Author: Ann Malmberg
A few years ago PREPARE/ENRICH conducted a survey of over 50,000 married couples. It turned out that 78% of couples reported that they go out of their way to avoid conflict with their partner.
Maybe we could interpret this as a good thing—that the majority of couples are simply extra polite and courteous to their partner, not wanting to upset them.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Avoiding conflict was listed as one of the top five conflict-related problems for couples. “Why is it a problem?” you might ask. “Isn’t it a good thing to get along with your spouse?” Yes, it is, for the most part. But conflict in relationships is inevitable, and when managed in a healthy way, it’s also a vehicle for relationship growth.
I, like many others I’m sure, have learned the hard way that avoiding conflict does not make issues go away. I used to be the master of not speaking up when I was mad or upset about something. Instead, I would secretly hope that my partner would figure out I was mad and subsequently apologize. Shockingly, he was not (and still is not) a mind reader, and in the meantime my resentment would build upon itself, until inevitably I would blow up over something seemingly small and/or unrelated to the actual issue. At that point, he would realize, “Hmm, she is mad about… something,” and I would then have the pleasant task of trying to explain why I was actually mad—because of that thing that happened weeks ago.
With time (and some tears), I learned that even though it can be uncomfortable and sometimes cause temporary conflict with my partner, it is crucial to address feelings and issues head on. I’ve learned to think about it this way: when I ignore an issue in order to avoid conflict, I am taking a step away from my partner, distancing myself from him by adding a brick to the metaphorical wall between us. By talking to my partner about the problem (while remembering to utilize assertive communication and active listening, of course), I learn more about myself, about my partner, and how we can be better for each other, ultimately bringing us closer as a couple.
It would be nice to be able to say, “Lesson learned!” and claim that I no longer struggle with avoiding conflict, but that would be untrue. Working through contentious issues is still hard; it is still uncomfortable. It will probably never be something I look forward to. For me, it’s like working out: I don’t want to do it. But when it’s over, I always feel better. And my body (or in this case, my relationship) is stronger because of it.
Author: Ann Malmberg
Author: Laura Waldvogel
I fight with my husband from time to time. It happens because conflict happens. We disagree, but then we figure it out and move forward. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, but it is easier now that he and I understand more about ourselves and our relationship.
Until just recently, every time we disagreed, we would find ourselves frustrated and in this cycle. I’d move closer, he’d move farther away. Thinking he needed space, I’d reluctantly back off. He’d feel comfortable again and move closer. Just as I’d warm up to being close again, he’d start to retreat, needing more space. We stumbled in and out of this pattern for years. Not entirely understanding why, but understanding this was us.
Though remember, I said it’s easier now that we understand more about ourselves. It changed about a year ago when I found an anger management style guide developed by Dr. Harriet Lerner in which she defines five anger management styles: Pursuers, Distancers, Underfunctioners, Overfunctioners, and Blamers.
Over the last year, this awareness has allowed us to have greater understanding each time we recognized ourselves getting into that cycle of moving closer and retreating. We’ve also learned a few things. First, pursuers and distancers have a hard time finding a balance between separateness and togetherness. We struggle with this because my husband and I both want to be the balance to be in our favor, when really, it sits dead center between us. We also learned that the ebb and the flow of our anger management isn’t the worst thing for our relationship. What’s important for us is to minimize the range of how extreme each ebb and flow is. And lastly, we’ve learned that taking time to work on understanding aspects of our relationship is a process and the process itself helps us identify more constructive ways to resolve future issues.
Author: Laura Waldvogel
My husband and I recently bought a home. One of the things that drew me to it was the beautiful landscaping that the previous owners had created. So very lovely and well cared for. I imagined myself sitting on the back porch, sipping iced tea, enjoying the summer sun. I imagined smelling those gorgeous hydrangeas and snipping a few lilacs to put on my kitchen table.
There was only one problem. A couple years ago my mom bought me a beautiful hanging basket of flowers. They were white and full and flowing. All I had to do was water them. There were no weeds to pull or spiders to avoid, just water, sun, simple.
That thing died like 39 times.
I'd walk by, see the crinkled leaves and brown petals and run for water. Somehow, for whatever reason, that plant wouldn't die. I’m convinced it had super powers. But although it lasted a whole season, it did not thrive.
With this dark past looming behind me, I knew that if we bought this house, it would be up to us to maintain all that beauty. And I didn't have a good track record. We'd lived in apartments or rental properties for a long time and I was always too scared of the spiders and bees to help my mom or grandmothers with their flower beds. How was I going to do this? Plus, I’d need like, shovels and stuff, right? In order to maintain all that beauty I would have to learn how. I would have to do research. I’d have to invest time.
So we bought the house and my research began. I want to know everything I can about each and every plant and flower and how I am supposed to care for each of them. I plan to invest in the tools I need to tend them. My goal? Maintain the garden while it's healthy, not just when I notice it wilting.
