“Why Can’t We Live in Peace?”

People in relationships often raise this question when they prefer more peace but they predict more pain. Their preference emerges from years of turmoil and they want something better. Their prediction is based upon years of frequent failures to achieve and maintain any type of genuine and permanent peace. Is there hope for peace within a relationship characterized by conflict and troubled by tension? Can our preference for peace lead us to a prediction for peace?

A healthy relationship is a relationship at peace. The importance of peace usually correlates with the value placed upon the relationship itself. Most men and women who choose marriage expect to live together in some degree of mutual peace. The phrase “at peace” does not mean the total absence of conflict. Understandably, disagreements arise and problems occur but the two people know how to resolve their issues efficiently and effectively. They are committed to a lifestyle of peace and therefore work very hard to relate to each other in ways that promote and protect the mutual peace. Conversely, the prolonged absence of peace leads to unhealthiness and an unsafe, unsuccessful journey along the Relationship Highway.

Peace is not a consequence that automatically occurs because two people choose to enter into a human relationship like marriage or friendship. Without consistent effort any preference for peace will probably be overcome by the prevalence of problems. Genuine peace must be pursued with diligence and devotion. 

Three Styles of Peaceworking


The pursuit of peace is a topic that merits a great deal of thought and discussion by the two people in the relationship. The development and maintenance of peace is closely related to the personality and purpose of each relationship partner. The individual’s basic agenda will determine his preferred style of “peacework.”  In my professional experience I’ve seen three different styles of peacework with multiple variations. You will probably connect with at least one of the following descriptions related to peacework style.  

Style #1:  The Peacefaker—Pretending the Peace
One category of peace-people is composed of the “peacefakers.” These individuals represent the style of “pretending the peace” in that they pretend that everything is peaceful and quiet when in fact the relationship is threatened by undercurrents of unresolved conflict and unfulfilled expectations. The question “How are you both doing these days?” is always met with a quick response, “Oh, we’re just fine. Everything is going well with us!” According to them, every day is a “nice day.” These “Great Pretenders” are usually more concerned about outward image than inward integrity. A good front supersedes what happens behind closed doors. The relationship partners will smile and extend their “best wishes” to outsiders and even to each other, but the calm surface hides the turbulence below. Many couples will live for decades in this pretense state, either because they are afraid to tackle the real issues or because they lack the skills required for problem-solving. Their relationship motto is “Peace at any Cost!” and the Welcome sign on the front door is covered by another sign that reads “Do Not Disturb!”  By faking the peace they may enjoy some semblance of a “peaceful relationship” but their travels along the Relationship Highway are destined to ultimate breakdowns and collisions.  

Style #2:  The Peacetaker—Preventing the Peace
A second style of peacework is characterized by individuals who prevent peace. I think of these people as the “peacetakers” because they steal the peace from their relationships through negative attitudes and selfish behavior. The basic theme has many variations. These individuals are unhappy due to a lack of inner peace and therefore cannot live in peace within any relationship. Because of insecurity they question the motives and intentions of the other spouse. Every action is made a “test of love” that usually is interpreted to mean “you really don’t love me.”  Their self-centeredness means that “everything is about them” (in a negative way, of course), and they personalize things to an excess. Offenses are neither forgiven nor forgotten; grudges are maintained and are used to inflict continuing punishment upon the offender. The person holding the grudge steals the peace through his brawling or bickering battles on the one extreme or his silent and sullen sabotage on the other extreme. An open warfare or a “cold war” is usually an effective method of peace-prevention. Furthermore, peacetakers insist that everything be done exactly the way they think it should be done with little or no flexibility or compromise. Circumstances are never cooperating to their satisfaction; nothing is ever good enough to please them. Their goal during disagreements is to win the battle regardless of the cost. They tend to pick fights with their spouse and usually over-react to any conflict initiated by the other spouse. Their discussion style resembles that of a bully who uses intimidation techniques to get his way or to put someone down. Their behavior suggests that they would rather fight than forgive and fuss rather than forget. They prefer to fan the flames and feed the fire instead of facing the facts and fixing their faults. Although the peacetaker pattern might vary from a mild to moderate to severe level of “peacetaking,” the basic pattern spells major trouble for any relationship. Through these types of negative behavior the peacetaker prevents the development of the kind of peace that promotes relationship health and happiness.
Style #3:  The Peacemaker—Preferring the Peace
The third style of peacework describes those individuals who prefer to live in peace in all of their relationships, especially in their marriage. These people are the peacemakers who work hard for peace because they see the benefits of a peaceful lifestyle. Unlike the “peacefaker” who denies problems and pretends that everything is fine, the peacemaker is alert to problems that arise and is assertive about confronting and resolving the key issues. Unlike the “peacetakers” who prevent peace by fighting each other, the peacemaking couple will join hands and work in partnership to fight the common enemy, that is, the specific problems that need resolution. Peacemakers understand that problems must be resolved to mutual satisfaction if genuine peace is to be maintained.

Unfortunately, a peacemaker may be in a relationship in which the other person is not interested in resolving issues and making peace. In such cases the efforts of the peacemaker may not be sufficient to maintain relationship peace, but he tries to do everything within his abilities to work for peace. Clearly, true peace within a relationship is not possible unless both partners are committed to the priority of peace.

As we consider these three styles that describe our approach to the issue of relationship peace, we need to assess our individual attitudes and actions to determine the category in which we fit. Our style might be an imitation of what we saw in our parents, or we might approach relationship peace in a way that is opposite to our parents’ approach. The first two styles are clearly negative and detrimental to the kind of peace that promotes relationship health. If we see ourselves in Style #1 or Style #2, we could determine to change to Style #3. If you’re not already in Style #3, I hope you’ll make the decision to become a peacemaker and, as such, to travel The Highway of Peace with your spouse. Your travels together will not be problem-free, but your journey on The Highway of Peace will certainly be more enjoyable and will promote growth toward a healthier relationship.  

So, let’s assume that we choose to travel with Style #3. How can we grow in our peacemaking efforts? Growth is certainly possible but meaningful growth will entail some serious thinking and sustained work. Progress is made as we work through three important steps. First, peacemaking is initiated as each individual prepares his heart for inner peace, and then the efforts move to the relationship as a whole. Secondly, after peace is achieved it must be preserved on a continuing basis. Thirdly, the two people in the relationship will prescribe peace for the future in that they will develop a creative plan of action for peace maintenance. Let’s consider each of these three steps in more detail. 

Three Steps for Peacemaking

Step One:  Preparing the peace!
The preparation for peace begins with individual effort as each person in the relationship prepares his own heart for peace. If the individual does not have inner peace he cannot achieve genuine relationship peace. It is also the case that a person may have inner peace but is unable to make peace with the other person. In other words, individual peace is a prerequisite to relationship peace but there is no guarantee that relationship peace will in fact be achieved. 

If as an individual you are not at peace within yourself, what can you identify as the issues that are preventing or stealing your inner peace? That assessment could require a great deal of exploration and could lead to significant changes in your personal belief system or daily lifestyle. For example, you might conclude that you have unresolved guilt related to past wrongdoings, or there may be deep resentments following mistreatment from other people. Guilt and grudges need to be confronted and resolved. Doubts, fears, and insecurities generate anxiety which is counterproductive to the peace you prefer. So you must deal with these enemies of inner peace. If you are addicted to a chemical (like alcohol or drugs) or to some behavior (like pornography or over-eating), then you’ll need to deal with your addiction. By definition, an addiction will keep you in bondage and, as a result, the enslavement will steal your inner peace. Your assessment may make you aware that you’ve been carrying a heavy load of emotional “trash” from many types of past hurtful experiences. Because your “trash” interferes with your inner peace you’ll need to find an effective way to “unload your trash.”

