by Lesley Vance Walkington
"My husband, Scott, and I are really struggling right now. We've been married for about seven months. It seems that we've been having a lot of fights and he always wants to twist things, putting the blame on me regardless of what started the argument. The thing that hurts me the most is when he invalidates my feelings and thoughts. I try to explain how I feel and what I need out of our relationship. But he doesn't hear me. He negates everything that I say and acts as if his viewpoint is the only "right" way to think. He is more concerned with winning the fight than reconciling with me." — Susan R., San Diego, Calif.
The first year of marriage is always tough. A husband and wife are coming together with different personalities and habits, and even separate perspectives and needs. It's impossible for spouses to be on the same page every waking moment. Most newly married couples find it difficult to truly connect emotionally and intellectually because few have been taught how to communicate well on the interpersonal level. Many husbands and wives feel the pain of trying to get their spouses to understand their unique point of view and feelings. But with a little work and determination, you and your loved one can find meaningful and appropriate ways to improve your communication skills.
First, don't be too hard on yourselves. Learning to communicate effectively and manage conflict during your first year of marriage takes practice. Second, in addition to connecting for at least a few minutes each day, set aside some time each week (at least one hour) to have face-to-face time with your spouse. Think of it as a check-in time when the two of you can discuss pressing issues, concerns, or upcoming plans.
Often, married couples go about their day-to-day routines just trying to keep their heads above water, checking off the to-do list and falling into bed exhausted at night. Having one hour each week to focus on your relationship will help you keep each other as a top priority. If there are no "hot topics" that need to be addressed, then use the time to nurture your relationship by reading an inspirational book together or discussing something that encourages you on the journey. By giving one another undivided attention on a regular basis, you will build respect and affection in amazing ways.
Gaining Fresh Perspectives
Show that you value your spouse's opinion. If there's a big decision to make—such as buying a car or house, whether or not to accept a new job offer, inviting your mother-in-law to live in your home or rearing of children—you should discuss it with your spouse. Don't ever make assumptions thinking your spouse will automatically agree with your way of thinking. These are all life-changing decisions that will affect both of you. It's also a good idea to discuss everyday "life" plans with your spouse. For example, if you are planning to take a spa day with the girls, then you should talk it over with your spouse. Make sure there won't be a conflict.
Even if you don't completely agree on every big decision, make the effort to find common ground. Your spouse might surprise you by offering a new perspective that is refreshing and helpful. Often spouses find themselves torn between two or more options that demand a well-thought-out decision. Mark and his wife, Tiffany, were faced with a career change. He explains, "I had been working for two years in a decent-paying job and then received an offer at another company with a higher-paying position. The only catch was that I would have to commute for two hours every day, which meant spending less time with my wife. After talking it over with Tiffany, she suggested we relocate closer to the new job location. She was willing to make the sacrifice of extending her daily commute so I wouldn't have to drive two hours every day. Without her creative thinking and our ability to be mobile, I wouldn't have been able to take the higher-paying job."
Another way to improve communication and build respect within your marriage is to admit when you are wrong. Honesty goes a long way in a relationship. Being able to swallow your pride will improve your communication skills ten-fold, and it will keep you humble. Pride is one of the biggest causes of marital disputes. Don't let it trip you up!
Unfortunately, we sometimes want to play the blame game, saying things like "You make me so mad" or "You hurt my feelings." Then we want the other person to grovel until we decide he/she has paid the price for making us mad or hurting our feelings. Love should not behave that way. Love should be responsible for its own feelings, reaching out to the other person to say, "How can I help resolve the situation?" or, "What can I do to make things better?" We should not orchestrate pity parties for ourselves. Be responsible for yourself and don't blame the way you feel on the other person.
Keeping the Peace
When you have a disagreement (and they are inevitable, even if you are right now in the throes of marital bliss!), you need predetermined ground rules to keep the peace and to keep the conversation flowing toward a positive resolution. If you start chasing rabbits (i.e. bringing up past fights) you'll never resolve anything. So keep these simple rules in mind next time you stumble into troubled waters:
These rules of engagement help keep you from losing respect for your spouse during a disagreement or fight. If you start yelling at each other, you will lose all respect and end up hurting one another. If any of these rules are broken, either person may call a "time-out" for a specified time (e.g., five or ten minutes) while tempers cool. You can also create alternatives to a "time-out" such as giving each other a foot massage or going out for ice cream. Once you both calm down, you can continue discussing whatever problem you need to resolve.
If you are both being stubborn, then one of you needs to take the initiative and reach out to the other person in an effort to reconcile. Give each other a hug and a kiss. Those displays of affection will go a long way toward breaking down any built-up tension. Remember, you are on the same team and are working together—not against each other. One of the most important questions to ask each other is: "Will this issue matter two months down the road?" Nine times out of ten the answer will be, "No."
As a couple you have the power to build up or tear down your relationship with the words you say and the things you do. The difference between good and great marriages is a couple's willingness to work hard to enable their marriage to reach its full potential.
Lesley Vance Walkington, Th.M., is coauthor of Thomas Nelson's Becoming New Testament 2, a Bible magazine for women. She has written for Christian Single Magazine, Fido Friendly, Christian Calendar, and many other publications. Most recently Lesley served as Minister of Outreach and Discipleship at Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church in San Diego, Calif. She and her husband live in Encinitas, Calif.