The more time I spend walking with couples, and especially with men in their marriages, the more I witness a handful of common traps that plague most husbands and wives.
I’ve written previously about the danger of what I call “The Fairness Doctrine” that most of us struggle to reconcile ( Blog post on ‘The Fairness Doctrine’ ). In essence, most of us want fairness in our marriage relationship and we often feel as though things aren’t sufficiently ‘fair.’ Of course, the problem with the fairness doctrine is that ‘fair’ is entirely subjective and things will almost never seem fair in your not-so-objective opinion.
Another common challenge that’s become obvious in the decade of hosting the ‘Marriage Matters’ workshops (www.menyourmarriagematters.com ) for husbands is how commonly a dispute becomes contentious because one or both of the spouses are convinced that they are ‘right’ in their perspective about a given issue.
I recall a specific example last year when a husband (we’ll call him “Tom”) explained to the other workshop attendees that he and his wife argued the previous week about parenting their teenage children. The reason he was so adamant in the conflict was that he was confident that his point-of-view was ‘right’ and supported by his experience and biblical principles. Because Tom was certain he was right, it was an argument he was determined to ultimately ‘win’ (whatever that means in this marriage context).
The sobering truth is that when we’re convinced we are right, our strength of conviction in our self-righteousness will likely compromise our marriage relationship. It’s just natural (and convenient) to rationalize that our opinion is correct and therefore is rightly and justly defended.
The challenge of self-righteousness is similar to the plight of the Fairness Doctrine – it’s entirely dependent on the answer to the question: in whose opinion? You may genuinely believe you are right in your stance but your spouse has an entirely different set of experiences, paradigms, and opinions.
When two spouses bring their diverse perspectives to any given issue, they’re likely to define ‘right’ in very different ways. In fact, if you had the childhood experiences of your spouse or suffered the trauma that he/she did, you’d probably have a different perspective than you do today. Like it or not, we’re all a product of our background.
My challenge to anyone reading this ‘musing’ is simple: be careful to stand on the principle that your perspective is right. It may be right from your viewpoint, but not to your spouse.
Which begs the question – how can I handle these conflicts with more empathy and humility in the future? I’ll offer three simple suggestions:
- The next conflict you have with your spouse – ask yourself a question: “Am I defending my position because I’m convinced that I’m right and that my spouse is wrong?” If the answer is yes, step away from the conflict and reflect on the strong likelihood that your spouse is equally convinced that they are right…from their equally-subjective, and yet similarly-valid perspective. It will bring a dose of humility to the conflict that will likely shortcut the conflict and help to preserve the relationship.
- Embrace a new mindset – Devonie and I are very different in many ways but we’ve learned to embrace a mindset that has been incredibly helpful for us. We’ve decided to be “happily incompatible.” In fact, one of our favorite adages goes like this, “Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re wrong.” I know it sounds simplistic but it’s liberating because we’re both choosing, proactively, to love each other in these differences instead of having frustration or disdain for the differences.
- And finally, ponder the question, “What really matters?” when it comes to conflicts. We’ll often dig in our heels in an argument with our spouse (when we know we are right of course) and act as though we’re willing to die on that ‘hill’ of an argument. Truth be told, it’s probably not nearly as important as our pride has made us believe it is and we’ve lost our perspective on what really matters: preserving the trust and safety of your marriage relationship.
I know this sounds so simple and solvable, but it’s likely more difficult than we can fathom. Is it worth a bit of healthy introspection?
I always welcome your thoughts!