By Norma Stevens
Couples often come to counseling with the expectation that they must resolve all of their issues in order to have a healthy, happy marriage. This is simply not true. In fact, marriage researcher, John Gottman and his associates, find that 69% of a couple’s marital conflicts CANNOT be resolved! That’s right! You won’t always agree and that’s okay! Gottman says these conflicts are based on differences of personality, lifestyle, or values. One person wants to raise the kids Protestant; the other wants them to be Jewish. One person prefers spending weekends working on the house; the other would rather spend weekends engaged in recreational activities outside the home.
By fighting over these issues repeatedly, couples are doing more harm to their marriage. But how can couples navigate through these issues while keeping their marriage intact? Gottman says “typical conflict-resolution advice won’t help.” Couples need to understand the underlying differences between them and learn to live with these differences with honor and respect. They need to develop empathy for the other person and their point of view.
You do this by crossing over the bridge into your partner’s world and listening, mirroring back what you’ve heard, and validating your partner’s reality. Explore your partner’s past and try to imagine how they might feel in the current circumstance using information you have learned about them from the dialogue. Oftentimes, the most important or meaningful interchanges are when partners truly feel heard and validated. Couples can learn to live with their differences with respect and empathy; and thus, build a loving, intimate marriage.