Keeping Marriage Alive: Appreciating conflict

Published 2:08 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series on helping relationships work. David Larson’s columns appear every other Sunday.

David Larson

Power for Living

Some imagine that the perfect marriage is one in which there is no tension, where everything stays on an even keel — no disruptions. If something is not going our way, we think something is wrong. We find ourselves interpreting disappointments as problems. We tend to see conflict as bad.

David Larson

Today I invite us to consider marriage a partnership where each individual nudges the other to grow, to see things a little differently, where we expand each other’s perceptions of the possibilities. There is evidence of strength in our marriage when our mate helps us become a better person than we were yesterday. This means we are challenged to stretch out of our comfort zone, to be more sensitive to our mate, to be confronted. Our partner is one of our greatest teachers. Part of our calling as a mate is to be a willing student.

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Our partner may be giving us opportunities to learn patience. Perhaps he or she can help us see a different point of view. Maybe our partner is there to give us practice in not taking things personally. Perhaps he/she is there to prompt us to develop assertiveness skills by declaring more clearly what is important to us. Maybe we will become more appreciative of diversity as we see how different our partner is from us.

Conflict is an opportunity for growth. Often our partner mirrors back to us the precise things in ourselves we have trouble seeing without help. Our mate is someone who can be honest with us about things most people would not care enough to mention. Their honesty, given with respect, is one of their greatest gifts to us.

Even if your partner is frequently disrespectful or insensitive, it may be your chance to learn to stand up for yourself, to claim yourself as valuable enough to fight for you.

Some of you may discover you are in an abusive relationship. You may have found this relationship so that you can learn something by leaving it. All relationships are gifts, even when they don’t feel good.

So here’s this week’s challenge: What has bugged you about your partner? What gift is there in this irritation for you? What underdeveloped part of you is being called forth by this disappointment or conflict? How can you be a better person because of who this person is in your life?

David Larson is a marriage coach and psychologist. He can be reached at the Institute For Wellness, 507-373-7913, or at his website,