To retaliate or to reconcile is the question! Do you really want to win the argument and lose the love of your life?
We are sure to disagree with our spouses often, be it the way they do or don’t do things, the words they use or don’t use or their decisions and their expectations. Consequently we may get angry, upset, irritated or hurt by our spouses. And often our first reaction is to retaliate in kind. You shout, I shout louder; you name call, I call worse names; you ignore, I ignore and give you the silent treatment! Even with the best intentions of wanting to be the kind, sensitive spouse we end up in a situation of conflict being the exact opposite. And the causalities are our own health, our marriage, our children and even our work and colleagues.
We often begin to fear conflicts and see them as evil. But conflicts are a sign that there are two unique and thinking individuals in the relationship. However, it is the way conflicts are handled that can cause distress or intimacy. Conflict can be the path to intimacy and health in our relationships if only we stop retaliating and stretch out a hand of reconciliation.
When you have been disappointed, let down or hurt or offended, your first response may be retaliation because it is a way of self-protection, a reaction of our ego or pride, our desire to win the battle here and now. So we deliver killing blows through words and looks and enjoy the harm our blows have caused even if for a moment. “You hated your Dad! Well congrats you are just like him” or “you will never come close to my mother, she managed our home and us kids single handedly and you complain with nothing to do”.
Retaliation does have its benefits and kicks but building a healthier marriage is not one of them. Rather it destroys the very fabric of respect, trust and intimacy and replaces it with bitterness, hardness of heart and distance that is hard to diminish. So what is the alternative? If you love your spouse and this marital relationship is important to you then you will have to rein in your instinct to go for the kill and instead be willing to extend a graceful hand of reconciliation.
Pathway to Reconciliation
- It begins with being willing to choose ‘us winning’ over ‘I win, you lose’. Once your focus is changed from me to us, you will be willing to take the next step. The purpose of reconciliation is restoration of intimacy, respect and trust in your marriage.
- The second step is to take the initiative to make peace. Do not wait for your spouse to come and say sorry or even start the conversation, so you can apologise. Seize the initiative. Go make the first move. It does not mean you are weak or helpless rather it shows you are brave and courageous to make the first move. Don’t let pride stand in the way of resolution. Many couples have lived isolated lives under the same roof because both were too proud to make the first move. Pride is the downfall of a marriage.
“Ok, I am sorry. Let’s forget it and get on with life”, “Fine, I forgive you. Don’t do it again.” That kind of first move isn’t going to accomplish much. You are not here to say the final word or quickly swallow the bitter pill and head out but to be open and honest and have a loving dialogue that heals hurts and builds intimacy.
- Therefore the third step is to sympathize with your spouse’s feelings and seek to understand their perspective. You need not agree with their point of view, but it is important to understand and acknowledge it. This can be done by listening without interrupting with your point of view. Avoid trying to justify yourself. When you share your point of view, steer clear of- ‘You did this…’, ‘because of you…’ and other such blaming statements. Rephrase it with ‘I feel’ statements- ‘I felt hurt when I heard myself being called…’ ‘I felt angry when I was let down in front of my friends’.
- Fourthly, take accountability for your part in the conflict. In relationships it is not usually ‘I am right’ and ‘you are totally wrong’. If we are honest there will always be something we could have done better. Taking responsibility for your share will set the other person free from having to defend themselves and they too will be open to acknowledge their weaknesses. When discussing the issue the golden rule is ‘never attack the person’. You both are on the same team tackling the problem and winning a trophy of a stronger relationship. Name calling and labelling can destroy your spouses’ self-esteem and her/his love for you.
- Finally, your objective is not to resolve the issue but to reconcile with your spouse. This is not a meeting to find solutions, decide who did wrong and what needs to be corrected. It is an intimacy building exercise to help us draw closer in spite of our differences. ‘Solutions will always be found in a healthy and loving relationship, but rarely in one marred by turf wars and a need to be right’.
When relationships are on the reconciliation journey trust will be built, respect and love rediscovered and intimacy ignited. When this happens, many issues that we fight constantly over will wilt away into insignificance. When our marriage is a safe place where we are accepted for who we are and loved in spite of our shortcomings, we will not lose sleep over the wet towel on the bed and the hair in the sink. You and your spouse are worth giving up the temporary high of retaliation for the nurturing joy of reconciliation!
|Chitra & Rabbi Jayakaran are social workers heading Peacemakers, an NGO engaged in finding radical solutions for conflict and violence and sustaining justice and peace. They are also family life educators and counsellors.|