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Marital partners react differently to conflicts. The offended or aggrieved party may keep quiet, ignore the problem, thinking it will go away or correct itself. In many cases, this approach is discovered on the long run to be unhelpful because the problem may not abate nor go away but afforded a favourable environment to incubate and fester. It may precipitate angry outbursts and explosive tendencies adversely hurting the relationship. In homes where the husband expresses his grievances through anger, it is common for the wife to counter with negative emotions such as putting up a defence, justifying her actions, accusing, which are counter-productive setting the stage for aggression. It may snowball into deep resentment, tension, stonewalling, verbal attacks, and assault if not resolved. In some cases, it reaches a crescendo degenerating into a crisis accompanied by deep hostilities. In retrospect, a situation which started as a simple, isolated disagreement, because it was not properly handled, becomes a major issue leading to a breakdown of the marriage, tearing the home apart and in some cases throwing the children into the street. It becomes an albatross capable of destroying the destinies of the children and the adults if not tamed or arrested through intervention.
These scenarios can be graphically illustrated with an upturned triangle its base denoting the disagreement or root cause of the problem which could have been nipped in the bud but was left to grow and escalate to the extent of endangering the union. There is nothing wrong or abnormal with quarrelling, disagreeing or getting angry, but this can be constructive or destructive depending on how it is handled. When couples co-operate to resolve the issues between them, negative emotions are turned around. For example, when the husband expresses his feelings and expectations calmly without blaming, accusing or judging his wife, it is normal to respond calmly without going into the offensive or disrespecting her husband. She would listen with care, with her heart and her head to understand what the husband meant, in order to determine his emotional needs and meet such needs and concerns. A mindful response relayed in a calm voice, characterised by positive gestures and actions help to build a home. It goes a long way to show that we value our partners.
A man unfulfilled in his marriage because his wife is not literate communicated his desire for her to get some education. He obtained the promotional flyer of an adult basic literacy programme which he took home to her, encouraged her to attend, and gave her all the support she needed to accomplish their dream. She completed the program in a short while, was proud of her husband and their achievement. They co-operated to solve a problem that has the potential of putting a home asunder.
In another example, a man in a petition to dissolve the marriage has as the sole charge against the wife her inability to give him the spontaneous affection which his nature demanded and for which he craved. The court refused to grant a decree because of the wife’s behaviour. This action wouldn’t have been necessary if they had explored other means of resolving the issue together. He would not have had to resort to the court if he had expressed his interests in a way that she would understand, if he had figured out what was responsible for the problem, the feelings and state of his spouse. They could have talked it over, worked on the problem together, find ways of resolving the situation, and helping each other arrive at a solution that is mutually satisfying that meets the needs of each of them. A solution they are both happy with.
When we are offended by our spouse and angry, we should recognize our feelings, what is responsible for such feelings, subdue and control our emotions, and express our concerns and interests calmly. If the issue is sensitive, we can relay it with some kindness employing appropriate and timely humour. In order to attain a mutually beneficial resolution of our marital differences, all barriers to listening to the other person must be eschewed such as being touchy, ego, pride and presumptions. In the absence of these hindrances, the spouse usually the wife, can easily go beyond the words being uttered, to hearing what the spouse means and needs and can respond accordingly with care, a calm voice, and understanding. We can show commitment to our relationships by being positive in order to decipher the other person’s perspective. We should then look for different ways of resolving the problem together and settle for a mutually satisfying solution that will make both of us happy. This way we resolve our conflicts early, make amends, strengthen our marriage, and develop the confidence needed to resolve future challenges.
Mary Aderibigbe is a lawyer-mediator and conflict coach. She integrates mediation in her legal practice. Her practice areas include family, estate planning, real estate, employment and intellectual property law. She is the publisher of Family mediator. She was the editor for Africa, Government Publications Review and former member, Lagos State Library Board. She runs a community service Family Support website.
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