Friday, June 6, 2014

It's a Marriage, not a Courtroom--Why "Arguments" are bad for Marriage

Hi again,

So I am on my lunch break again today at my internship, and I figured a good use of my time is writing a post about reflections from a chapter in a book I am reading. First, I should probably say that my internship this summer is at the Harris County District Attorney's office in Houston, Texas, so one of the metaphor's in the book that I am reading struck home for me.

When I began this internship, I really thought that I wanted to be a criminal prosecutor one day. (Little did I know that, ironically, I think I really want to be a couple's counselor now, which is about the farthest thing from law and arguing in a court room.) I enjoy researching, finding evidence, and helping people, so I thought one way I could do that would be to serve the community as a prosecutor and help put criminals bars. Since I am an undergraduate, I am working with a less legal-heavy department (Public Relations). I've noticed a few things about law, though, that make me think being a lawyer is not the profession for me. First of all, depending on the case, some of the trials I have observed have been really depressing because of the circumstances the victim faced and the fact that, often, the defendants' lives are ruined by long prison sentences. (I'll spare you some of the gruesome details of the cases I've observed.)

In addition to the details of the job being depressing, the job itself is somewhat empty. Law is all about arguments, and in court there is usually a definite winner and a definite loser. This makes me feel empty. I don't want to achieve victories at someone's expense as my career, or be constantly losing. I thought law would be good because you resolve conflicts. However, you just abate conflicts and deal with them later. Research shows that if an offender is convicted of a crime and released, the likelihood that they'll reoffend and reenter the system is high. So sometimes lawyers aren't solving conflicts, they create more problems. (I am in no way saying that criminals do not deserve to be punished. My point is that arguing does not always produce a solution.)

Dr. Gary Chapman's book on conflict resolution in marriage, Everybody Wins, draws a parallel between the fault of arguing in marriages with arguments used in court. Dr. Chapman acknowledges that arguments in court have a judge and jury to determine who is right and who is wrong and that there is no such luxury in marriage. When you get engaged in an argument with your spouse, there is nobody around to determine who is right. I've only read the first chapter of Dr. Chapman's book, but I can tell it will be a tremendous blessing to me.

The back of Dr. Chapman's book has the following phrase on it: "Conflict is inevitable. Arguing is a choice." How true! If you think that you and your significant other are going to line up on every single issue, you need a reality check. Even the couples that have the most happy, God-directed marriage have conflicts. According to Dr. Chapman, one key difference between couples that have happy marriages and couples that have crappy marriages is in viewing differences as assets and not a wedge between the couple. Dr. Chapman writes, "When differences are viewed as assets, and husbands and wives work together in harmony, life is beautiful."

I think one thing Marisa and I succeed at quite well is taking this piece of Dr. Chapman's advice to heart. We are quite different, actually, yet we manage to have a beautiful relationship and work together well. We don't live together, so that may contribute partially to how we resolve disagreements well (since we don't conflict over living situations, how time or money is spent, etc.), but still for the amount of differences we have, I think it's actually a miracle and amazing how well we work together.

For example, I HATE spicy food. I cannot tolerate at all. If I eat something spicy, I need to have a pitcher of water right next to me to chug in between bites. Marisa LOVES spicy food. I think it's her Latina flair, but she cooks some might spicy recipes sometimes. When she does that, I don't complain and say, "Why can't you cook something less spicy for me? You know I don't like spicy food!" Instead, I take it as an opportunity to broaden my taste buds' horizons and let them experience new tastes that they don't normally see. (I actually am growing to like some spice in my meals, but still not as much as Marisa likes it.)

Marisa, on the other hand, knows that I don't like spicy food and has broadened her culinary horizons by cooking delicious, new recipes that involve far less spice and are more tolerable for my taste. She isn't frustrated at me, wishing that she had a boyfriend who loved spicy food so she could always cook with her flair.

Although this is a fairly minor issue, we both see this difference in our tastes as constructive to our relationship and not destructive. This is KEY step to effective conflict resolution.

I'll keep you updated as I read more in this and other books, but I wanted to leave you with a scripture to reflect on:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9

I hope you have a blessed Friday and a great weekend!


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