Part One:  “Traveling without a Resolution Roadmap”     

                                          “I will win every argument—whatever it takes!”
The angry husband left no doubt about his intention. When a conflict arose between him and his wife and an argument ensued, he was always determined to win. “I’ll say anything or do anything, but I have to win the argument.” He did not deny his wife’s complaints about his verbal abuse which admittedly was part of his vicious arsenal. It was no wonder that his wife was feeling hurt and hopeless and was one step away from filing for divorce. It was also no wonder that therapy was not an option for him. There was no need; he had no problem—nothing to repair, nothing to resolve. Realistically, the self-proclaimed “king of the hill” was one step away from a lonely lifestyle on top of his new home, “Divorce Mountain.” 
I could not help but wonder why any woman would agree to marry a man with such an unhealthy belief system about marital conflict as that man presented. Infatuation may have blinded her to the negative aspects of their relationship. Perhaps, like many people who are madly in love, she naively believed that ‘if we love each other, everything has to work out okay.” It could have been that, like most couples, they never took the time before the wedding to discuss openly and frankly their views about marital conflict. It’s also possible that she might have said, “I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.” At any rate, that couple was in serious trouble and their relationship was sinking fast!


Conflict Reality . . .

Unfortunately, this couple’s conflict pattern is not isolated or infrequent. Their pattern illustrates the frustration and failure that plague many marital relationships today. The reality is that most married couples appear to be traveling through life without a resolution roadmap! They do not have a plan of action or a “game plan” to use when conflict raises its ugly head. Without a roadmap they usually wander aimlessly, get totally lost, or have a “head-on collision” with the other spouse. Major confusion and marital collisions take a heavy toll on the relationship, and over time the cumulative damage can result in a total marital breakdown.
The reality is that unresolved conflict can change the relationship from an “ideal” into an “ordeal.” As a result, people in conflict pain could declare, “. . . so now I want a ‘new deal!’”  The majority of new applications for divorce represent unwillingness or inability to resolve marital conflict effectively. The romantic daydream has become a gigantic nightmare. The fairy tale that ended with “and they lived happily ever after” would now have to read, “and they lived scrappily ever after.” I recall a short poem that accurately describes this “scrappy” lifestyle.
                “Theirs was a beef-stew marriage,
                  Their case was somewhat crude;
                  The wife was always beefing
                  And the husband always stewed.”
                                                       (Author Unknown)
The reality is that unresolved conflict erects and maintains emotional “walls” that seem impenetrable and unchangeable. Physically they share the same living space but emotionally they are a universe apart. Neither spouse will budge an inch! Each one expects the other spouse to make the first move, to start the change process, or to surrender in defeat. Perhaps you’ve wondered what it would be like to see an “irresistible force” meet up with an “immovable object.” In my therapy practice I’ve seen the equivalent of that phenomenon in the context of marital conflict. It’s a scary and sobering sight! Neither spouse wins; both lose. There is no resolution, only a trail of damage and debris followed by a devastating divorce.
Another reality often occurs that spells major trouble. Predictably, all couples will encounter difficult circumstances; they will experience various hardships as they journey together through life. In every marriage there will be “rough roads ahead.” In the midst of these rough times some couples lose their focus in that they stop working on the issue and start waging war on each other.  Even when neither partner has committed an offense, the other one may accuse and blame, perhaps out of frustration or anxiety, or may demand unrealistic, immediate solutions. The original issue is no longer the enemy; instead, the spouse becomes the enemy. Hostile behavior and unrealistic expectations combine for additional marital misery. Unfortunately, the main issue is minimized or forgotten while the two spouses fight each other, causing unnecessary pain and damage to their relationship.
The negative results of unresolved marital conflict are significant. The spouses involved struggle with continuous tension and inner stress. The children falter in fear from the furious fallout. Extended family members often get sucked into the marital warfare and sustain serious suffering. Job performance usually decreases. Medical problems often increase. The eruption of physical violence intensifies the situation by involving the legal system, and, as a result, families are split apart and damaged for years to come. Without doubt, unresolved marital conflict is an enemy that prevents the fulfillment of the marital vows to “love and honor” and that destroys the very relationship that the two people had promised to protect and to preserve.
So, in light of these negative results of unresolved conflict, what’s to be done? At least three choices are available. Most couples do not resolve their issues of conflict, and they choose either to continue their marital warfare or they dissolve the relationship through divorce. These two options either maintain the misery or produce new problems. Some couples, however, make a better choice: to develop and use a workable roadmap for resolving marital conflict.

