Recently, a police sergeant shot his wife who visited him at the police station and then turned the gun on himself in Hout Bay. A month before that, a police officer killed his girlfriend and wounded her apparent lover before turning the gun on himself in Durban. And in September 2018 an East London police officer is reported to have killed his wife and brother-in-law before turning his service pistol on himself.
These are unfortunate and indeed very sad tragedies of couples who couldn’t resolve their differences, resulting in men resorting to the unthinkable. They shot their partners in cold blood over disagreements. That these are policemen; the incidents happened months in succession and it’s men who violate against their women is disturbing enough to us. However, we’re even more disturbed when we think of cases of men killing women they’re in relationships with that go unreported.
In this column, we’ve written repeatedly about femicide in South Africa. And while that may still not be enough, this week’s column is dedicated to suggesting some fundamentals to keep in mind during moments of conflicts in your marriage.
Certainty of conflict
The first fundamental is to come to terms with is the inevitability of conflicts. A successful marriage is made up of two unique, whole and independently fulfilled individuals that often come from two different backgrounds with the sole mission of committing themselves to one another in love until death. As individuals, even after the wedding, you each have your own paradigms; dogmas and sets of values you espouse despite being joined into the oneness of marriage. You are genetically, physiologically, psychologically and historically different.
Inevitably, like all couples, you will fight. But couples who fight fair are ones who tend to have a stronger, healthier and more fulfilling marriage. One of the most obvious certainties in marriage is that there is no way to avoid conflict. The only question is how do you deal with it, because that’s what determines whether your relationship stands or fall, not the conflict itself.
Fundamentally, you have to develop a common purpose as a couple. If you don’t share a common vision that’s powerful enough to pull you towards a goal bigger than yourselves as a couple, then you’re not only going to fumble in the dark, but you’ll also even fight over the pettiest of issues. You’re also likely to lead different lives while married, which will create disorder and a type of schizophrenia for your marriage.
You’ll also grow apart as individuals and in that process, are likely to grow cold towards one another. Growing cold also means lack of compassion when dealing with conflict such that you don’t care to look at issues from one another’s points of view. You become obsessed with wanting to prove you’re right no matter what. However in marriage, you can be right or be reconciled – but you often can’t be both.
Tied to sharing a common purpose in your marriage is the concept of unity. Fundamentally, if you can learn to turn towards each other even during conflict in your marriage, you would be opening your relationship up to so many possibilities for victory over trying circumstances. Unity – being of one mind, speaking with one voice and one language – is the glue that will hold you together through it all.
However, committing your life to someone for life in unity often means you both have to be deliberate about elevating your relationship above yourselves as individuals. That means, resetting and redefining certain ideas and concepts you may have even held very dearly while you were single to suit the sacred vows you exchanged on your wedding day. It means to submit yourselves not only to one another, but also to the institution of marriage.
Dying to self
Marriage reserves no room for selfishness, self-righteousness and obsession to always want to be right. In fact, a narcissistic behaviour and delusions of grandeur are sure ways of nullifying your relationship to zero. You have to recognize marriage as bigger than yourselves as individuals.
Some conflicts aren’t solvable
When you agree on a set of common values, there’d be mutually agreed deal-breakers you simply can’t move forward without addressing. That’s not what we’re talking about here. However, resolving marital conflict is not an easy once-off event. It’s a long process that may even last for as long as the relationship itself. Never fall for the trap of believing that you can’t be happy if you can’t resolve some of your disagreements. Many serious problems in marriage are not solvable. There are things you’d disagree about, possibly for life. It’s normal. Why can’t you once and for all resolve them? Because in order to do so, one of you would have to completely sacrifice their values and beliefs. It’s okay to simply agree to disagree, and reach ‘emotional closure’ on certain issues. It’s anger that you should not let the sun go down with you in it, not disagreements.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Whenever every little thing matters in your marriage, you’re at your unhappiest. You try to change each other, but find that you fight even more. Resolving marital conflict requires big hearts, and stubborn focus on the bigger picture. Not every conflict in marriage is worth resolving. Some are just meant to be managed. Many stress related sicknesses are caused by your magnifying of potholes on the road, instead of enjoying and celebrating the journey.