MARRIAGE is a good thing, but it is decorated by conflict. How you resolve conflict as a couple will determine the state and taste of your marriage. In this article, I (JN) interview Dr Francis Munangi Mpindu (FM). Dr Mpindu is a husband and father, who happens to be a conflict management systems practitioner, certified mediator, certified life coach, emotional wellness therapist, police and community relations consultant, and decolonial practitioner.
He is a Zimbabwean currently based in Canada. He has an earned PhD in Humanities (philosophy and ethics) from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Below is the interview:
JN: Conflict is inevitable in marriage, how do we fight and still remain married?
FM: The topic on conflict resolution in marriage is something that is very dear to my heart. Conflict is inevitable in marriage, which is very true. Conflict is inevitable in marriage, simply because we are different. The fact that we came together, that means we recognise our differences with the hope that we can get along and work together.
So conflict becomes inevitable because we approach things differently. We come into the relationship with different information, different observational skills, different analytical skills, and different interpretive skills. So because we are coming with these differences, conflict occurs.
By the way, conflict always occurs where there is a relationship. You have to know someone in some way, but in this particular case, we are looking at a marriage.
The second part of the question implies that we are looking at conflict from a negative perspective, and we should not. If anything, we need to look at conflict as an opportunity to get to know one another, to find a solution, so that we move forward together.
We should not look at conflict as something that creates a fight. But we have to look at it, like I just said, as an opportunity to find out. We have to approach it from the perspective of being inquisitive.
So when you bring two people together, we are coming together because of love. So love becomes the foundation for a healthy relationship. So we have to become friends, have a mutual relationship and how we look at our differences, then that will make us either move forward.
JN: Tell us more about the importance of emotional intelligence in marriage when resolving conflict?
FM: That is a very good question. To really do justice to this question, we have to look at emotional intelligence and emotional wellness. Emotional intelligence has to do with how you are wired, your default systems, you know, something you fall back on to reset. It is the ability to recognise, understand, express and regulate your emotions.
It speaks to how we normally respond to things, how you have been raised to, or rather, how you have grown up to respond to certain things. So when you come together as a couple, one has his own emotions or is built up in our own makeup. It also has to do with managing your own emotions. And being able to observe and identify the emotions of other people.
Emotional intelligence is about understanding yourself, understanding your emotions. As men, some of us have been raised in environments where you are not to be expressing your emotions because guys are supposed to be tough and strong.
So you are not supposed to be doing that, which is completely wrong. If we stick to the cognitive aspects, then you know, it is just about what you are thinking and not moving from the head to the heart, and then showing it by doing something moving to the hand.
You actually end up managing a relationship, and not participating in a relationship. In marriage, you need to balance, but for the most part, it has to be participating in a relationship, not managing a relationship.
In fact, when I say balance, I do not think we need to balance managing a relationship. Well, there is a little bit of managing, but it should be participating in a relationship.
Emotional wellness is not really about understanding the cognitive aspects of your emotions, but also embracing a corrective approach, in that process of getting to know yourself and realising that I can change.
Yes, I have been hurt emotionally, but it is not the end of the world, I can have skills that can help me to deal with my emotions, to deal with my losses, to deal with a heightened relationship where there is a conflict. That is when couples receive emotional wellness treatment, they become healthier, even in how they relate to each other. Emotional intelligence is important, but I think we need to go beyond emotional intelligence and talk about emotional wellness.
Emotional intelligence is really understanding your make-up, how you are wired, how you respond to things, but it is not really about correcting, there is no intention of focusing on correcting and bringing treatment.
And because I am wired this way does not necessarily mean that I need to stay like that, I need to know what I can do in order to change that.
So, it becomes very important to understand that we need to go beyond emotional intelligence and have emotional wellness and a good marriage and healthy relationship results from emotional wellness.
JN: The danger is piling up issues until one reaches a breaking point. How do we get over that?
FM: The danger is piling up. Unresolved conflict is very costly. So when we let things pile up, when we let issues pile up, there will come a time when it reaches the breaking point, as you have rightly noted in this question. And so this is why we need to find out what it is that is allowing us to let things pile up. There are a number of factors here.
Number one, sometimes it is because we both lack the skills to resolve conflicts. Every marriage has a culture that is established from day one, such as in courtship. There is a culture that you establish, because things will surface in your relationship and how you resolve them, how you respond to them, or how you react to them becomes part of a culture that you are building and inheriting as you enter into a marriage relationship. And then over a period of time, you establish these healthy or unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict.
So we should not let things pile up. This is why I believe that creating a conflict resolution culture, giving each other the skills to talk about anything, and everything as a way of life.
That is where intentionality comes in, you realise that you can not just hope that things will get better; you have to talk about it. You see, we have to talk about it. You have to create a culture that empowers both of you. Talk about things as they occur. See, when you are friends with your spouse, you hear them out, care for them and you love them. There is a sense of commitment here.
So, when what they say to you gets your attention, that is love. That is a skill that people need in order to create a conflict resolution culture. In creating a conflict resolution culture, we have to stay away from those fighting words, or diction. They create an antagonistic environment. Stay away from confrontational words and use empowering and positive words as you resolve problems.
You do not have to raise your voice and yell at your partner, your spouse, your husband or your wife. So when people yell at each other, basically, that is a sign of an unresolved conflict. When you are not friends, that can actually be a trigger. And you are always picking on each other, you always judge their actions. That is fighting mode and so that is a culture that has to be changed, because it is not healthy.
JN: How do we handle differences in personalities?
FM: Understanding personality types is something very important because we are different. If we look at the fact that we are different, and we embrace that, and not see our differences as points of contention, but opportunities to get to know one another better, and to create a future together, it is going to be very beneficial to both of you. And so you know, you will find that when it comes to conflict, we have the flight, the fight, or the fix modes.
So remember, I am saying that in a healthy relationship, we talk about issues, we talk about conflict as a way of life as they occur, and we just talk about them. That is a good approach. So because we are different, some people are into their flight mode. They want to go for a drive, they want to watch TV, they want to go in there, have a bedroom and just lie down.
So, number one, I think we should go back to being friends. How do we handle differences of personalities, we need to accept our differences first and foremost. You have to work at it, then this is why as a couple, you have to invest in skills and aspects of training, which will make you a better team. It helps you to develop sensitivity. Now, accepting differences does not necessarily mean that I agree with them but you acknowledge not to be schooled, ridiculed, corrected or trivialised, you share because you want to be acknowledged
- Jonah Nyoni is an author, speaker, and leadership trainer. He can be contacted on Twitter @jonahnyoni. Whatsapp: +263 772 581 918