One of the universal challenges all couples face is how to best resolve conflict. Maybe you’re like one of these couples below:
- You grew up in different families and saw it modeled in very different ways.
- You each have a unique personality and temperament. One of you might withdraw from conflict while the other might thrive on it.
- You don’t want to offend or hurt your spouse so you just ignore the problems and hope they go away.
- It’s just too difficult. Every time you try to resolve an argument, you both say hurtful things and can’t work through the issues.
Whatever the problem is, if you struggle with conflict resolution you’re not alone. Every couple I know wants to improve in how they communicate and resolve conflict. For this reason, we take every newly married couple in our church through the book A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan.
Kristen and I are in the middle of leading our own newly married small group, and I’m reading this book for (no exaggeration) probably my 10th time. It’s so rich and each time I read it, I walk away with different growth areas. I’m also encouraged by the progress we’ve made in our marriage in part because of this book.
Filters in Communication
Our group just read a chapter that discussed filters in communication. We often misunderstand what our significant other is saying because of filters. A filter is anything that changes what we say or hear. For example, when we’re not paying attention to our significant other in the middle of a conversation, the filter of inattention negatively affects what we say and hear. Or, when we’re in a bad mood, the filter of emotional states affects what we say and how we say it. In addition, a sour mood negatively affects our ability to hear our spouse.
In this post, I’m spending the rest of the time on the filter of memory. Sometimes we remember things in a different way than our spouse remembers it. We are certain we said one thing and they’re certain we said (or didn’t say) another.
Here are three brief reminders from A Lasting Promise for when the filter of memory affects your communication and conflict resolution:
1. Accept the fact that your memory isn’t always correct, even if you feel strongly about it.
This takes some humility to admit that you might not be right. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Take Humility 101 and admit you might be wrong. I love what my friend Blake says (tongue in cheek): “I’m always confident, sometimes correct.” Don’t be that person. It will not go well for you in marriage if you’re the person who’s always confident they’re right and their spouse is wrong.
Isn’t it possible that either you weren’t clear in what you said or that what you said wasn’t correct?
For example, you insist you told your spouse you’d be home in two hours, but you really said you’d be home in an hour. Or maybe you were distracted by something the kids were doing and you said one thing but you meant another?
It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel. Sometimes we’re just not correct. Be humble to accept the fact that you might have been incorrect or forgot.
Solution: Be humble (always) and agree to disagree (sometimes).
2. When you disagree about a memory of what was said, don’t keep arguing about it.
Unless you record every conversation with your spouse (which I DON’T recommend), acknowledge the fact that neither of you really knows what was said. You can’t go back in time and relisten to the conversation, so instead, agree to disagree and agree to focus on the resolution of the issue. Don’t get stuck in the past on something you or your spouse may or may not have said. It’s a waste of time and don’t get stuck in that trap!
Solution: Move on to resolving the issue in the present and talk about how you can do a better job in the future.
3. Bring others in when you’re stuck and can’t resolve the issue.
This one is not in A Lasting Promise but I believe is a good third step to take when the filter of memory affects your marital communication.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of community. When you can’t resolve an issue from the past, bring others in who can help you discuss the issue and move forward. I’m so grateful to be at a church that values both communication and conflict resolution and healthy community.
Matthew 18:15-17 provides a great model for how you and your spouse can move forward when you’re stuck. Try to resolve it one on one, and if that doesn’t work, then widen the circle and bring others in. It’s not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18), so bring others in to help you move forward.
Solution: Widen the circle and include others when you’re stuck.
I hope these three steps help you when the filter of memory negatively affects your relationship. I need these reminders! Even as someone who, for a living, helps others communicate and resolve conflict, I need to be reminded that I’m not always right, to not get stuck in the past, and to widen the circle and bring others in as needed.
What’s the biggest challenge you and your spouse face in communication and conflict resolution?
How does the filter of memory negatively affect the way you communicate and resolve conflict?