I was struck by a statistic I heard at a seminar concerning unresolved conflict in marriages. The statistic was this:
69% of conflict in troubled marriages never gets resolved.
Well, I thought, that makes sense. How can we have a good marriage if we can never resolve conflict? But the surprising statistic I heard was this:
69% of conflict in happy marriages never gets resolved.
Wow, if it’s exactly the same, what then is the difference?
I thought about it for a while and it occurred to me that it must directly relate to our perception of the conflict. Or probably more accurately it relates to my belief about my spouse, during the time I am in conflict with her. If I believe that she is not for me, or more harshly, that she is against me – I am likely to view the conflict as compounding evidence that the relationship is in trouble. If, on the other hand, I can remember that this person that I love, and loves me in return, is just not in agreement with me at the moment, I am able to see the relationship in a much better light.
It really comes down to assuming positive intent on the part of the other person (innocent until proven guilty). As I like to tell my wife when things get edgy between the two of us:
Assume I’m the good guy!
Just that simple statement sometimes brings enough perspective for us to get through the impasse. Of course, I also have to check my attitude and make sure I have positive intent. And sometimes if my attitude is at a fork in the road, her belief in my positive intent motivates me to take the right road.
But it is true that many things in our relationship just don’t get resolved. When it comes to money I am a saver by nature. She is less conservative – and that tension will always exist. My wife is always ready to say ‘yes’ to a party, whereas I want to have time to think about it first before making a decision. I could list many other instances where we are not in agreement. But we don’t assume that the other person is trying to make our life difficult. We just have different preferences. So we make compromises and try to work with each other the best that we can.
I think we can apply this same thinking to all sorts of interpersonal relationships as well. How about work relationships between co-workers or employer and employee? How about those going through a relationship break-up or even a divorce? It doesn’t have to be hostile. That is why we really like divorce mediators over divorce lawyers. Mediation assumes cooperation over antagonism, seeking the best possible outcome in a sad process.
So really the only difference between happy and troubled is a core belief. In our relationship our core belief is that we are for each other. How about you? What do you believe about your relationships?