Relationships are the same. I hear a lot of people say, "we don't have any problems, we are so in love!" And wow, that is so good! It truly is. But the metaphor of the garden applies to this. So many couples don't tend to their relationship until it's struggling. And friends, it will struggle. Every marriage faces obstacles eventually. Couples with a very strong foundation can withstand drought after drought, but barely. Just like my white flower basket. Others, with brittle roots, won't make it through the spring storms, let alone a harsh winter.
The goal for a relationship must be the same as my goal for the garden: Maintain your relationship while it's healthy, not just when you notice it wilting.
There are no couples that can live vibrantly without regular maintenance. You have to do your research. You have to invest time. You have to learn practical tools to help you pull out the weeds. A healthy relationship, like a flowerbed, needs your heart. It needs your mind. And it needs your work. If you take the time to build up your relationship, you will see bloom after bloom. Sure, problems will still arise, like weeds in the tulips, but because of your hard work, you'll know how to get rid of them.
Let Us Help.
Our couple’s workshops are a perfect way for you to maintain the health of your marriage. We provide you with practical advice and tools to help you. And it won’t cost you a dime. Click here to find a workshop near you.
You’ve probably seen the commercials for the newest must-have tech gadgets Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices are meant to make home management easier, thus adding another level of convenience to our busy lives. Basically, you too can have a Tony Stark /Jarvis relationship. Pretty cool, right?
Of course, as with anything, the many pros of a new tech device are accompanied by cons. In a report on the Today Show, investigators consider the possibility that Amazon Echo and Google Home may be listening to you all the time. The devices do not transfer data unless you say certain words to activate them, however, they are always listening. Needless to say, this could certainly pose some cyber security threats. During the report, David Pierce, Senior Writer for WIRED, said something that intrigued me. “What a lot of these tech companies have figured out,” David said, “is that consumers will pick cool convenient features over privacy.”
People are choosing to purchase items simply because they want the newest tech and because it will make life a bit easier. This can be a dangerous choice. Convenience isn’t bad. Technology isn’t bad. But jumping into anything without caution is never a good idea.
This same trend is something we see in the choices people make about their relationships. Time and time again a person will choose to date someone without considering the dangers of a rash decision. Sometimes a person’s desperate longing to “have someone” can drive them back into the arms of a partner who treats them like dirt. Sure, the relationship looks good. It’s convenient. But within a few days they once again feel used, ignored, or much worse.
Google Home and Amazon Echo have security built-in. That protection will certainly increase as people grow more concerned about their cyber safety. Your relationships, however, do not have built-in security features. There is no software you can install to keep you from abuse, neglect, or unfaithfulness. You can’t say, “Google, will you stop my girlfriend from cheating on me?” No, it doesn’t work like that. The only thing that stands between you and that relationship is your choices.
Dating someone out of convenience is dangerous. You must protect yourself from that danger. However, that is much easier said than done. Healthy Relationships Iowa’s workshops for singles can help you. You deserve to be in a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. At our workshops you’ll learn how to make choices that lead to that.
If you are in an abusive relationship there is help for you. Visit the Iowa Domestic and Victim Service website: http://www.survivorshelpline.org. You can also Call 1-800-770-1650 or text IOWAHELP to 20121 any hour of the day or night.
When you go to the doctor, a nurse asks you for your family history. You list illnesses that your grandmother endured, and her mother before her. You are sure to include that your grandfather struggled with heart disease. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Osteoporosis, all of these are important family issues to discuss with your doctor.
Why is this so important? Because there is a chance, based on your genetics, you too could suffer from similar diseases and disorders. Knowing these things and discussing them with your doctor helps you watch for signs so you can, for example, catch cancer early and treat it before it spreads. Or perhaps your family history suggests that you should exercise and watch your cholesterol more than the average person. This knowledge helps you stay healthy.
For the same reason you talk to your doctor about your family’s health history, talking about your family’s relationship history with your partner is important. Some people had a wonderful childhood and have no problem sharing every detail. Still others may find it difficult to discuss issues like abuse, neglect, or negative patterns. But talking about these things is very important. By communicating about your family’s level of connectedness, traditions, strengths and weaknesses, you can work together to find out what you want to build in your own family. You can choose to keep certain aspects of your family past, get rid of negatives, and compromise to create new traditions.
Was your dad an alcoholic? Did your mom have a problem saying she loved you? You have the power to change those patterns in your life. For example, if you know that your family struggled with alcohol addiction it would be wise to be careful about how much alcohol you consume. Or maybe your dad worked too much and didn’t spend much time with you. You have the power to change that in your own family with your children, should you choose to have them. If your parents had a distant, cold relationship, you can make connectedness a priority with your partner. By understanding your inherited strengths and weaknesses, you can adjust accordingly. You can watch for signs to prevent negatives from spreading into your life.
Our couple’s workshops have a whole section devoted to family history. We help you work through your family background and map out what you want to pursue as you work to strengthen your relationship. Click here to register.
If you have already taken a workshop, we’d like to hear from you. How did this section help your relationship? How did it help you personally?