This post was first published by Family Life and is used here by permission
Andy and I were having coffee with a friend of ours the other day and he casually said to us something like, “oh, you two have the perfect marriage.”
That was very encouraging as Andy and I do attempt to practice what we preach, and we constantly talk about ways we can make our relationship better – but I can tell you that our marriage is far from perfect.
Researcher John Gottman says that in relationships that are healthy, the ratio of positive comments to negative criticism is 5 to 1. That is, there are five times as many positive things said to every negative comment.
So the interesting thing about his finding is, you might think that it’s important to get rid of all the negative stuff completely, and eliminate all anger, sadness, and hurt feelings from your marriage. But that’s not true. It turns out that negativity is very productive in marriage because in the process of conflict it causes us to address issues, and find out how we hurt each other and talk about how to do it better next time.
So, in a weird kind of way, conflict is a really healthy part of a normal relationship.
You don’t want a marriage where there is nothing negative going on. I hope that’s encouraging for your listeners to hear this morning.
The other thing is it wouldn’t be very real if there wasn’t anger, sadness, disappointment. These things are all a part of real life. And there is kind of a cycle of getting closer and drawing apart. In fact it can be the infliction of hurt that can cause us to continually renew courtship.
But here’s what we can learn from healthy couples and how they handle conflict: Imagine I was holding an invisible soccer ball. And this soccer ball represents our problem. The way healthy couples deal with issues is they kick the ball around. Now, unhealthy couples don’t do that – they handle conflict differently. Unhealthy couples try to put the soccer ball on their partner’s body, and then kick it. And they are really saying, “you are the problem.” They complain in a way as if there is something wrong with the person – as if their partner’s personality is defective.
For examples they might say something like, “You know, you talked about yourself all through dinner; you never once asked about me. What is wrong with you?”
Healthy couples don’t do that. They still complain, but they talk about themselves, their feelings and what they need. For example, “You know you talked about yourself during dinner; you never once asked about my day. And that hurt my feelings. I really need you to take an interest in me too.”
So in summary, conflict is normal, and hurt feelings are a part of a very healthy relationship. What’s important for us to learn is how to address the conflict so that we both come out of it with our dignity in tact and some new level of understanding.
Bottom line – don’t treat your spouse like a soccer ball .. be sure to kick the issue around instead.