By Herbert Mtowo
The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. What’s sad are the reason couples avoid conflict is because they believe it (conflict) causes divorce. It’s like the cartoon where the couple explains to the marriage counselor, “We never talk anymore. We figured out that’s when we do all our fighting.” In the beginning, we avoid conflict because we are in love and we believe that “staying in love” is about agreeing, about NOT fighting. We’re afraid that if we disagree – or fight – we’ll run our marriage off into the ditch. We believe that if we’ve found our soul mate, we’ll agree about most things – and certainly about the important things. Later, we avoid conflict because when we try to deal with our differences things get so out of hand and our fights so destructive and upsetting that we simply shut down. After a few bad blow-ups we become determined to avoid conflict at any cost. And, we start wondering if we married the wrong person. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy. Successful couples know how to contain their disagreements – how to keep them from spilling over and contaminating the rest of their relationship. While it’s true that we don’t get married to handle conflict, if a couple doesn’t know how – or learn how – to fight or manage their disagreements successfully, they won’t be able to do all the other things they got married to do. Put another way, it’s hard to take her out to the ball game if you’re not speaking. Couples are often so determined to avoid disagreements that they shut down – quit speaking, quit loving.
Couples need to know what the research has found: that every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of “incompatibility” or disagreement that they will never resolve. Instead, the successful couples learn how to manage the disagreements and live life “around” them – to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to develop understanding and empathy for their partner’s positions. The divorce courts have it all wrong. “Irreconcilable differences” – like a bad knee or a chronic back – are not a reason to divorce. Instead, they are part of every good marriage. Successful couples learn to dance in spite of their differences. They gain comfort in knowing they know their partner, know which issues they disagree on and must learn to manage. They also understand that if they switch partners they’ll just get ten new areas of disagreement, and sadly, the most destructive will be about the children from their earlier relationships
Couples enjoy themselves as they gain mastery and become “relationship and wise smart.” Healthy loving couples also model the skills for their children which will slow the divorce rate in future generations. “Don’t tell us how to have a good marriage, show us.