In marriage, conflict is inevitable. The little irritations that transpire over weeks, months or even years, add up. Eventually, the little problems escalate into something big and unavoidable. The conflict becomes the elephant in the room, and the only way to remove it, is to seek a solution. Sometimes that means seeking compromise.
A healthy, long-lasting marriage is not one devoid of arguments or fights, it is one where the couple understands how to navigate a conflict which can, at times, mean finding compromise. Understanding how to compromise has been determined to be a predictor of a successful relationship. John Gottman, renowned marriage expert and psychologist, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, shared his research that couples who were skilled at resolving their differences had a higher likelihood of being satisfied with their relationship. In his book, he provides examples of couples that had solvable versus perpetual problems. The couples with ongoing, yet solvable issues, were able to adopt a steady rhythm in conflict resolution and compromise.
But what does it mean to find compromise in your marriage? How can you find a long-lasting solution that allows both parties to feel at ease? Well, the short answer is — it’s a process. It involves the parties engaging in a constructive dialogue that will allow them to make concessions or sacrifices to achieve a mutually agreed-upon solution. The question then is: How? How does one engage in a level-headed conversation and practice that will allow for the process to occur? There are several steps that can be taken to get to a compromise.
Identifying Your Wants/Needs
As any good negotiator knows, the first thing to do before entering into negotiations is to gain clarity on what you want. What is at the heart of this conflict and what is it that you are seeking from a peace deal? It’s necessary to take a moment to reflect with a clear head and determine what it is you need to feel that a resolution has been attained. Have you thought about the why? Have you asked yourself how and why you might have been contributing to the conflict? Are you making demands based on your lower nafs? Are you keeping in mind the bigger picture? Is getting what you want going to lead you to being a happier spouse and having a healthier marriage? Will you be okay if you get less than what you hope for? Part of compromising might be potentially giving up one thing, to gain another. What are you willing to sacrifice? These questions must be answered before engaging with your spouse.
It is very important to keep in mind that achieving a compromise through negotiations should avoid certain things. The first and most important is that religious obligations and doctrine cannot be compromised. The other is that both spouses should be careful to stay grounded in sincerity and fairness so that the lower nafs does not hold sway. It might be that one of the spouses is more articulate than the other and is able to make a more persuasive case. But if he or she is coming from the lower nafs, then they might think they are achieving something positive, something in their self-interest, but in actuality they are indulging their ego and selfish desire; and that is contrary to what is necessary to resolve conflict.
Of course, there is no way to achieve a negotiation without turning on your active listening skills. It is crucial to share your feelings and then provide a time for your partner to speak without you butting in, to question, resist, or even attack their viewpoint. Active listening includes removing all distractions, and focusing on what the other person is saying. It is helpful to repeat back to them, in your own words, what they have said to prevent misunderstanding and to build trust. Then the two of you can come to a place where you are ready to do the nitty-gritty negotiating.
Meeting in the Middle
It’s important not to jump quickly to a resolution. It may take a few different times to come to a solution that works for both sides. It’s okay to present several proposals, and do multiple meetings of the mind, before coming to a final resolution. You should be able to explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of each possible outcome. You should always be open to new ideas and re-engage with active listening to fully understand your partner’s perspective. If what your spouse explains about their perspective is not clear to you, ask clarifying questions. But do so in a way that sincerely seeks to understand how they see things. Avoid any attitude or tone of challenge, annoyance, or blame. Be respectful of their feelings and ask about how they are feeling at various points to make sure you are both experiencing the process in a positive way. Go back to your objectives of what you want and see if that has changed now that you hear your partner’s perspective.
Understand that you might need to be more flexible than you intended. For a marriage to succeed, there must be more than selfish interest. In the end, it is both parties that must make concessions. Both spouses must make the intention to seek common ground and to stay moderate in their perspective and their objective. The Prophet (s) said, “… do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target ” (Sahih Bukhari). The ultimate target, of course, is Paradise. Maybe you will find it necessary to bring in a third party (e.g., a counselor) to help you navigate the process or even suggest a few ideas that can facilitate resolution.
Seeking Inspiration from the Qur’an
As Muslims, we can find inspiration in the Qur’an for finding the positive even in the midst of what seems difficult or negative. In Surah, al-Nisa, verse 19, Allah says “Live with them in accordance with what is fair and kind: if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something in which Allah has put much good” (4:19). This verse is directed at husbands when navigating difficulties with their wives. Often our nafs and our short tempers can blindside us and make it harder for us to see the goodness in our marriage and our spouse. But Allah reminds us in this surah that we should be patient and tolerant and look for the good. With that intention, when we make efforts to resolve marriage conflicts, we are seeking Allah’s pleasure and approval. Only with His blessing, can our hearts find rest.