How to Deal with Conflict in a Relationship

It’s no secret that for relationships to thrive, forgiveness is necessary.

It seems like my husband Adam and I need to forgive each other for something every day, whether it’s something small—like him stepping on my toes or me forgetting to wash one of his shirts—or something much larger—like one of us saying something that hurts the other.

Seven years into marriage, it feels like we have become pretty good at it: an issue arises, one of us asks for forgiveness, we talk about it for a bit, the other extends forgiveness, and then we move on.

But what happens when one person feels like an apology is necessary, but the other person believes he or she did nothing wrong? 

This summer was the first time I can remember experiencing that situation. At the beginning of June, I had come home late at night from a meeting that didn’t go well.

As I sat in our kitchen telling Adam why I was frustrated, he listened well and offered some words of encouragement. As we headed up to bed, he gave me a hug and said, “By the way, Stephen’s probably moving in with us.”

My head was spinning. Stephen is his 22 year old brother. While we’d talked favorably in the past about whether and when we’d ever let one of his younger siblings move in with us, I had always assumed we’d talk about it first before formally extending an invitation.

“Do we have a chance to talk about this first?” I asked.

“Yeah, we can definitely talk about it, but I did already extend the invitation to him,” my husband replied. “He needs to think about it, too, especially because he has a friend who’s been relying on him and thinks it will be hard to leave. So I told him that his friend could live with us, too.” Adam’s reasoning was that they needed a place to live, we had room, and so we needed to extend a helping hand.

I was definitely annoyed and frustrated that Adam didn’t ask me first about inviting someone to live in our home. And I was super upset that he had invited a stranger to move in, too.

But Adam didn’t understand my frustration. He felt that when someone needed help, he needed to respond generously and promptly. I argued that if we’re supposed to be united, to be one, that I deserved to be part of the decision. I told him that not asking me made me feel very disrespected.

As our heads hit the pillow that night, I became more and more worked up that I couldn’t make him see the problem in not asking me. The last straw came when he said, “Well, if you’re looking for an apology, I can’t do that because I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong.”

Those words cut deep and stayed with me for most of the summer. I was in disbelief that he couldn’t see why not asking me was a problem. Having someone move in with us had the potential to change how we lived, the dynamics of our family (not to mention, put further constraints on our only bathroom). To top it off, his brother didn’t have a car, a phone, or any money to his name.

As I’ve written previously, Stephen did end up moving in with us, and I was happy to help Stephen out. But it was the way in which Adam invited him that bugged me. We continued to talk about this over the course of the summer. While I made a little progress in getting Adam to see where I was coming from, we basically remained gridlocked. No apology was issued.

Finally one day I said to him, “You know, it may be charity from you to invite your brother to live with us, but it’s not from me because you forced it on me. By not asking, you stole an opportunity away from me to also extend charity.”

That stopped Adam in his tracks, and I could see it all click in his mind. A few weeks later we were visiting friends in Colorado, and as we shared this story with them (because let’s be honest, it’s pretty ridiculous) our friend repeated almost verbatim my very words. Adam glanced at me and smiled.

While at this point I knew he was sorry for his actions, it took another week for him to actually say it. He thought that after all this time and talk, we had an understanding that he was sorry and that I had forgiven him. But I needed to hear the words. I also needed to voice to him that I was over it.

While it was a super frustrating ordeal, our marriage really grew leaps and bounds this summer. We had many talks about what it meant to us to be united and feel respected. We talked about what kind of home we wanted to have, and whether or not we felt comfortable having strangers live with us (Stephen’s friend never did join us). We agreed that in the future any large, life-changing decisions needed to be made together after talking about the pros and cons of that decision.

We also learned that forgiveness isn’t always instant and problems can’t always be solved in a day or two, but with commitment, faith in each other, and lots of love we’ll get there eventually.

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