love the definition of humility given by C.S. Lewis. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” Wow! Brilliant. NEVER mistake humility with low self esteem.
We all can get stuck in our own brains and have a hard time seeing something from another person’s perspective. Often times you have to remember that you and your spouse are different. You will often see your way as better, but in humility we change the mindset to say, “Not better or worse but different.”
There are times you can just let it go, considering they have a different way to do things, and that’s OK. I know that sometimes in a relationship there will be one that wants to be more controlling. For example, we might ask our husband to get the child ready in the morning. We can fall into the trap of micro-managing things rather than letting them do it their own way. Who cares that he didn’t dress the baby the way you would. He didn’t prepare the eggs exactly the way you would have done it. Let it go. The husband can be controlling about how he wants things to go too. Humility is letting go of the need to control.
In a conflict, being humble is acknowledging the person has points that deserve to be heard. It’s also accepting that fact that you have things to work on in the relationship. There are always things you could be doing better. Follow my advice here to transform your marriage. Inevitably, most individuals in a relationship struggle with the same issue. They think the other person is the problem. Humility is being willing to work on yourself and knowing that can make a huge difference.
Curiosity – Curiosity about another is the spark that keeps a relationship growing. That’s tweetable. If you want to stay married forever, keep being curious about your spouse. Remember when you were dating, and you always wanted to discover more? Your spouse isn’t stagnant. There is still more to learn. In the book the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“ by John Gottman, he talks about a love map. It’s constantly familiarizing yourself with your spouse, building into the relationship by having a curiosity about them. What are their dreams? What is their current favorite song? What was challenging about their day? What’s their biggest fear? There are so many questions that will keep you close and pursuing one another. I love table topic cards for getting to know your spouse (and kids and friends) even better. Never stop pursuing this.
What does curiosity look like in conflict? “Your spouse is not your enemy.” Did you get that? It’s a super important and a quote I took away from a Weekend to Remember. I’d highly recommend Weekend to Remember to spouses who are in a tough spot…or a great spot. Your spouse is not your enemy is an important concept to grasp when fighting. The idea is to not expect the worse in your spouse in the moment. We do this by asking clarifying questions (being curious) in a loving way.
Let me give an example of not expecting the worse in your spouse. It’s time to get the kids to bed. Your husband makes sure they go potty and then sends them in to brush their teeth, and you go upstairs to begin tucking them in. You normally do this together. Tonight, you are tucking in one, and the other two are running around like crazy people. You’re annoyed that you seem to be on your own tonight. You go into your room to check where your partner in crime has gone, and he is sitting on the bed looking at his phone.
My first response has often been negative – complete annoyance. It is combative. The reason? I’m assuming the worst. I assume he is wasting time by playing a game, watching a YouTube video or reading an article. It’s obvious I’m busy putting kids to bed, so why isn’t he helping?
I made all kind of assumptions and attacked rather than being curious. A curious spouse would say (without resentment in her voice), “Hey, I’m not sure if you knew we were doing bedtime right now. Can you help or is there something going on that you need to take care of right now.” You have no idea if he just received an SOS message from a friend, is writing something that came to mind on his to-do list, just innocently got distracted or was looking up how to unclog the sink that just backed up in the bathroom after your kid stuck something down the drain.
Asking clarifying questions in a non-accusatory fashion (and this is where we need to REALLY check our tone of voice) leads to an attitude of trying to understand the situation better. In “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages” by Shaunti Feldhahn,” she discovered that highly happy couples believe the best about one another. She states that in healthier marriages, “The internal assumption of the highly happy spouses was, ‘He must not have known how that would make me feel, or he wouldn’t have done it.'” Sometimes, when we feel ourselves getting annoyed and haven’t asked clarifying questions, we simply need to ask ourselves this one question.
Next time you can feel the battle and conflict starting to take over, try and remember that the two character qualities needed to solve marital conflict are humility and curiosity. It’s not always easy, but it will become more natural as you practice changing not only your actions but your heart attitude.
Marriage Books I Love
For those wanting to make marriage a larger priority, I want to share some of my favorite marriage books.