Every marriage has conflict. Every relationship has conflict as well.

John Gottman, one of the leaders in the field of marriage research, has discovered that the majority of marital conflicts are perpetual in nature. They’re continual and repeated. In fact, 69% of all marital problems fall into this category.

Now before throw up your hands in frustration, hear me out.

There are many areas in marriage where you’re simply not going to agree. Here’s a few:

  • One of you wants to have children (or X number of kids), while the other says they’re not ready, or are happy with the current number of kids.
  • One of you wants sex far more frequently that the other.
  • You want to raise your children Baptist, while your spouse wants them to be raised Catholic.
  • Your spouse is lax about housework and rarely does his or her share until you nag, igniting anger.
  • Or one of the bigger issues — one of you is a saver with money and the other is a spender.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. The question is — can you remain satisfied in your marriage in spite of differences? Can your marriage thrive when there are differences between you?

Photo by BitBoy

The key is to continually work it out. Acknowledge the problems and talk about it. Your love for each other doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by your differences.

Think of it this way — the times when there’s tension between you and your spouse, it’s like the elephant in the room. You both can sense its presence when you’re together. Rather than allowing the elephant to roam freely between you and takeover your space, name it. Speak up. This won’t make the elephant leave completely, but it will decrease its size.

In unstable marriages, elephants are likely to kill the relationship. Instead of coping, the couple gets gridlocked.

You have the same conversation over and over, resolving nothing. You’re spinning your wheels. And since you’re making no progress, you both feel more frustrated, hurt or rejected. When this happens, resentment moves in and humor and affection leave.

Problems in marriage will happen. How you address these problems is up to you. Here are some ways to communicate well:

1. With respect.

One of the main things I see in couples on the verge of marital collapse is a lack of respect. When you reach a point of no longer liking each other, you’re in trouble.

“Respect is defined as not trying directly or indirectly to change anyone.” -Thomas Fogarty

Sadly, we often treat common strangers with more respect than people in our home. Respect is one of the key factors to a successful marriage — respect for those around you, and most importantly, respect for yourself.

2. With a clear definition of self.

Defining yourself involves an awareness and understanding of your beliefs, wants, needs and desires. Marriage is a great place to clarify these things in your life.

You are living with another person who has his or her own view of the way things should be, just like you. In your family of origin, tables may serve as great places to store piles of mail, magazines, and kid’s artwork. But in your spouse’s family of origin, tables are great places to eat dinner together, so they need to be free of clutter.

Neither way is necessarily “right,” they’re just different. You are allowed to live life the way you choose, but so is your spouse. Author Rob Bell refers to marriage as “thousands of little conversations about how two people are going to do life together.”

3. Understand the idea of over-functioning and under-functioning.

In every relationship, there will be one who over-functions while the other under-functions. It’s a reality of relationships.

Over-functioning and under-functioning are positions that we occupy in response to how we do life. None of us is all one way all the time — we over-function in some areas of life and under-function in others. This is determined by what’s important to you and what you value. For  example, if your kid’s grades are more important to you than they are to her, you’re more likely to do her homework for her, or at least  keep on her about it, because she can under-function, knowing you’ll  pick up the slack.

One thing to keep in mind — if you’re over-functioning for someone, you are under-functioning for yourself. When you are faced with something you want to change, and have a spouse that isn’t on the same page, it’s best to initiate a discussion about the change.

Share your thoughts – openly listen to theirs. It’s very likely that together, you will be able to come up with a solution.

4. Live by what you hold dear.

When you are faced with a situation where you and your spouse aren’t on the same page, live according to your own integrity and values.

If you want to save money and your spouse doesn’t, save.

You want to eat healthy and your spouse only wants fast food? Eat healthy.

At the end of the day, all you’re responsible for is you.

What do you think? Are you able to live by what you hold dear in your marriage? And what might this look like as you raise children together?