As you consider these three choices, please allow me to raise a few relevant questions. What is your ultimate goal or purpose when conflict develops? What is the process you use for working through disagreements? What specific steps do you take to explore options that will achieve effective decision-making? What guidelines have you established that will safeguard your relationship while you try to resolve the issues? Expressed differently, what is your current roadmap for conflict resolution? 
Assuming that you prefer the third choice, let’s introduce and explore some ideas and tools that could help you develop a resolution roadmap that will work for you and your spouse.
Conflict Resolution . . .

A conflict resolution roadmap is somewhat like a computer operating system that allows you to use a variety of helpful software programs. When the basic operating system fouls up, the software programs are in jeopardy, and you’re usually stuck with a major mess. It seems to me that a couple without a conflict resolution roadmap is like a computer with a defective operating system. What if we upgrade the system? Suppose that we purchase a new operating system but then leave the box on a shelf, and the system is never installed in our computer. What’s the benefit to us? Likewise, a resolution roadmap is of little use if it sits on the proverbial shelf (or in the file cabinet under the category “Marriage Success”). To be useful to us, the roadmap must be installed in our minds, internalized in our hearts, and integrated into our lives. Obviously, that process requires a lot of hard work. But isn’t our relationship worth it? Isn’t our goal to preserve and protect our relationship? Certainly so! All relationship travels sooner or later will face a “rough road ahead.” Wisdom recommends readiness. Therefore, let’s get to work at devising our relationship conflict resolution roadmap. Then, once it is developed, let’s apply it effectively and use it consistently.

Concluding thoughts . . .

Recently I was pondering this subject of conflict resolution and somehow the concept of “integrity” came to mind. I began to wonder about the level of “conflict integrity” that currently exists in most marriage relationships. What kind of personal integrity do we possess and practice specifically in regard to conflict resolution? The word “integrity” may suggest personal values such as honor, dedication, and trustworthiness. But the term also relates to the ability of an object to fulfill its basic function or purpose. For example, if a ship has high integrity, its hull will stay intact and will allow safe passage. Conversely, if the ship’s hull is compromised in some way, the ship’s integrity is threatened—and the ship could sink. On April 15, 1912 the acclaimed “Titanic” suffered such a fate on its maiden voyage from England to New York City after striking an unexpected iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. When hull integrity was lost, the ship could not fulfill its purpose and its sinking would represent for decades to come the tragedy of maritime disaster. 
Likewise, a relationship needs “conflict integrity” so that the relationSHIP will maintain its ability to function effectively when the “icebergs of conflict” are encountered on the “sea of matrimony.” When conflict integrity is absent or at a low level, the two spouses fight each other mercilessly without regard to protective safeguards or practical structure. The determination to “win at any cost” compromises the “relationship hull” and the ship sinks into the Ocean of Divorce. With high conflict integrity the relationship is able to stay afloat for a safe and successful journey. Since our marriages are important to us, we need to develop and maintain a high level of conflict integrity to make sure that our “relationship hull” is never compromised in any way. One solution through which we can increase our conflict integrity is by developing and using our Relationship Conflict Resolution Roadmap.
Without a resolution roadmap spouses tend to forget the real issue and to fight each other. A workable roadmap enables them to stay focused on the original issue that represents the “real enemy.” In teamwork they join hands and work together to resolve the real issue and to protect their relationship. As a result, their relationship is both preserved and strengthened. A successful resolution reinforces the truth that “a conflict resolved is a marriage restored.”

Thus far we’ve explored the prevalence of unresolved marital conflict and the price we pay for the problems that result. Further, we’ve realized the need for a workable roadmap that can be used during times of disagreement to prevent major conflict or to resolve the conflict that does occur. In Part Two of this discussion I will provide a sample roadmap that couples can adapt to their unique situation and can adopt for the health and growth of their marriage relationship. I appreciate your interest in learning more about ways to resolve your relationship conflict.

As always, I wish you the very best in all of your relationship journeys.
Resources . . .
If you are interested in helpful resource books or relevant websites that deal with marital conflict, check out the materials on this website. Go to Home Page, click on Resources, then on List of Categories, and )then on Communication and Conflict. Or, you can just click here.       


To view a short video of a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Resolving Marriage Conflicts," click on the image to the right or just click here.

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)

    (Communication and Conflict #:502)

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