So let's get right to it, shall we?
Conflict in the form of old grudges can be damaging and nauseating to say the least. It effects the core of one's confidence and leaves both parties unsatisfied. But if they're so toxic, why do we choose to stay in these relationships?
It's simple, we hang on to the smallest sign of hope for change. Or maybe we hang on to past memories and filter out the ones that broke our hearts. Some people may say trust can never be established again. Perhaps that's true -although we could argue against this- but it's usually not the last straw.
FACT: studies have shown that the top predictor of divorce is contempt. It includes negative judgment, criticism and sarcasm regarding the person's worth.
So how many more years will it take? How many more cycles of the same behavior and feelings can one tolerate? Well, if you're hanging on for years, then there may be some room for forgiveness and resolution.
Let's face it, there's no sure fire way to fix some of the problems we face. So all I offer is some tips to try out the next time you might find yourself in conflict with your significant other.
Tip # 1:
Use "I" statements
After a long and married life, both partners will probably come to know very well what ticks the other. In order to end a discussion brought up by a dispute to a peaceful close, each partner can try to first decipher the exact approach that causes defensiveness in the other. Once we get defensive, there is really no way to have an appropriate conversation without blowing the issue out of proportion. Using "I" statements and avoiding the aggressive pointing-of-the-fingers gesture is one of the best ways to avoid initiating that initial defensive reaction. Saying things like "I didn't appreciate that treatment", "It made me feel violated" and" I would love if we could find another way" can be better than attacking with "Yous." Choosing an indirect way of stating what one wants really does the trick at convincing the other to do just that. Try it for yourself and see.
Every expression of emotion should be taken seriously. The fact that one partner may not understand what the other means to say and where they come from doesn't mean their emotions are invalid. Begin by addressing them and acknowledging that they exist, then perhaps find ways to contest them through Socratic questioning (again, any indirect ways of suggestion might work best). And similarly, how you would like your own emotions taken seriously, so does your partner.
Establish ground rules
If we were to decode the elements of a good -or maybe not so good- grudge, it would probably take on a very repetitive and expected form; one that is based on old arguments and core beliefs of the other. In order for the couple to focus on the here-and-now rather than the past disappointments, ground rules can be established as a code of conduct between the two. One ground rule could be the invalidation of the use of evidence and arguments older than a month for example. Another rule could address extended family conflicts and rules of engagement. Another might address the specific discomforts of each person and red lines can also be established. Get as creative as possible and keep a copy for each of you. It will help keep everyone in check. Another idea would be to use a debate style approach to resolving conflicts and making use of an unbiased mediator.
Let your Islam guide your behavior
Similarly to the above idea of using a mediator, the book of Allah as well as the Sunnah can be a great place to find answers to specific questions. If both partners have an inclination towards finding answers from these sources, then each can do their own research on the matter. Grudges pertaining to duties of the wife or husband can be consolidated through sources from the Sunnah for example. Letting Islam guide the behavior of the couple means that each is responsible for his own actions with Allah. So, if a man wants to hold a grudge on why a women is dressed in a particular way, I would think that since he will not be judged for her actions on the day of judgement, he should probably stick to polite advice or leave it alone. Same idea goes for a man that smokes for example - unless of course there's second-hand smoke problems involved.
Avoid definitive statements
Definitive statements are just a method of trapping the other in the name of power and control. Statements like "you must" and "all women/men" or "you always/never" are toxic and leave the other with little hope for change. Try using statements that address the situational aspect of the conflict rather than the pervasive personality characteristics of the other. Using statements that leave some room for flexibility of behavior like "perhaps" "maybe" "sometimes", are better ways of addressing conflict.
Avoid indirect and non verbal gestures of expression
I don't mean to point a sexist finger here, but women tend to do this a good deal of the time. There are ways in which the male brain versus the female brain work differently. So when a woman or a man believes they have made their point to the other, they could be mistaken. Bottom line is, although the two may have lived together for years, that doesn't mean they can read each other's minds. So spare yourself the trouble and find direct ways of expressing -preferably verbally- what it is you would like to see in the relationship.
Give and take in the relationship
Relationships are based on sacrifice and commitment. They require a mutual give and take. One night watching football for a women who hates the sport can be substituted with another of the husband going dress shopping. If that doesn't sound practical enough, try a token system where partners exchange tokens for doing things they hate for the other. It's a fun way to track down the reciprocation in the relationship. I can't guarantee it will work, but worth the try nonetheless.
Break the same patterns of conflict
Many years of living with another person is bound to cause some sort of ingrained behavior when conflict arises. And each partner may be reacting in the same way every time. Maybe it's time to break that pattern and try out a new behavior. It can range from using "I" statements to letting go of power in a heated debate.
There is no excuse for anger. These pent up flames of rage should not be a part of resolving conflict. Anger is not an emotion that is attributed to anyone else but the one who gets angry. Practice breaking these habits using deep breathing, making wudu, postponing discussion to a later time or using effective assertive techniques.
Do what works
At this point in the relationship, both parties know what makes the other happy. So instead of implementing something that you're both not used to, focus on what does. A candle-lit dinner may sound great for one couple but can be not as effective as a favorite dessert or movie for another. Pay attention to what works and keep the romance alive that way.