Three principles in resolving marital conflicts
By Dennis and Thammie Sy
Question: What are some guiding principles you have when facing conflict in marriage?
Dennis: In the past thirteen years, Thammie and I have had our fair share of conflicts and fights. It is but normal for couples to fight. The important thing is, we learn how to fight clean. And I don’t mean that when your wife throws a plate at you, you sweep it clean after the fight. There are guiding principles that have helped us as a couple whenever we face conflicts in marriage. We learned this lesson from our Malaysian friend Timothy who is a family man raising young kids while running his own three restaurants. He also leads a growing church that has thousands of members. When we asked him about his secret to living a happy and satisfying life, he shared with us two things he was doing to maintain a sense of balance and keep his sanity. When we heard these two principles, we realized that they can work in marriage as well. Here is the secret sauce that Timothy shared with us:
Overlook. Many couples have major fights over minor things. Instead of learning to overlook some things that are not worth fighting for, they major on the minor. This could be as trivial as putting clothes in the hamper, making sure your husband’s urine won’t hit the toilet bowl, or how your spouse makes loud noises every morning that wakes you up. One important skill we all have to learn is to overlook and accustom ourselves to the things that won’t really matter in the long run. For us, the decision to live with and the ability to laugh about some trivial mistakes have made a huge difference in how we relate to each other. I’ll let Thammie explain the next one.
Oversee. Business people understand that in running a business, there are things you have to learn to overlook, and there are things that you simply must oversee, otherwise, you could incur losses. There are some matters we can choose to overlook and write off as minor irritations or harmless differences in our marriages. But there are also some areas and issues that clearly have the capacity to affect our marriage and our family and we simply must oversee. This means to look over and inspect, to supervise and manage for the purpose of protecting against any untoward incident, and for the purpose of improving and advancing toward a certain goal. In overseeing our marriages, we need to take time to talk, evaluate, and work things out, to protect our relationship, and improve our marriage.
Thammie: Since we see our marriage as teamwork, Dennis and I have to come to an agreement regarding certain values and principles that we need to prioritize. A practical example would be our schedules. Dennis and I have demanding roles; He is a pastor and I am a doula and childbirth educator, on top of raising four young kids. We need to sit down and evaluate our priorities during our busiest seasons. Otherwise, we might become too busy and not even notice that we are already neglecting our marriage and family. Agreeing that this area is something we oversee and not just overlook means that we can call each other out on this issue because we have decided that is something important to us. This is something that can affect our marriage and family.
For some friends we know, they have decided that a major area they need to oversee is their loyalty and faithfulness in marriage. We embrace this as an area to oversee as well. We can call each other out anytime we see red flags. And we agree that we are to receive and heed each other’s warnings and feelings—whether we ourselves see something or not. Other matters include prioritizing friends over family, financial management, and so on. It depends on your values as husband and wife.
To overlook and oversee have greatly helped us. But there is another principle that we think is essential and has made the greatest difference in how we respond to issues.
Overwhelm. When we say overwhelm, we try to manage conflict in light of God’s overwhelming love for us. We both know that we married somebody who is flawed and will commit mistakes for sure, just how we ourselves are flawed and are bound to make mistakes. If we realize how we have been forgiven in spite of all our mistakes and imperfections, we begin to get overwhelmed not with what is wrong with our spouse or in our marriage, but with the love and forgiveness that is freely given to us. And as we have an increasing awareness of how loved and forgiven we are, it becomes easier (though not always easy) to overlook offenses, forgive mistakes, and overwhelm our spouses with unconditional love as well.