Q&A: Unhealthy conflict patternsWritten by Mitch Temple
Question: Every time my husband and I argue, he leaves the room mad and I wind up yelling. Will we ever get past this?
It’s easy for unhealthy patterns to develop in relationships. Negative interactions are often like rain falling on a hillside. At first, the water flows downhill in a widespread, even pattern. After several rainfalls, it tends to migrate toward natural ruts in the dirt. From that point onward, the water will follow the same ruts each time it rains.
Arguments in marriage tend to follow the same patterns each time they occur, often without you being aware of it. Here are a few suggestions to create new, healthier habits:
Pray. Ask God to give you wisdom to know how to address the issue in a way that will honour your husband and maintain respect.
Sit down and calmly discuss what is happening (the pattern). Approach your spouse when you are both calm. Don’t try to solve the problem when you are emotional.
Begin by talking about what you do that contributes to the negative interactions with one another. Be honest about your role in the problem, and be sincere about your willingness to change. If your husband will not discuss the issue with you, write a letter to be read when you are not around.
Begin the process of creating new patterns. Instead of arguing with your husband as usual, simply listen. Control your anger and your response. Try to understand where he is coming from. Make a conscious decision not to argue. Stay committed to your choice. If he leaves the room, don’t follow him. Don’t yell or throw hurtful words.
Often, when one spouse changes, those changes positively affect changes in the other. Simply stop doing the same things, and you will likely get different results.
If the negative patterns continue, get professional Christian help. Often, external insight is much clearer than your own. Focus on the Family Canada offers a free referral to a Christian counsellor in your area (1.800.661.9800).
The good news is that unhealthy patterns can be redirected. You can learn to interact differently rather than letting bad habits control what happens in your marriage. Like changing any other type of habit, it takes time and persistence to bring about positive results.
Mitch Temple was the director of Focus on the Family Colorado’s marriage department and a licensed marriage and family therapist at the time of publication.
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