Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What To Keep Doing After You've Said "I Do!"

Why discuss marriage on a blog about raising healthy families? Well, in my opinion, the relationship between a child's parents, married or not, is a key component in raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Tomorrow at noon Eastern time I will be joined by Dr. Ann Park for the Kitchen Table Parents teleseminar, What To Keep Doing After You've Said "I Do!". We will be discussing how to grow a healthy marriage as well as some myths that can undermine marriage. This event is free for all Kitchen Table Parents members. For more information and to sign up, please click here. Can't join us live? Please leave any questions or comments below and we'll address them tomorrow. The call will be recorded.

As a preview of some of the information that Dr. Ann will share us tomorrow, she has offered these words of wisdom on conflict in relationships.

The Keys to Conflict

When we would go on vacation, early in our marriage, one of the things my husband and I could always look forward to was a brisk, invigorating round of conflict.  Our motto seemed to be: “A vacation is a great time to get into an argument!”

What was happening?
We were stepping into a classic pattern of behavior that’s all too easy to start ... and keep going.
We were putting off our troubles until a little later.  Somehow, “a little later” ended up being during our vacations.  
Now I confess that this was partly my doing.  My difficulty was all the unstructured time that came along with our vacations. Free time meant free associations - I'm a psychiatrist, after all!  And suddenly, all (his) crimes and misdemeanors of the preceding few months would stand up and declare that they were ready for their pre-trial hearing.
Needless to say, this was not great for our vacation time.  I learned the hard way that I needed to find a better way.
Does this ever happen to you?  Have you ever found that the short-term gain of putting off problems leads to a long-term price that is harder to pay?
If so, you’re not alone.  Many of us find that it’s unpleasant (at best) or excruciating (at worst) to rock the boat.  But I think we need to be motivated by this fact:  there are no short cuts.  We either pay up now, or we pay later, for emotional accounts that are due.  Our hearts have a hard time suppressing our emotions.  Feelings don’t get stored up. They ooze out. Usually at the times we would prefer not to ooze. Like on vacation!
In my opinion, Freud said a lot of crazy things but he was also brilliant.  He observed that it was impossible for us to stay truly silent. Our eyes, our hands, and our actions give us away. Our true feelings emerge from every pore.
So what can we do to deal with our feelings, with conflict, in a healthy way within our marriages?
1.              Be prepared.  We can acknowledge ahead of time that it is natural for conflict to arise in marriage.  And it will arise repeatedly throughout the course of our marriages. This is the inevitable fact when two imperfect people come together. 
2.              Be proactive.  In a nutshell, don’t wait until vacation rolls around. And don’t wait until you’re ready to blow up like a can of coke that’s been given a good shake.  Think the situation through ahead of time. Identify what’s bothering you.  Write it out, if that helps.  Gather your thoughts so that when you speak to your spouse, it’s thoughtful .
3.              Be personable.  Do you want to speak to someone who is becoming unhinged before your very eyes?  Neither does your spouse!  Pick a time and a setting to have a discussion that increases the odds of a great outcome for both of you. Choose a relaxed time, with little outside interruption. Put it on your calendars, so you are both ready.  Agree on a defined time to wrap it up. End on a positive note that reinforces your couplehood: go for a walk or bike ride, get dinner together.  Repeat as needed.
And save your vacations for relaxing!
Take home:  Dealing with conflict is a necessary skill in marriage, and you can get great at it.
Optional journaling exercise:  Pick an area that you’d like to discuss with your spouse. Using the three points above, write down three steps you will take this week to begin a healthy discussion with your beloved other.

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