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The fifth task: create a safe haven for expressing differences, conflict and anger


Every relationship is bound to have some fireworks go off from time to time. No, not the woo-hoo kind, but the snap, crackle, and pop of anger and conflict. No matter how much two people love each other, they will have times of conflict, times when they are angry with each other, and they will certainly have their differences. Who would have it any other way- if both people think alike all the time, one of them is irrelevant! It's how they manage their differences of opinion that can make or break the marriage.

Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, authors of The Good Marriage, say the fifth task of marriage is "to create a safe haven for the expression of differences, anger and conflict." Couples will have different ways of dealing with these issues, and different amounts of conflict they are willing to tolerate. But they realize it is inevitable: as the authors said, "these couples considered learning to disagree and to stand one's ground one of the gifts of a good marriage."

The couples in the study fought over money, work and in-laws. "Very heated arguments arose about who should handle the money from two incomes, who should pay which bills, and how the money should be allocated," the authors said. These couples also fought when one of the spouse's drinking escalated during times of stress; the spouses who drank less or not at all were very firm in what they would tolerate, and "clearly defined the consequences for the marriage" if the other spouse continued drinking to excess. (I strongly doubt this would work in every case, but it did for these couples.)

They drew careful boundaries around their fighting. No physical violence, ever. And certain subjects were off limits for fighting; although they felt free to complain, they did not fight about frequency of sex, religious differences, care of aging parents, or personal preferences. "Most of all," said the authors, "the people in these marriages did not fight over non-issues." They learned not to sweat the small stuff.

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