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Myths on marital conflict

Most of what we do, even during marriage coaching sessions, tends to centre on idiosyncratic behaviour and long held dogmas. Some of the beliefs are based on myths that couples tend to adopt as truths in their marriages. In a country riddled with domestic violence, we wish to submit some of the myths held by many couples in conflict resolution.

Healthy couples don’t disagree

It’s true that if you argue for the most part of your relationship and still don’t resolve basic issues, your relationship may be in trouble. However, healthy couples do disagree. It’s unnatural not to. We don’t agree on everything. However in their disagreements, couples with healthy marriages don’t explode, hit below the belt, or use arguing as a tool to gain power in the relationship. They are also mature and discerning enough to distinguish between resolvable disagreements and those that can be shelved. They are able to adjust to the resolutions, and choose to forgive and move on.

A great relationship lets you vent every feeling

It can’t be true that you should be as emotional as you want, and say things you’d never say under calmer circumstances in the name of honesty. Getting things off your chest might feel good, but when you blurt something out in the heat of the moment, you risk damaging your marriage.

We don’t get to say whatever we want to each other as couples. Many relationships are destroyed when one partner can’t forgive something that was said during uncensored venting. The hurtful, mean or outrageous things you say to your spouse will be remembered for a long time into the future. Before you say something you might regret, bite your tongue and give yourself a moment to consider how you really feel.

Nothing must be left unresolved

We’ve dedicated this entire column just on this myth last week. Many problematic issues in marriage don’t get resolved, they get managed. If your spouse for instance, is too strict with the children and you’re too lenient that’s a conflict to be managed.

Fighting clears the air and gets the truth out

We know of couples that are addicted to being at each other’s throats over issues, because they can’t “let the sun go down” without resolving issues. Fighting is not necessary to clear the air. It’s often usually about control, expression of frustration and proving who’s right. This is all in the name of wanting to be heard. Getting heated up in an argument does not make you tell truths you can’t tell under calmer circumstances. Contrarily, you might engage in a competition of who can say nastier things than the other – stuff that can’t be unsaid.

It is possible to discuss anything that is or is not happening between you in a calm and logical manner. That’s in fact what leads to more truth-telling and air-clearing than fighting and arguing will ever accomplish.

Fighting just happens, you can’t control it

You always have a choice for which you’re fully accountable for your behaviour, how you express yourself and how you respond to whatever is said or done to you. Even if your spouse is a total freak, they can’t make you scream back, hit back or swear back. You are not responsible for anyone else’s words or actions, but you have to own yours.

If you’re feeling provoked, you have the choice to remove yourself from the situation by taking some alone time. Your spouse cannot fight alone.

Shouting comes naturally for me in expressing my anger

This is just a plain old lie that some people tell themselves. Arguing and shouting is an immature and dramatic way of expression, but not natural. Carrying out tantrums instead of being mature about an issue is the least effective way to reach a solution for whatever is making you angry. If you’re feeling steamed, wait until you’re calm to discuss a problem. Level-headedness creates much better chances for peace in marriage during times of disagreements.

It’s a family thing, we are hot-blooded

Both of us, Mo and Phindi, grew up in households where huge blowouts were a norm. But we chose never to carry that out into our relationship. Fighting, temper tantrums and arguing may be common in your original family, but it’s not genetic, inherited or inevitable. It’s a learnt behaviour that developed into a habit because you found that it worked in the past. It’s also a characteristic of a dysfunctional family that you can unlearn. No one is happy amid chaos and angry uncertainty.

It’s okay to rage as long as I’m not hitting anyone

No, it’s not okay! Screaming, swearing, throwing tables up-side-down and hitting your fist against the wall are all raging behaviours that are classified under emotional and verbal abuse in terms of the Domestic Violence Act. It is just as damaging to relationships as physical abuse.

Fighting is a necessary part of any relationship

You will disagree. But disagreements don’t have to deteriorate into terrorizing showdowns that reduce your marriage into a fear-ridden nothingness. Couples approach us frequently believing that fighting is a necessary part of being married. In your disagreement, you don’t have to fight. Fighting is a destructive behaviour that accomplishes nothing useful for your marriage. Conflict resolution in marriage doesn’t have to be wrapped in an emotional heat. It’s possible to engage your disagreements as a couple and still maintain mutual respect.

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