Artificial Peace or Healthy Conflict?

Why avoiding conflict to get ‘peace’ comes at the expense of intimacy. 4-minute read.

Emma and Peter have what seems to be a happy marriage. They never seem to fight, they have a tidy house, a couple of newish cars and their kids are pretty well behaved. On the surface, everything looks good. Other couples look at them and are pretty jealous. Some of Emma’s friends wish they could be in a perfect marriage like hers. She and Peter just seem so compatible that marriage and family seem effortless.

But what Emma and Peter present to the world isn’t exactly what is going on underneath. On the surface, everything seems great. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? There’s a lack of depth. Their relationship is too shallow, the love is a little forced and their level of emotional intimacy is low. Why? Because they have created a marriage where peace is the highest value. Not intimacy. Not closeness. Peace and calm.

Peace and calm present well to the outside world. But it’s a lonely marriage to be in when we value peace over intimacy.

Would you say Emma and Peter’s marriage is sustainable?

At my workplace, we’ve been looking at the 5 Dysfunctions of Team by Patrick Lencioni and I’ve been considering the concepts in our most important team… marriage. On his 5 level pyramid, ‘Absence of Trust’ is at the base and rightly so. Relationships are established and built on trust and so are effective teams. On the 2nd level up is ‘Fear of Conflict’ of which he says,

“The desire to preserve artificial harmony stiflesproductive ideological conflict within the team.”

See that? Artificial harmony. False peace. This is also what happens in our marriage when we don’t have a history of healthy conflict. Maybe we had a big fight that was left unresolved or one or both of us got really hurt. And now we work to avoid conflict at nearly any cost. We are scared to ‘rock the boat’ because we haven’t learned how to get on the same page, how to compromise, how to sacrifice for each other and the importance of listening to understand. We’ve never allowed conflict to bring us closer together.

Here are three goals for restoring healthy conflict and moving towards true peace and real intimacy. 

  1. Have a culture of openness and honesty
  2. Learn to have a loving robust conversation
  3. Make vulnerability normal again

Emma and Peter CAN be sustainable…by letting themselves be vulnerable, brave & authentic. By beginning to share their hearts and bare their soul again (and responding in respect and kindness), the emotional intimacy will return. And learning healthy ways of disagreeing and coming together around a problem will only reinforce the safety needed to continue moving forwards in vulnerability together.

How can we do this? Here are 5 ways you can put an end to artificial peace and restore your intimacy:

  1. Give each other permission to feel and express feelings. Expressing how you feel is an act of vulnerability. “Hey, I’m a little worried about some stuff at work, can you help me talk through a few things?” Give feedback in the moment too. “Hey, when you come home really late I get worried. Can you text me if you’re running behind at work?” Expressing your feelings in your marriage is normal and healthy, especially if done with respect and without attacking the other person.
  2. Learn how to have an important discussion. When you need to talk about something your timing, tone of voice and listening skills are really important. Dive into this post here for some key aspects to include in your next serious ‘chat’.
  3. Start with something small and manageable. When you know you have work to do in how you fight, start small. Choose things that are minor frustrations and begin to share them. Apply love and listening liberally and you’re on your way! *
  4. Make it regular to establish new norms. Don’t regress to never sharing. Keep up the communication. Make it normal. Not incessant or nagging. Just work on your openness to each other. Keep it honest and keep it kind. 
  5. Go all out. Dive in and have a future-focused conversation with our spouse. What isn’t working about the way you have conflict? Why have one or both of you shut down in this area? Talk about how you talk, how you communicate, and how you disagree and fight. What will you improve? How will you give each other permission to bring up things to 

Finally, send this to your spouse or read it together. Talk about what level of openness and intimacy you want to build in your marriage. How do you want it to be? Download the Vision survey over at the Resources tab and map out together some important ways forward for your life and relationship.

Want to grow in your unity even more? Grab a copy of my book and explore the Unity section. Enjoy!

* Special Note – We recommend sharing these small frustrations in the interest of getting familiar with dealing with conflict in a healthy way. Something we believe in and try to do in our marriage which is neither false peace nor conflict is simply covering over a problem with love and grace. No need to bring it up or let it stew for a later date. Just move on in love and cover over the problem.

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