QUESTION: I'm a Christian and my husband
isn't. We have very different value systems and moral standards. He
thinks picking up a ten-dollar bill on the street is OK, but I think
that's not right from my Christian perspective. He thinks not reporting
the entire household income so that our son can get into public preschool
is OK. I conformed because I didn't want to fight with him, but I've
been feeling guilty all the way. These are only a few examples of
our conflicts. There are many more. What's your advice on how to resolve
ANSWER: Differences are a part of marriage.
And divergencies in morality issues are deeply challenging to any
relationship. Your capacity to resolve conflict is at the heart of
successful marriage. The first step in resolution is to understand
one another's perspectives. It is possible that over time, you may
even influence one another's position, however that should not be
your expectation in the beginning.
The goal of "understanding" does not mean that you
agree with your partner's position. It does however reflect empathy
for what is your spouse's experience. It is through feeling heard
and understood that communication flows in a nonjudgemental and truly
exploratory fashion. From this "meeting of the minds" is the potential
for each one of you to change your own perspective, or at least increase
tolerance for your loved one's reality.
Perhaps you have been avoiding discussion in depth
about topics that are troublesome to you because you fear a nonproductive
or even damaging power struggle if you express yourself strongly.
But evading these issues will only delay a discussion which erupts
in less than ideal circumstances. If you find yourself overcompromising
and losing your sense of self in the marriage, it is likely that intimacy
and affection will become casualties of the relationship.
Seek a genuine understanding of each other's experience
as your first and primary goal. Speak with passion, but follow the
guidelines set forth in the article for open communication. Your relationship
will be greatly enriched if you are able to express yourself and be
understood by your partner. And remember that passion is a part of
a healthy relationship. The more your interactions reflect a passionate
engagement, the more connected you feel. Constructive anger takes
the form of passion in a discussion.
Marriage partnerships that have evolved the capacity
to express anger constructively and continue discussions to a point
of understanding (not necessarily agreement) tend to maintain passion
in other areas of the relationship. Partnerships that avoid expressing
anger and resolving conflict are often at risk for deadening passion
in the marriage.