After you’ve resolved or eliminated the attitudes and actions that have stolen your inner peace and you’ve developed at least a reasonable level of inner peace, then you may be ready to enter the arena of relationship peace. It is hoped that your spouse has done a similar assessment and has achieved a reasonable level of inner peace as well. You and your spouse can begin by identifying the current threats to peace, such as unfulfilled expectations, unresolved conflicts, and unforgiven betrayals. These types of threats involve issues of trust and forgiveness. Effective peacemaking requires the ability and the willingness to apologize appropriately for specific misbehavior, to extend forgiveness toward an offender, and to work hard toward the rebuilding of trust.  Other threats that may represent lower levels of danger can also be identified and scheduled for resolution. The effective resolution of major problems certainly involves the usage of good skills for communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. If these skills are absent, then you and your spouse may need to work with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or similar professional for the purpose of skill-development and problem resolution. Making peace within a relationship is like building a house one block at a time. Or, to use a highway analogy, making peace could involve the removal of one “roadblock” at a time so that safe and successful travel can be assured. Your work in “roadblock removal” could take a long period of time, but the ultimate results will make your efforts worthwhile.

Step Two:  Preserving the peace!

The second step in the peacemaking process is the preservation of peace.   A state of peace will last only as long as it is preserved, kept, or maintained. Preserving peace is an important accomplishment that includes at least two key components:  contentment and containment. Each component plays a vital role in the successful preservation of peace.

The first component is contentment, the ability to be satisfied with what we have instead of wanting things we don’t really need or should not have. We are not at peace when we constantly want something different or something more. Our frustration breeds discontentment that steals our peace and generates anger which usually leads to a pattern of grumbling or complaining. If we expect to be happy, satisfied, and comfortable all of the time, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. These unrealistic expectations of a spouse or marriage will lead to an unhealthy relationship in which the discontentment destroys our peace. Therefore, we must make certain that our expectations are realistic, attainable, and appropriate for our unique relationship. While constant dissatisfaction tempts us to do things that harm our relationship, contentment generates gratitude and promotes a desire to protect the relationship. 

The second component is containment, the ability to manage anger and conflict. Sooner or later disagreements will arise and they will result in either growth or deterioration within the relationship, depending upon our ability to manage the conflict through effective containment. We’ve learned from many tragedies that the smallest fire, if not contained effectively, can grow into a raging inferno that is extremely destructive. Likewise, a small conflict fueled by negative feelings and hurtful behaviors can escalate into a major marital war that threatens the survival of the relationship. Containment is vital to relationship survival.

How skilled are we at containment? Hopefully, our containment skills will increase and improve as we gain wisdom from relevant knowledge combined with practical experience. Two of these skills are discernment and discipline. Because of their importance let’s explore each skill in greater detail.
Containment skill #1 is discernment—the ability to distinguish between preference and principle. By definition a “preference” is something we would like to have but it is not something we have to have. A preference is definitely a want and not a need. In contrast, a “principle” is a standard or belief that is an integral part of our core value system. Unfortunately, people in relationships too often get their preferences and principles mixed up or theyapproach every issue as if it is automatically a matter of principle or a matter of preference. Both errors hinder effective containment. Because of their inherent value a person’s principles need to be respected and safeguarded. However, some highly valued principles could be counter-productive to healthy relationships and, as such, need to be reconsidered carefully for potential modification. However, in contrast to principles any preference should be very open to negotiation. The practice of discernment simply means that I will consider the issues in dispute very carefully. Is a particular item a preference for me or is it a matter of personal principle? Is it possible that I have somehow viewed the item as a principle when it really is just a preference, or vice versa? If my conclusion is that the item is a preference, then I need to show the greatest amount of flexibility possible in working for peace with my spouse. On the other hand, if I conclude that the item is in fact a valued principle, then I will assertively stand firm to maintain and safeguard the principle. A good guideline to follow is: “In matters of preference, flexibility; in matters of principle, firmness.” 

