Islamic marriage seeks to take two completely separate individuals with different upbringings, thoughts, and experiences and meld them into a single spiritual and social unit.
Even though marriage unites two people, you still maintain your individual identity.
As such, you bring all that you have to offer into this beautiful relationship. What many people fail to realize prior to marriage is that the intimate nature of marriage truly places a magnifying glass on what makes you who you are.
Due to this magnification, your negative qualities can be highlighted often. The vulnerability marriage brings heightens the emotional impact of even the smallest actions.
If you are unwilling to recognize this emotional heightening, you risk frequent conflict.
Conflict Management in a Marriage
Frequent conflict is not “bad” in and of itself. But, frequent conflict can bring out frequent ways of avoiding conflict. If these ways are unhealthy, such as yelling, insulting the other, or shutting down, the mercy in the relationship has dwindled.
When these failed conflict resolutions become the norm, research finds that people contemplate the end of their relationship. Nobody wishes to be in a relationship where they feel disrespected, unheard, and overwhelmed during every conflict.
Love cannot withstand poor conflict management.
If poor conflict resolution is the single-most predictor of failed marriages, then what is the most proactive thing we can do? Learn how to resolve conflict effectively. However, while many conflict resolution methods are effective between friends and even coworkers, they may be difficult to implement between spouses. Why?
It is because, in a marriage, poor conflict resolution isn’t simply the result of not knowing how to communicate. It is a result of unmanaged and misunderstood emotions.
You may learn the ins and outs of listening actively when your spouse voices a concern. But, if you get so angry that you can’t listen anymore, then your problem isn’t “listening”.
Your problem is you don’t understand why you are getting so angry and how to manage your anger.
Until your emotions and their connection to the past are understood, you will constantly feel like you are failing to implement good conflict management.
When you find things that bother you (even repeatedly), it may be that the thing that bothers you is not objectively “wrong” or haram. And yet, you find it hard to deal with.
Whether it’s a messy spouse, not knowing when they will arrive home, something they said to you in a sarcastic tone, their action 1) invokes an emotional response such as feeling angry or disappointed followed by 2) a decision to bury your emotion or confront.
If you bury the emotion, it may lead to resentment and disconnection from your partner. If you confront, it may lead to a fiery conflict if you both are not skilled in defining your emotions.
The following are reflections and questions to help you in your conflict management.
How did your parents resolve conflict?
Oftentimes, we “learn” our conflict management from our parents. If it was poor or we had absentee parents, we are at high risk for repeating these behaviors.
Not only that, but we also absorb the expectations of our spouses from our parents. This is regardless of what we truly want in our relationship or if the expectations are fair or realistic.
If we don’t reflect on how our parents’ relationship affected us, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
For example, your father had an expectation that your mother is the sole cook of the home. Your mother met that expectation daily with home-cooked meals. Your wife is not meeting that expectation which makes you very disappointed and leads to conflict.
But, your mother was a stay-at-home mom while your wife is a working woman which you prefer. How did your parents’ experience affect the expectations of your marriage? Is it a fair expectation? What conflict is resulting and how can their conflict be respectfully compromised?
Does the intensity of the issue match the intensity of emotion you experience?
Here’s another example: you placed your cell phone charger on the kitchen table and leave it there. When you come back 2 hours later to grab it, you can’t find it. You spend 10 minutes looking for it and increase in frustration.
Eventually, your husband walks into the room and asks what you’re looking for. You exclaim that your charger is missing. Your husband says “oh, I moved it back to the bedroom where it usually is.” Now, a conflict ensues and you find yourselves in a heated argument over… a phone charger?
From the outside, it may seem that the phone charger is the issue, but a missing charger does not inevitably mean conflict.
So the question is, what are the underlying issues hidden behind the conflict?
If these are not understood or managed, they fester. Then, seemingly small things like a missing phone charger lead them to erupt out of nowhere. This leaves the other partner feeling unsafe like they’re walking on eggshells. It diminishes the quality of the relationship and respect between spouses.
Only the person who is angry can do this reflection on their own. In fact, as difficult as it may be, it is better to step back when you feel like confronting your spouse about any subject and ask questions like “why does this matter to me so much?” and “why do I feel angry/saddened/disappointed/frustrated about this?”
For the phone charger, it might be as simple as the wife was having a rough day, and losing her phone charger led her to release the tension she was holding back. It may be out of character for her and a simple apology may be all that’s needed with little to no damage to her relationship.
Or it may be that this is a frequent occurrence and she feels like her property is not respected. Maybe there are other conflicts she has not felt capable of bringing to her husband’s attention and that leads to constant frustration which was expressed by proxy of a missing phone charger.
What are you willing to let go of?
Part of maintaining a satisfying and happy relationship is being forgiving and merciful enough to just let certain things go.
Oftentimes, we’ll find that if we hold off on bringing up an issue that bothered us for 24 hours, it may not be so bothersome anymore.
If we are willing to step back and do the aforementioned reflection to understand what the underlying reasons for your negative feelings are, you may find you are projecting onto your spouse something that isn’t actually their fault.
Some conflicts may have more to do with you than with your spouse.
That is not to say “don’t ever create conflict.” It’s inevitable. But, pick and choose your battles based on what will make your relationship more wholesome. Within this principle, you can find ways to respect the other person’s autonomy.
Remember, they were someone with habits, beliefs, and experiences before they met you and they can’t change everything to fit your preference. Marriage is truly a give and take.
Learn self-regulation techniques
Self regulation is the art of keeping yourself from moving into fight or flight territory. To figure out what tactics are best for you, analyze what it is you do in a conflict that went wrong. Then choose self-regulation techniques that help that.
For example, self-regulation may include asking for a break and coming back to the conflict later. It may require you to write out your feelings instead of saying them so you can review them first.
Deep breathing, hugging or holding your spouse while speaking, using affirmation and “I” statements are all part of self-regulation.
Conflict resolution has more elements such as how to bring up topics, how to communicate your experiences, and the art of compromise. But, it all starts with you and what part you play in your conflicts.
Even if your spouse is not yet on board, working on these tactics can help improve your relationship significantly.