PT 2 – THE ROAD TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM (The Spirit of Marriage 7)

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Conflict in marriage cannot be avoided but it can be handled constructively. Conflict is constructive when you know how to disagree and still laugh with each other; disagree in such a way that neither one of you is beaten up, broken or stripped down; that when the disagreement ends your marriage and love remain intact. Here are some more suggestions on how to do this.

AUDIO VERSION

 

TEXT VERSION [CONTINUED FROM LAST EPISODE]

What you disagree about is not as important as how you disagree because it is more often your manner of disagreeing that destroys marriages than what you are disagreeing about.

We can keep conflict at the constructive level by maintaining good character and good manners; by maintaining qalbeen saleem, by keeping unfairness, malice, enmity and excesses out of our disagreement.

Conflict is constructive when you know how to disagree and still laugh with each other; disagree in such a way that neither one of you is beaten up, broken or stripped down; that when the disagreement ends your marriage and love remain intact.

 3. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

Mind your language as a habit and it would be hard for such toxic words to jump out even in the heat of a disagreement.

Mind the words you use every day to express your disagreement, displeasure or dissatisfaction. Mind your language when speaking to your children, neighbours, family, colleagues, subordinates at work, and the help; and when commenting on the news or what a motorist has just done. Reduce or eliminate comments such as ‘That’s stupid’, ‘He’s a fool’, ‘She’s an idiot’ when talking about politicians, a colleague you believe is incompetent, someone who bumped into you in the market and didn’t say sorry. Insults turn a simple expression of disagreement to personal attacks which in turn attract counter-attacks. They change the track from constructive to toxic-destructive. A couple I know have an agreement that no nasty words would be used in their home, not even when joking.

 

4. Step into your spouse’s shoes and walk in them

This was the focus of episode 6.

 

5. ESCAPE HATCH

Before a situation arises, talk about how to get away from an overheated conflict situation.

Picture an armoured tank into which a grenade has been thrown; the soldier inside it tries to climb out through the hatch but, of course, he gets shot at by the enemy. Sometimes while trying to sort out an issue, tempers flare. Hearts beat faster and voices begin to rise; one person stops talking or just walks away. This is more likely to happen when the discussion starts without prior warning. The person who walks away or stops talking is feeling overwhelmed or too tense to think of a way of responding so he/she is trying to escape. If you and your spouse have no agreement about retreating from a disagreement, the person trying to escape will get verbally shot at.

In the early days of my marriage to my late husband, when a disagreement got intense, he would walk out of the room before an issue was resolved and I would get really upset because I didn’t like unfinished issues. We later came to agreement on an escape hatch. The person who felt like the soldier in the tank with the grenade thrown in would say, ‘Can we talk about this later?’ which served as the escape hatch. Said in whatever tone, it was the signal that the person asking, often my husband, was feeling overwhelmed by the situation and might soon explode, shut down or walk away – and you know how walking away can infuriate the other person, often the wife. We also agreed that he would come back on his own later that day or the next to re-open the issue which we would then discuss very calmly. Your escape hatch could be ‘Let me take a walk’, ‘Let’s press pause’ or even ‘I need a break.’ If your spouse seeks to use the escape hatch, you CANNOT shoot him/her, you allow them to go and return at the agreed time.

 

6. MAINTAIN THE RIGHT INTENTION

Don’t ever let the argument be about who’s right or wrong

Why do you engage in this discussion/argument? It should be to clarify something, to make a situation right, to express yourself, to change a situation which you feel is wrong. Each party wants the other to change, each feels right and believes the other side is wrong. It is easy for egos to get involved. When it is to prove that you are better than your spouse, to hurt your spouse or to make your spouse feel as bad as you did/do then it will be extremely difficult to maintain qalbeen saleem and act with the right adhab.

 

  1. START POSITIVE
The first three minutes of a disagreement often tells you how it will end; many disagreements starting negatively can often predict whether the marriage will be rocky or stable.

Starting positive ensures that within the first few minutes, the discussion or argument has a constructive trajectory.

Start off on a positive note such as ‘I would like to discuss something that’s bothering me because I want our marriage to be better/I want to understand you better/I want to clarify something that happened …’  A negative start is: ‘I am really upset with you…’

You could also refer to something you appreciate about your marriage or something your spouse has done well – for instance saying, ‘Thank you for …’ Be careful about this kind of positive note because it will evoke the question, ‘What do you want?’ It would be better to acknowledge it to yourself and instead, like play and humour, make it a habit.

 


8. DON’T SIT WITH SHAYTAN

Stick to the issue. Leave insults and labels alone.

Hadith: Two people who revile each other are like two devils accusing and denying each other

What is the issue you are disagreeing about? Talk about it without including insults and labels. I once read somewhere that insults are the words you use when you have nothing useful or intelligent to say. The prophet intensely disliked insults so much so that when Abu Bakr responded to someone’s insults with insults of his own, the prophet walked away. Abu Bakr asked the prophet ‘Are you angry with me?’ and the prophet said that an angel had been responding to the man on Abu Bakr’s behalf but when Abu Bakr responded to the man, the angel left and shatyan came to sit. The hadith concludes with the prophet’s declaration that he was not going to sit while Shaytan also sits.

Suppose your spouse paid for a car in full before checking it out thoroughly or forgot to pick up your two year old from the crèche, or – you think that’s ‘irresponsible’ or ‘stupid’. Do either of these words address the issue? The issue is that your spouse takes on too much at once or once absorbed in a task can forget about even really important things; and you feel that your spouse needs to do less multi-tasking or learn to apportion time and attention to different responsibilities, and set reminders on his/her phone. Words such as ‘Irresponsible’, ‘selfish’ and ‘stupid’ have no place in this conversation.

Sometimes insults are delivered indirectly. For instance, you are thinking that your spouse acted really stupidly or irresponsibly so you say, ‘What kind of father/mother forgets their child in the crèche?’ or ‘Which well educated person buys a car, a car, without checking it out first?’ This leads right to the next suggestion – CONTROL YOUR NON-VERBALS.

(TO BE CONTINUED)