Most couples fight many more battles than are necessary. I’m convinced that the majority of marital fights are about preferences rather than principles. By fighting about preferences the people involved are usually demonstrating selfishness and stubbornness. Real love does not insist on its own way; rather, real love seeks to fulfill the other person. The practice of love means that flexibility will be shown in all matters of preference. I’ve used a “beatitude” for years that makes great sense to me:  “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Relationships are often “bent out of shape” simply because one or both partners are selfishly insisting on preference instead of practicing flexibility. As a result, unnecessary battles are fought and unwelcomed damage is done. We must choose our battles in life with caution and wisdom. Our choice involves the containment skill of discernment.

Containment skill #2 is discipline—the ability to practice self-control and to use tools that are essential to effective problem-solving and conflict resolution. We understand from life experience that the containment of a fire requires the usage of self-control as we use appropriate tools to extinguish the blaze. In many relationship conflicts the two individuals fail to practice self-control in that they continue to say things or do things that actually “feed the fire” and escalate the conflict. Furthermore, they fail to use appropriate tools that are required for conflict resolution, such as effective communication and problem-solving skills. On many occasions we have to discipline ourselves to stop talking and to take a “time-out” in order to prevent negative escalation of an argument. If you and your spouse do not have a workable “Time-out Tool” in place, it’s time to develop one for your relationship. (For more information about these important containment skills see the related articles listed at the end of this article.)

Step Three:  Prescribing the peace!

The final step in the peacemaking process is the prescription of peace. Most people have been given prescriptions for medicine or medical procedures by their physicians. In a real sense each prescription is a plan for better health. If used appropriately the prescription promotes health and wellness within the individual. Similarly, the two people in a healthy relationship develop a prescription (a plan of action) for future peace. They establish peace as a goal, a top priority to be valued highly. The prescriptive plan contains scheduled “couple time” discussions in which mutual expectations and relevant issues will be addressed. The plan also includes the methods and tools they intend to use to confront and resolve the disagreements and conflicts that may arise during the discussions. Having a workable plan in place does not automatically guarantee the presence of peace, but such a plan will serve as a reassurance that peace will be secured and safeguarded.

This prescription or “peace plan” might be compared to building a bridge for peace. Bridges are built in many shapes, sizes, and styles. Essentially, they all fulfill one basic purpose: to connect two points over an intervening low place or obstacle. Sooner or later every relationship will experience a “low place” of disappointment and/or an obstacle of conflict, and the two people will feel separated by the mutual problem. Hopefully, they will both work hard to build a bridge to promote reconnection and reconciliation. Through their peacemaking efforts they are actually building and maintaining a bridge for future peace.

Concluding thoughts . . .

Relationship peace is a very important goal to pursue through positive planning and assertive action. Wise travelers will never confuse peace with passivity. They understand that the pursuit of peace requires intentional and deliberate efforts to prepare, preserve, and prescribe genuine and lasting peace. Couples committed to peacemaking will work hard to stay on track in their travels along the Highway of Peace.

The good news is clear: peace is possible! It is just as clear that peacemaking is a lifestyle choice that we can respect or reject. We can turn a possibility into a probability by our decision to pursue peace. Our choice could determine the destination of our relationship travels.
I wish you well in your practical deliberations and your personal decisions about relationship peace.

As always, I wish the very best for you in all of your relationship journeys.
Related Articles about “Containment Skills” . . .  (To read these articles just click on the title.)
“Communication: Supplying Self-disclosure” CC#505   

“Communication:  Learning to Listen” CC#504

“Relationship Conflict:  Your Resolution Roadmap”  (Part Two) CC#503

“Relationship Conflict:  Your Resolution Roadmap”  (Part One) CC#502

“Communication:  Knowing when to Stop Talking” CC #501


Trust:  Relationship peace involves mutual trust between the two individuals. Dr. Baker has published an article entitled “Trust Development in Relationships” that you can find on this website. To read the article you can click the image to the right or you can  click here.


Forgiveness:  Relationship peace involves apologies and forgiveness when offenses are committed. Dr. Baker has published an article on this website entitled "Relationship Forgiveness." To read the article you can click on the image to the right or just click here.


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