Many couples preparing for marriage find closeness and intimacy in planning together the endless detail of wedding organisation. The sense of chemistry, magic and goodwill that first attracted them to one another prevails and deepens their bond. But occasionally some unforeseen issue, perhaps trivial in nature, has the capacity to divide and undermine their sense of common purpose. One or other can perhaps become deeply entrenched and uncompromising in their position. Unsure of how to handle this unprecedented behaviour, the other partner may decide to withdraw feeling confused, hurt or disappointed. A deep silence, distance and coolness may envelop the relationship, as the couple do not know how to reengage without losing their stance of principle. Eventually the pressure of some imminent issue or wedding preparation decision may trigger the momentum to commence speaking to one another again. They sometimes go forward as a couple without mentioning the divisive issue or why it was they fought. They simply gloss over the impasse afraid of reawakening the unpleasantness they experienced. The difficulty in how they handled conflict temporarily disappears possibly only to revisit them at a later inconvenient time in their relationship.
Some relationship partners react to conflict in the same manner they have earlier in life observed their parents deal with it. This is called learned behaviour. Sometimes parental behaviour can decidedly influence family members against handling conflict in the manner it has been mirrored to them. Some partners handle conflict just as they did in childhood; following this scenario one partner may have learned the best method to get his/her way was to shout and scream. This is also learned behaviour but the good news is that learned behaviour can be unlearned. This can come about through couples looking at how they argue, identify what’s happening for them and help each other to challenge the unhelpful behaviour.
Two American psychologists John and Julie Gottman in studying over 20,000 marriages in the United States discovered three styles by which partners can understand conflict and resolve problems within their relationships. The Validating Style in relationships involves regular compromise, a desire and an ability to identify and incorporate your partner’s point of view. The Volatile Style involves meeting the issue head-on vocally and emotionally, erupting into conflict and passionate dispute. The Avoidant Style involves agreeing to disagree on most issues and frequently seeking to minimise the importance of the conflict or problem. All of the above styles are explored in detail within the Accord Marriage Preparation Course.
So as you prepare for your wedding day do you feel that as a couple you have adequately learned to resolve issues of conflict? Do you understand how you argue? Do you feel you approach conflict issues differently? After you fight do you harbour feelings of annoyance, disappointment and anger towards your partner?
Discuss together how you have both handled conflict in your life up to this point. What are the aspects of your current style of conflict management that irritate each other? For the betterment of your relationship what do you both feel you need to change about how you handle conflict?
For Your Information:
The Accord marriage preparation course, “Marriage – A Journey Not a Destination” offers an extensive series of activities around issues relating to the preparation for marriage. For further information visit: