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How to handle everyday conflict in your marriage

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If we apply some basic principles, we can keep ordinary conflicts from escalating into something major.

Conflict is inevitable when people live together. A family that doesn’t experience conflict is neither possible nor ideal, since if it’s handled well, conflict can help us to grow and develop new and better ways of relating to each other. Of all forms of social conflict, family squabbles are the most common and generally cause us the most emotional pain, since members of a family suffer not only for themselves, but also for their other family members, whom they love. This is especially true of the marriage relationship.

The need to communicate and understand each other

Listening to each other and trying to understand each other’s perspective is the best way to make progress towards solving a problem. We must always take into account an important element of a marriage: not only do we need to find time to dedicate every day to talking with our spouse about things in general, but we must also find (or make) a suitable time to express things that are bothering us.

Often, the main thing we need to do to solve a difficulty in our relationship is to see things from the other person’s point of view, and understand that every person has reasons for behaving the way they do. We can then try to understand those reasons, and hopefully respect them, even if we disagree. When both spouses engage in this process, we should be able to arrive at a compromise.

If you think you need to make changes in your life, be honest and talk about it 

All of us, at different times, can sit down and evaluate our life in the context of our relationship. That is to say, it’s normal for us to take time to consider, on one hand, the things we’ve had to renounce or leave behind, and on the other, all that we’ve gained upon entering our marriage and having a family. After this evaluation, some of us might miss — and even want to get back somehow — those years when we had greater freedom and fewer family responsibilities. Other people might feel the need to look for stimulation in new experiences and to feel young again, or at least not to feel too “settled.” While we can’t turn the clock back, sometimes there are legitimate changes we can make to bring a new spark into our lives.

However, it’s common for spouses not to be in the same situation at the same time, so changes will be difficult to understand and accept for the spouse that doesn’t have new needs. This is a common source of difficulties between spouses. Here again, mutual understanding and compromise — and responsibility and respect for our duties and commitments to our family — are vital.

Some practical advice

Change your habits. Routines tend to dominate our lives, because they’re comfortable, and to a certain extent necessary for us to live organized, responsible lives. However, they can become so automatic that our lives end up boring. Taking a break from routine is easier than people might think; we just need to make room for spontaneity, dare to make unusual proposals, and trade comfort for action. Even people with many responsibilities at work and at home can find room for adventure. It’s a good way to keep a relationship alive and interesting.

Take an interest in what your spouse is doing. Knowing your spouse and his or her hobbies, tastes, and interests can enrich your own world greatly. There will always be an aspect of what one spouse does that can stir up curiosity in the other. With this attitude, we can overcome prejudices and broaden our horizons, as well as finding areas of shared interest.

Set aside time just for sharing between the two of you. When there are kids in the mix, there’s little space for a couple to share with each other. Grandparents, uncles and aunts, and the family in general, can be a great help for parents to have some time alone. Even in daily life, we can and should set some time aside for being with each other as spouses. It’s very important never to forget that our spouse, besides being the mother or father of our children, is first.

Physical expressions of affection are important. Tenderness, solidarity, and support are often expressed with greater clarity and forcefulness through a hug or a caress than with words. These have a therapeutic effect: they diminish stress, help us relax, and create an irreplaceable bond. They have a positive effect both for those who give them and those who receive them. They are, above all, an immediate way of expressing our feelings and affection for your spouse.

These suggestions are particularly helpful for dealing with ordinary, low-level conflict that happens in every relationship; more serious problems require more in-depth means of resolution. However, if we apply these simple principles from the start, the changes of conflict escalating are reduced. If we can take conflicts into stride and live with our spouse as true partners, as companions on the journey of life, then other difficulties — with in-laws, children, work, etc. — become much easier to manage, because we will never be alone.

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