“I apologise, I thought you knew. I’m so sorry if you feel that way…” That single text from my husband diffused my frustration and made room for me to instead focus on the reason that this particular situation had been an emotional trigger. When he returned home, we were able to sit and calmly talk through how I was feeling, and both of us left that conversation feeling equally heard and appreciated…
Conflict management is such a weighty aspect of any relationship, and it is crucial to find ways to handle your differences that result in greater connection rather than destruction.
Learning how to apologise is a good place to start! When was the last time you apologised to your spouse for the way that you made them feel? Hmmm good question… because in most cases we are quicker to jump to our own defence than we are to acknowledge when we have done something to hurt or offend the person we married, especially if we feel that we have done nothing wrong.
One of the most valuable lessons you can learn about conflict management, is that you need to respect the feelings of your spouse. Even if you think they are unjustified, you can’t just dismiss what they are telling you about the way they feel. Both me and Liam have been on the receiving end of this in our marriage, and we have to catch ourselves when one person reminds the other, “…but I’m telling you how I feel“. When we are unable to make this connection as couples, and instead continue to trample all over our spouse’s feelings often without intending to in the first place, then we enter a vicious cycle of hurt feelings from both sides and no room for reconciliation. When both sides are digging in their heels and refusing to look internally, stubbornness and pride makes room for division and resentment. And to think how much damage could be prevented in the first place.
This is easier said than done, you haven’t met my spouse you may be thinking. That may be true, but I would also question whether you have put down your weapon of choice and tried to approach your spouse differently. Hurt people hurt people. I’ve seen that quote widely circulated, and I can understand why. When someone hurts us, a wall shoots up, and it takes far more work to knock it down than it does to build it in the first place. The more we hurt, the more we reinforce the wall, until we can’t really see anything beyond the hurt and how that person has made us feel. This is one thing when we are single and trying to navigate our day to day life, but when we are married and we perceive the very person that we have committed the rest of our lives to as the source of our hurt, then is it any wonder why our walls become so divisive that it can seem impossible to experience a breakthrough!
Never underestimate the power of those two words… learning how to apologise genuinely can soften even the hardest of hearts. If you feel as though nothing has been working and that there is no point in trying, then maybe it’s time to start with yourself. Consider the following questions:
-What are my current feelings towards my spouse?
-Have I been more compassionate than defensive based on this issue/s between us?
-How have my spouse’s actions made me feel, and why is this so difficult for me?
-Am I making my spouse the issue, or am I making his/her actions the issue?
-Is there anything that I could have done differently based on how my spouse may be feeling?
Once you have been able to explore this further and ask yourself some difficult questions, you will then be in a better place to consider sitting down and talking to your spouse with the aim to understand rather than to “be right”. Turning inward and considering our own side of the story can be challenging, but in doing so we will learn how to build a greater sense of emotional awareness that will take both the way we feel and the way our spouse feels into account when similar situations arise in future.
During a particular marriage counselling session, we were given a brilliant piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since. We were advised to consider the issue we were facing as separate to our marriage. There is our marriage, and then there is the issue. Our marriage is not the issue, and the issue is not our marriage. The problem is that many of us make our marriage the issue, and before you know it we’ve declared a full blown war on the very thing that is built to strengthen us. Once we tear down the foundation of everything we have built together, we stand staring at the remains, overwhelmed, exhausted and heartbroken… If we would instead just learn how to separate the issue from our marriage, then we can also learn how to manage it in a healthy way without it poisoning everything that we have worked so hard to create together as a couple.
Don’t get me wrong, learning how to apologise – how to really apologise, has definitely been a challenging journey that I am still learning from. The ability to apologise takes a great amount of humility.
Pride and humility can’t exist in the same space, and there has to come a point where we let go of our ego and instead prioritise the person we love.
That isn’t to say that your feelings don’t matter – of course they do! This is why this experience needs to be mutual in your marriage. You need to know that you can be vulnerable enough to admit your wrongs and take ownership for the way you have made your husband/wife feel, just as much as your spouse needs to also know this. Often the issue escalates because neither of you have this reassurance, so neither wants to be the one to take the first step for fear of further hurt.
We need to break the cycle at some point! You choose, it can either be now while there is still room for positive change, or it can be further down the line when your marriage reaches breaking point from the weight of unresolved issues. It is so sad to think of the amount of marriages that just crumble over the years for lack of the ability to step up and admit that mistakes have been made with either or both spouses finally taking responsibility. Don’t let your marriage fall victim to that same poison. Sit down and talk to your spouse about how they have made you feel, but also don’t forget to include the way you may have made them feel. There are two people in your relationship. Two imperfect people.
Next time you feel yourself picking up those bricks to add to your wall, take the hand of your spouse instead and remind them that you are still on the same team. The more we can allow room for mistakes and misunderstandings, the more our marriage will create a safe space for us to be imperfectly human with the humility to match.
When you find yourself stuck in a cycle and struggling to apologise, try discussing the following questions with your spouse to help you both work towards a resolution (questions aimed at both of you):
- Based on the issue between us, how do you feel we are managing everything else?
- How have I made you feel as a result of this issue?
- If you could change one thing about the way we are handling this, what would it be?
- What do you think we need to do differently in order to work through this issue?
- Despite what we are facing, what do you appreciate about our relationship?