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Resolving Conflict in Marriage

(You should know at the onset this is a completely fictionalized story based on an actual case. This article represents an abridgment of my early impressions of the case. This will be the first in short series of articles addressing this issue)<

“Our marriage is on the rocks.” What a way to begin a conversation! They went on to say, “Please help us resolve conflicts in our marriage.” I have heard these words more times than I can count. I have heard many couples tell me that “we fight all the time.”

Is this your first marriage I asked? I was curious as to whether the conflict patterns in this marriage are similar to their earlier relationships. They were! The problem was their current conflicts center around the same issues and the same conflict resolution patterns. Like so many others, this couple has failed to learn from their previous mistakes. Someone once said that “insanity is doing everything the same way and expecting different results.” That seems to hold true in many failing relationships, including this one.

An article published by the American Psychology Association states,
“. . .40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.

The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.”
www.apa.org article “Marriage and Divorce.”

The painful truth is that changing long-held attitudes and behavior practices take personal attitudinal and behavioral insight, commitment, hard work, and perseverance. You both must ask yourselves, what problem attitudes and behaviors do I bring to this marriage?

Remember what you said to me? “Please help us resolve conflicts in our marriage.” You should know that your problem is certainly solvable. But the question is, are the two of you willing to learn how to resolve conflict? More importantly, are you both willing to change your attitudes and behaviors enough to allow conflict resolution processes to work? I must warn you it will take you and your partner’s best effort. Long-held and practiced attitudes and behavior patterns are deeply engrained. And, as painful as it sounds, developing an effective conflict solving strategy in your marriage will likely not happen without those two problems being addressed and corrected.

Please understand that developing a healthier conflict resolution strategy means you must commit to the arduous task of avoiding destructive tendencies. You especially need to shed any tendency to practice ‘tit for tat’ behavior. It will be important that you individually commit to making the necessary changes regardless of what your partner does. If your marriage fails, you need to look back knowing that you personally worked hard to make the changes necessary to save your marriage. Too many couples play a tit for tat game. “You are not changing so why should I?” One of our earliest childhood complaints is wrapped up in this statement. “It’s not fair.” It’s not fair that I am working on this and my partner isn’t. Avoiding an emotional or actual divorce requires a best-effort by both of you.

Author Bio & Contact Information

My name is Richard Alberts and I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) located in Appleton, WI. I have a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from The University of Wisconsin-Stout. I am also a Clinical Fellow with The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

I have been practicing individual, marital, and other relationship counseling for over 40 years. I have professional training and life experiences that will help me connect with your experiences. Consider reaching out to me for an in-office session. Or, if you prefer to meet online, I’m also an online therapist at the Virtual Therapist Network.

Pride is Destroying our Marriage!

I can still hear the tear-filled words on the other end of the phone, “Pride is Destroying our Marriage!” I can’t take it anymore!

When I heard this, I thought of the words of Solomon, the King of Israel: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

Country music legend, Roger Miller even sung about it, “Pride is the chief cause and the decline the number of husband and wives.”

“Two broken hearts, lonely, looking like houses where nobody lives. Two people, each having so much pride inside, neither side forgives. The angry words spoken in haste such a waste of two lives. It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline in the number of husband and wives” (Roger Miller “Husband and Wives” 1966)

The deleterious effect of pride on marital success cannot be overstated. Our ego-driven pride brings out the worst in us.

This results in a paucity of healthy marital collaboration. Communication attempts quickly deteriorate into a monolog or a fight. You will likely fight or withdraw. It’s likely the one who withdraws will internalize their anger or frustration resulting in an emotionally weakened connection. This decline eventually deteriorates to the point where your words become prophetic and “pride is destroying our marriage” will prove to be the case.

How does destructive pride develop you ask? To be sure, not all pride is bad. Feeling proud because I got an “A” on the exam is not a problem but boastfully bragging about it is.

While there are many causes of boastful pride, a compensatory cover-up for low self-esteem is certainly key. These individuals have frequently been on the receiving end of an abundance of toxic shame. They have received a plethora of “not good enough” messages. This, combined with a generous ego strength, sets the person on the course of disproving their “not good enough self-talk. The result?

As you said, “Pride is destroying our marriage.”

So, what does this pride based behavior look like?

Here’s an incomplete list of ways pride rears its destructive ugly head:

  1. Pride insists on being right.
  2. Pride generates an unwillingness to own hurtful behavior.
  3. Pride and defensiveness are kissing cousins.
  4. Pride and opinionated people are joined at the hip.
  5. Prideful people find it hard to genuinely apologize.
  6. Prideful people hold on to anger.
  7. Prideful people demonstrate little need for forgiveness.
  8. Prideful people lecture or pontificate.
  9. Prideful people know it all

What’s it like to be in a relationship with such a person?

Think about how hurt you feel by being constantly invalidated? You will need to learn how to honestly share your thoughts, opinions, and feelings when discussing an issue. This will most likely produce some sort of negating comment or a “better way” statement. It’s also likely, to produce a well-reasoned explanation as to why it was an appropriate response. Remember, this “well-reasoned” explanation is just a sophisticated way of being defensive. If you remain incongruent you will become frustrated, angry, and withdraw even more. Developing a collaborative egalitarian relationship will not happen. You will either stay intimidated, stuck, and defeated or seek a way out. Pride is destroying your marriage but only if you let it.

I want to help you understand how to be congruent, but I want to issue this warning first. Be sure your congruent communication is not going to generate some kind of physical response. Protecting yourself is always a top priority. I am assuming that your relationship is physically safe.

First, you need to view every person as really two people or “selves.” There are four people in every two-person relationship. You have an inner self that is likely to be private or hidden, and a public self that everyone sees. Incongruent people are characterized by an inner or true self that is not saying what it’s thinking or feeling. Your public self, on the other hand, may look and act like everything is fine. Your partner may be obtuse and never realize that you’re seething inside. And, simply going along with an overbearing prideful person is not the answer. You need to learn how to have your inner person and your public person be on the “same page.” To do this, you will need to begin to take small courageous steps. There is no substitute for sharing your personal view of what happened, what you think about what happened, and how you feel about it all. Failure to be congruent over the long term will have significant consequences on your emotional and physical well-being, and it will contribute to an emotionally dying or dead marriage. Remember, couples tend to be emotionally divorced before they get divorced. When you become aware of and express how your thoughts, feelings, and desires affect your behavior, you are on your way to learning how to be congruent.

Pride is destroying your marriage. But, more importantly, unchallenged pride is destroying your
marriage. The sooner you begin to learn how to do this the healthier you will become. Confidence is a muscle. It will never get stronger if you never exercise it

Author Bio & Contact Information

My name is Richard Alberts and I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) located in Appleton, WI. I have a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from The University of Wisconsin-Stout. I am also a Clinical Fellow with The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

I have been practicing individual, marital, and other relationship counseling for over 40 years. I have professional training and life experiences that will help me connect with your experiences. Consider reaching out to me for an in-office session. Or, if you prefer to meet online, I’m also an online therapist at the Virtual Therapist Network.