Category: Conflict

You Need to Explore This

When couples come to me for pre-marital counseling, I sometimes ask: “Why do you want to get married?” Whatever else they say, they always give me the big reason: and the big reason is always the same. “We love each other.” Then I ask a very unfair question: “Tell me, what do you mean by that?” There is silence. Then, one will say, “Oh…You know!” I guess maybe I do know. I think they are talking about a euphoric emotion that makes them oblivious to reality. They are the happiest they have ever been. What they don’t know is that the euphoric feelings will last for two years and then they must find another foundation for marriage. Wouldn’t it be better to explore that foundation before they get married?

The Healing Power of Apologies

In a perfect world, no one would need to apologize. But in an imperfect world apologizes are a necessity. The first step is admitting that you need to apologize. “I owe you an apology,” is a good beginning. Then, express your apology, and admit that your behavior was wrong. Ask them to forgive you. When you sincerely apologize, you will most likely receive forgiveness. When you fail to apologize you leave an emotional barrier between you and the other person. When is the last time you apologized to your spouse? Or, your child? If it has been more than a week, you probably need to say,  “I owe you an apology.” Time doesn’t heal hurts; apologies do.

Q&A: Bad Relationship with Father

Q: My fiancé has a bad relationship with his father. My friends say that this can be a big problem after getting married. What do you think?

Gary Chapman: If a fractured relationship with one’s father has never been dealt with—yes, it’s going to show up in his behavior and very likely be a problem. Ideally, everyone needs a father with whom they had a loving relationship as a child and now as an adult they can reach out and seek advice from time to time. However, we don’t live in an ideal world and he didn’t choose his father. He may or may not have been the one to cause the fracture, but I would encourage him to work through the difficulty, seek to reach out to his father, and rebuild that relationship. Additionally, I think it is important enough to delay a marriage while this process takes place.

Q&A: Loving People who Disappoint

Q: “Gary, I struggle with loving other people as they always disappoint.  How can I work on this?”

A: The only way to avoid being hurt is to stay away from relationships. The reality is that there is going to be pain, hurt, and disappointment in all human relationships. This is because we are imperfect. None of us are loving all the time. We are by nature self-centered and often selfish. Consequently, we hurt each other—most of the time unintentionally. The fact is that if you’re going to have relationships, you’re going to have times that you will be hurt. You have to accept that. Then, when you do feel hurt or wronged, you lovingly confront and try to work through that difficulty so the relationship can continue on down the road.

Two Small Sentences

“I made a mistake.” “I was wrong.” Two of the most important sentences you will ever learn. There are no perfect wives, no perfect husbands, no perfect children and certainly no perfect parents. Healthy families do not require perfection, but they do require the willingness to admit when you do wrong.

When Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I wrote the book: When Sorry Isn’t Enough (May 2013), we discovered that for some people, this is what it means to apologize. If you don’t admit that you were wrong, they feel that your apology is insincere. The next time you need to apologize, you might use those words: “I made a mistake.” “I was wrong.” It might make it easier for your spouse to accept your apology and forgive you.

I was Wrong

I remember when my son was about six years old. He accidentally knocked a glass off the table. It fell broken on the floor. I looked at him, and he said, “It did it by itself.” I smiled and said, “Let’s say that a different way: ‘I accidentally knocked the glass off the table.’” He smiled and said, “I accidentally knocked the glass off the table.” He had learned an important lesson:  accept responsibility for your behavior.

I know adults who have never learned that lesson. They are still saying, “It did it by itself.” Here’s an exercise for you: Stand in front of the mirror and say, “I was wrong.  I was wrong.  I was wrong.” Say it until it feels comfortable. Then, use it when you know that your behavior was inappropriate.

Q&A: Resolving Conflict

Q: I tend to be very passive in dealing with conflict and my wife is direct and confrontational. How can we be better at resolving differences?

A: To solve conflicts, we both have to share our honest feelings and ideas. We also have to listen to the other person with the view to understanding and not condemning what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. If you can’t get this together yourself, you can try reading one of the many books on this topic. One of those is my book, The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted. If that doesn’t work, by all means, sit down with a counselor or pastor to learn the skills of listening and resolving conflicts in a positive way.

Handling Anger in a Positive Way

Would you like to teach your family how to handle anger in a positive way? In my book: Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, I suggest that couples write the following words on an index card and put it on the refrigerator. When they feel angry toward a family member, they get the card and read it to the person at whom they are angry. Here’s what the card says: “I’m feeling angry right now, but don’t worry. I’m not going to attack you. But I do need your help. Is this a good time to talk?” It brings a little humor into the tenseness, and it reminds me what I am not going to do—lose my temper. It also asks for help in dealing with my anger. Try it! It may become a family tradition.

Q&A: Can Fighting Be Good For A Relationship?

Q: My wife says that certain kinds of fighting (instead of being passive) can be good for a relationship. Do you agree?

A: It depends on what you mean by fighting. If you’re talking about physically hitting each other, then no that’s not good. But I don’t think that’s what your wife is talking about. I think she could be saying that it’s healthy to talk about things on which we differ–you share your point, I share my point. While it can feel like a verbal fight, it is healthy to get those things out and talk through those things. However, it should not be harsh or condemning words. It should be an effort to try to understand each other and reach a conclusion that’s going to be healthy for both of you.

Q&A: Whose Family We Spend The Holidays With

Q: Every year my wife and I butt heads on whose family we’d prefer to be with. If we can’t visit both, how do we resolve this?

A: Well, you’re talking about a common holiday problem in the early years of marriage. But it sounds like you haven’t gotten it solved yet even though you’ve been married for a few years. Here’s my suggestion: decide that one year you ‘ll go to her parent’s for Thanksgiving and your parent’s for Christmas and then next year you’ll switch it. That can be a final solutions. Parents will live with that and you can learn to learn to live with it. We don’t have to be at both parents’ homes every Christmas but I think if we’re fair about it and we do it on an equal basis, you’ll find your in-laws will accept it and the two of you can accept it.