The following five situations are metaphors for conflicts that commonly occur in couple relationships. Anyone who is or has been married knows it is not an exhaustive list.
1. “How did we get here?”
Such a response occurs when one partner says something without thinking of all the potential consequences. Of course, we’ve all done it. And we’re bound to say and do many things that don’t cater for the myriad consequences that could occur.
Whenever we get to that frame of reflection the moment is pregnant with opportunity for learning. And a good apology will save the day.
2. “How can I / am I meant to accept this?”
Some realities are or seem untenable in marriage. There are both, obviously, but there are also times when we can learn to accept a situation. Many more situations can be accepted than cannot be accepted.
Abuse cannot be accepted, for one. Affairs (without seeking forgiveness – showing remorse – and providing restitution) are another. But most partners who have issues with acceptance have issues they could learn to accept. Practice acceptance and soon our feelings follow.
3. “You mean to say that we haven’t resolved this one already?”
For one partner the fact that a particular issue isn’t resolved to their satisfaction ought to be evidence enough that they’re not the only party who needs to be satisfied. I wonder what might occur if this aggrieved partner thinks for a moment what it is like to be the other person.
The partner who thinks this question ought to be counselled by reality. Resolution comes with time and perspective and calm minds, and not beforehand.
4. “I cannot believe how many times we’ve fought about this!”
Linked with the above, this is about those times when we’re exasperated in marriage. Exasperation often occurs in marriage. Where it doesn’t we may begin to think we’ve married ourselves, someone ‘easy’ to understand and accept. There are times in all couple relationships where one or both partners are incredulous that a certain matter continues to cause problems.
Through seasons of exasperation we’re challenged to grow personally and interpersonally.
5. “Why have you not changed?”
Oh, all who read this should be able to see the problem immediately. But many won’t. There is nothing wrong with the question if we swap out the word ‘you’ with ‘I’ – “Why have I not changed?” Expecting our partner to change is often the wrong way of looking for the relationship to grow. There is one caveat though. Needing our partner to change, in some circumstances, is the only way a relationship can survive, e.g. addiction, fornication, etc.
All couple relationships feature irredeemable conflict. The sooner we accept this the sooner marriage moves into the realm of possibility.
Steve Wickham is a writer and pastor holds degrees in Science, Divinity, and Counseling.