Every marriage has conflict. In fact, famous marital researcher, Dr. John Gottman, says good marriages that last the test of time are not void of conflict (1). Healthy couples know how to resolve these inevitable disagreements.
In our 35-year experience as marriage therapists, we’ve found that most couples fight about silly, surface issues, and often miss the real reasons that lie beneath their anger. The chronic conflict over our spouse not cleaning crumbs from the kitchen counter may not be about crumbs at all. There could be a deeper root. Finding the deeper root can help couples resolve conflict and even bring healing to each other.
In the Soul Healing Love Model we help couples determine that deeper root by looking at their soul wounds. We define a soul wound as a need from childhood that was not met (2). All of us have soul wounds of one type or another. There is no perfect family, life, or situation. But it is important to note that the purpose of recognizing our soul wounds is not to play the “blame game.” The reason we look at childhood is that the wounds that occurred early in our development can cause the deepest emotional scars. These childhood soul wounds are also easily triggered in adult relationships, and can bring about a great deal of pain and emotion.
When soul wounds are triggered in marriage — and they will be — couples often become reactive, giving a current situation more emotional energy than it deserves. This is called reactivity (3). When one mate overreacts, it typically triggers reactivity in the other mate. Now, they are both overreacting at the same time. We call this phenomenon interactivity.
When couples are in a state of interactivity, neither is being rational. We can easily see how marital conflict can get out of hand and even become volatile. This is not what God had in mind when he created the original couple, Adam and Eve. God wants us to live in peace. In the Bible, Proverbs 14:29 says, “A wise man controls his temper. He knows that anger causes mistakes.” It’s hard to control our temper when soul wounds are being triggered. Because of this we have developed two communication techniques that help couples determine the root of their anger and stop unhealthy reactivity and interactivity: The GIFT Exercise and The Digging Deeper Exercise.
Learning intentionality stops the over-reacting in marital conflicts that is so harmful. In order to practice intentionality, couples must actively live out the wisdom of Romans 12:2, which encourages us, to “not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”