Thursday, October 21, 2010

Conflict in Marriage

It may not be a big surprise to you to discover that most conflicts occur because of differences between people. The differences can be real, imagined, perceived, misunderstood or made up but they still can cause conflicts.

It has often been said that "The greatest cause of major and minor conflicts between a husband and wife are not a disagreement over the ANSWER to a question but a difference over the NATURE OF THE QUESTION itself." For example, My wife asked me this question: "Honey, did you water the new tree the condo association planted?"

I defensively and frustratingly reacted by saying, "Why are you always nagging me to water the trees? I watered it last night!"

Karen said in an upset voice, "I am not nagging you but you always forget to do the detailed things around the house!"

I said, "I do NOT always forget.Besides, the trees don't need so much water."

Karen, "Yes they do need water. I heard it on the radio and the condo association sent me a memo to make sure we get one inch of water on the new trees every week."

Gary replied, "Those condo people are always nagging us."

Why was I upset, reactive and frustrated? Why was I attacking the condo association and reacting angrily toward my wife of 49 years? I misunderstood her question. She actually said, "Did you water the tree?" I heard something else. I heard her say, "Why don't you EVER water the trees?"

I heard an accusation not a question. That PERCEIVED accusation set me off into a defensive reaction. It was not the FACTS of her question that bothered me but my PERCEPTION of the FACTS.

FACTS are those things that can be verified by data. My ideas are not relevant to facts.

Fact: "I weigh 200 pounds".

PERCEPTIONS are facts mixed in with my opinions, self talk, history, values, interpretations and, in my case, the ability to hear well. (I do not hear well.)

Perception about my weight: "I am way too fat."

In this instance, I did not actually hear Karen's exact statement. I missed some of the facts and added my own ideas and misunderstandings. So, I made a mistake but thought it was her fault and I became emotionally defensive and re actively accusatory. I thought she had made me upset but I really made myself upset.

Any time I get defensive and emotionally reactive I need to slow down and make sure I have heard and understood the issue correctly lest I make myself miserable and others miserable as well. A person of peace does not allow his/her PERCEPTIONS of others rule his/her life.

Toxic conflict that is destructive to a couple and family almost always arises from MISSED PERCEPTIONS of FACTS that are then interpreted as attacks. Make sure you have heard the facts and not simply misinterpreted them.

One of the main jobs of a Counselor is to help us deal with facts not just personal perceptions.

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