Having The Same Fight Over and Over? Here’s why:

Madly In Love (7)

I’m not sure when it really hit me, but there it was: we were having the same conflict again that we did the week before. And the week before that, and even the one before that! What was going on? Why did we keep fighting over the same thing?

Being a counselor who is trained to analyze complex situations, I had to figure this one out. What I eventually discovered was transformational to my marriage.

Perpetual Problems

I was glancing through a book by John Gottman on marriage when I read that nearly 70% of all issues that any couple wrestles with are perpetual problems. That caught my attention. Seven out of ten problem areas between Zerrin and I would never be fully resolved! Instead they would come back again and again to challenge us.

Talk about a depressive bit of research! 

That was my first reaction at least. Then it began to make sense. One of the areas of conflict that Zerrin and I have had to regularly process has to do with leadership and decision making. We are both leaders. During any given day or week there are many decisions to be made. Guess what? We don’t always agree! No surprise there. So who makes the final decision? Who leads? The result was conflict. Sometimes minor, sometimes not so minor, but conflict nonetheless.

This for us is a perpetual problem.

Perhaps it is for you as well. Or maybe it is parenting, or finances, or issues related to intimacy. Whatever it is for you, if it is an area where you have regular conflict, it may very well be a perpetual problem.

So what do you do?

The first step is to change your expectation from that of resolving the conflict, to that of managing it.

Here’s why: the tendency on all our parts when first facing a conflict is to find a way to resolve it. For some that translates into ignoring it. Not a good solution, but one that many take. For others, it means to barrel their way through to find at least some kind of resolution. If they are lucky enough to talk through it even in a small way, they get back into life assuming it is all taken care of. Within a relatively short amount of time, however, the problem surfaces once again. Then they are really mad because they thought the problem had been taken care of. Well, it may or may not have been at the time.

The bigger issue however, is that because of the nature of the problem, it is probably one that is perpetual. Once you recognize this, you realize that it is not something you can fully resolve. Instead, it is a problem that you must work together as partners to manage.

Ask yourself:

1.  What are the perpetual areas of conflict in your relationship with your spouse?

2.  What difference would it make if you changed your expectation from that of resolving the conflict, to that of working together as partners to manage it?

3 Ways To Help You Manage Perpetual Problems

1. When making decisions, we keep in mind that both of us are likely to have our own perspective.

Knowing this, we are careful to listen to and affirm the validity of each other’s thinking, rather than simply pushing forth our own agenda. This alone is very helpful in that it keeps conflict from heating up, and often enables us to quickly see that one option is better than the other.

2. In areas that pertain more to part of the household that one of us or the other was more familiar with, we let that person make any final decisions.

For example, Zerrin wanted to redecorate our living room. I thought it was just fine. It had served us well the last 20 years I thought, so why would we need to change it? :)  Well, Zerrin got to decide! When it came to the idea of keeping the house warm, she let me decide to put in a wood-burning stove!

3. Playfully my wife came to me one day and announced: “this weekend you get to make all the decisions.”  And I did!

It actually turned out to be quite a learning experience for both of us. I saw how often I shy away from making decisions out of fear of disappointing her or simply making the wrong decision. This proved to be a significant area where I needed to grow. Zerrin saw how quickly she resorts to making decisions when I hesitate – because my waivering makes her insecure. By choosing to let me lead, it gave her the opportunity to practice her faith in God more while giving me the chance to gain confidence in my abilities to decide.

These are just a few ways we have learned to manage one area that has now become less of a source of conflict as a result.

We all have “perpetual problems” in our marriages. Recognizing them for what they are, gives us the ability to address them appropriately – as an issue not so much to fix, but to manage.

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