23 October 2015

Kenya: Handling Conflict Constructively

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As they walk down the aisle, bride and groom look forward to a happily ever after past their wedding day. However, they are soon awoken to the fact that conflict and disagreement is a normal part of marriage. From falling out over money to disagreeing on how to raise your children, you will not run out of things to quarrel about.

For many couples, conflict becomes a thorn that sours relations and every subsequent conflict becomes a source of doubt as to whether you married the right person. However, rather than drive you apart, if handled well, conflict could strengthen your union. How? Here's what we found out:

Accept conflict:

According to Michael Batshaw the author of 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged, avoiding conflict is more likely to end a relationship than engaging in it. Further, according to Chris Hart, a psychologist in Nairobi, after getting hitched, discovering that your partner has a very different perspective from yours will inevitably force you to try out new things.

"This should help you learn to welcome and accommodate every argument so that brings you together rather than drive you apart, which means you'll have to resist the urge to blame, insult or criticise," says Dr Hart. "Tease and use humour instead of anger. Focus on making your partner happy rather than winning arguments. Listen and be open-minded."

Wish instead of complaining:

Dr Hart notes that you shouldn't dwell too much on endless complaints. Instead, find ways to express them as wishes. "Be precise so that your partner knows exactly what you want him to change. Don't bring up old arguments.

Talk about how what your partner does affects you without criticising him," he says. "Saying 'You' comes across as accusatory while saying 'I' shows you own your feelings, so it draws your partner to listen and understand." Be empathetic and real.

Set boundaries:

Draw a line on what is acceptable behaviour and what isn't in your marriage. This should extend to how you both behave during fights and how you resolve conflicts. "Create some boundaries. For instance, you can set a boundary that there will be no yelling or screaming, or no cursing," says Batshaw.

Contempt and defensiveness:

It is easy to show contempt in the heat of an argument. According to an American study on communication, conflict and commitment in marriage, you should be cautious not to express intense negative thoughts about your partner.

"These may be thoughts about him that you keep to yourself or that you actually say to him or others." In the same vein, if your partner often gets contemptuous, you may consider trying not to put up an emotional wall to shield yourself and instead face the problem head-on.

"This is a common response to being put down or attacked and it often involves excuses, sarcasm, denial of responsibility, and reciprocation of insults," reveals the study.

Embrace your differences:

You will be successful if you can both embrace your mutual differences early on. "Be a team and think like a team. Understand each other's points of view and combine your strengths. If you can achieve this, nothing will be insurmountable and nothing will tear you apart," says Dr Hart.

He further adds that even when things are difficult, you shouldn't let a day go by without showing your partner how much your marriage means to you.

Counselling:

In the end, you may find that despite efforts to handle conflict in the right way, your marriage is on a downward trend and needs remedy before it collapses. If it has gotten to that point, consider seeking professional help.

"If you have allowed your partner to 'win' just so that you avoid conflict and as a result resentment is simmering inside you, seek help. You should also reach out for help if your partner is not willing to talk it through or resolve conflict," says Fredrick Wanjohi, a psychologist based in Nairobi.

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