Rulebooks: Instigators of Conflict in Marriage



By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

“I know that the whole point—the only point—is to find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to let them go.” ― Lauren Oliver

Fighting for something you believe in can make a big difference in how far you are willing to go to make a point. Sometimes it can go so far as to begin to destroy your marriage or engagements and relationships. Couples often come into therapy fighting about what they want from each other rarely looking at the marriage as a whole. They would rather stand on their point than begin to communicate toward conflict resolution. When this happens it becomes difficult to set aside personal differences. How can a married couple begin to move into acceptance of their mate’s perspective without holding them in contempt of their own?

Often in disagreements there is a perspective coming from each partner of how they think things should be. It can seem like each person is carrying around an unpublished book of rules they expect their partner to adhere to. The end result leads to frequent arguments and resentment of being married to someone who will not see things their way. If the marriage is healthy it can withstand a fight or an argument every once in a while. It’s not a bad thing to air out grievances as long as it is done in a healthy respectful way.

If you find yourself in a marriage full of frequent arguments then perhaps it’s time to propose the question of what are you both fighting for? Are you fighting for yourself or are you fighting for your marriage? Sometimes they are both one and the same if the marriage is being challenged, for example, by infidelity, addiction or financial troubles. The difference is related to the perspective of how you view yourself and your spouse within the context of the marriage. If you are fighting for yourself chances are you have left your spouse out of the process and you will ultimately end up fighting the battle to save your marriage all by yourself. An example of this is trying to berate your spouse into compliance. If you are fighting for your marriage then the resolution becomes a situation where two people come together and collectively communicate their needs and expectations.

Chances are you and your spouse at one time in the beginning of your relationship took the time to communicate and fall in love with each other enough to want a lifetime commitment. If you are hitting hard times the same approach applies, take time to communicate with each other in a respectful manner exploring how to come to resolution and acceptance of your differences.

Remember, each person is often coming into conflict over unseen rules and miscommunication. Become transparent and break out the rule books and open them up for each other to examine. Share expectations and negotiate moving forward toward acceptance of each other’s position. At the heart of the matter is the marriage, collectively.

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