Now that we’re empty nesters, Lisa travels with me on most of my trips, at least the pleasant ones.
Winnipeg in February?
New York City in the Fall?
Book two tickets, please.
In our new season of joint travel, Lisa had an uncanny ability to always turn the wrong direction coming out of the elevator. She was so busy recounting a new friend’s history that she just didn’t pay attention. If our room was left coming out of the elevator, Lisa would go right. If we went into the hotel parking lot and our car was south, you could count on Lisa turning north. I became fascinated with this; you would think that at least half the time she would guess right, but it felt like, for whatever reason, that rule didn’t apply for her.
The first couple times Lisa turned the wrong way, I thought it was a simple mistake. Finally, after we had already been at a particular hotel for several nights and Lisa still took a wrong turn I said, “Seriously? Again?”
That didn’t make her feel particularly cherished (as you can imagine), so the next time she did it, I simply stayed where I was and waited for Lisa to notice.
That didn’t work so well either.
As many husbands do when they don’t know how to resolve conflict, I put the blame for this impasse entirely on my wife. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked. “If I say nothing, you get upset. If I mention it’s the wrong way, you say it makes you feel stupid. I can’t win.”
“It’s so easy,” Lisa said. “Just say a simple ‘this way, hon’ in exactly that tone. ‘This way, hon.’ And we’ll both be so happy.”
So the next time, that’s what I did.
“This way, hon.”
Lisa turned and smiled a gorgeous smile. “Perfect,” she said.
Now we laugh whenever this happens (as it does on virtually every trip). It draws us closer together rather than slowly pulling us apart. “This way, hon” is how to resolve conflict in that moment. It builds intimacy instead of separation.
One of the keys to growing a lifelong, more intimate marriage, is learning how to resolve conflict– to turn situations that used to tear you apart into delightful times of bonding. We’ve found that the best way to do that is simply to ask each other for help. I had been married to Lisa for thirty years, but I still had to ask her, “Okay, you tell me—how do I redirect you without hurting you?” A wife may have to ask her husband, “How can I disagree with you or offer a contrary opinion without making you feel like I don’t respect you?” Learning how to resolve conflict isn’t impossible, it just requires thoughtful conversation.
Verbal slights that are often unintentional can drain the life out of any marriage, particularly when they’re part of a recurring pattern. Perhaps you could ask your spouse whether there is a similar situation in your relationship where you need to learn to say, “This way, hon.”
For instance, it took me a couple decades to learn how to resolve conflict connected to waking up Lisa. Early on, I was confused as a husband because when I woke her up at the appointed time, she seemed angry at me for disturbing her sleep. But if I let her sleep in, she was angry that I didn’t wake her up. Once again, I felt like I couldn’t win.
But when I learned how to gently and slowly wake her up, how to essentially “cherish” her awake, that all changed. I had set it up so she was the problem: whether I woke her up or let her sleep in, I was in trouble. But the issue was actually the way I was doing it. Now, if I’m going to be home in the morning, Lisa never wants to set her clock because, she says, “You’re so much more pleasant than an alarm clock.”
These “this way, hon” moments take just a little bit of creativity and conversation, but they turn reoccurring harmful episodes into marriage moments that we learn to laugh about and enjoy. Take the time and learn how to resolve conflict by growing together precisely where you used to fall apart.