Marriages and March Madness: Avoiding upsets

March Madness means two things in our home: back-to-back college basketball games that we enjoy watching as a family and the brackets we create that are either celebrated or busted as the days and weeks go on. March Madness also refers to enduring the long winter, where the cold temperatures, endless gray skies and pop-up snowstorms all contribute to shortened tempers.

This time of year can also be especially hard on marriages as husbands and wives are bombarded with busy schedules and long winter days.

Recently, I have had the pleasure of reviewing The Alpha Marriage Course, which is a video series specifically designed to introduce topics related to strengthening marriages. Similar to Alpha, which is currently in many parishes, the marriage course is a tool to get couples talking to each other about topics they may not have touched on before. It is meant to be interactive, as discussions are intertwined with the video presentations. This format lends itself to a guided, but beautiful, approach to building up strong marriage skills between couples.

One part of the video series specifically talks about conflict resolution — or as I like to call it, how to win an argument with your spouse. Winning, of course, refers to a resolution that ultimately benefits both spouses and leads to a strengthening or deepening of your marriage. It is not winning which may result in the one spouse coming out on top at the expense of the other. There are many great and practical tools in this video series and I will highlight some examples below.

The Alpha Marriage Course highlights practical tips for getting through an argument effectively. Arguments are inevitable in a marriage, but they can be solved with less pain and frustration by using a few simple tips. Some of those mentioned are:

  • Timing sometimes is everything; realize that not every time is a great time to talk.
  • Keep your issue front and center, discuss the issue directly and don’t personally attack one another.
  • Make a list of possible solutions, and work together to find the best solution to your problems.
  • Be prepared to re-evaluate if the conflict still exists. Sometimes a solution develops over time and continual reflection can help spouses grow together through the conflict.

The conflict resolution video also makes the great point that sometimes we say we love our spouses, while at the same time feeling we don’t like them very much. A situation like this leads to increased tension and an environment of constant fighting. They demonstrate in the video that one of the best ways to prevent arguments before they start is to express appreciation on a regular basis to your spouse.

What are some of the qualities that originally attracted you to each other and how can you show regular appreciation for those qualities? Learning to build up each other’s confidence level is also mentioned as a powerful tool. With all the pressures a person encounters daily, home is where we should essentially be most supported and appreciated. Realistically, it’s not always the case, but can easily be reversed with kind words and simple gestures.

Another tool the video series highlights is learning how to love and accept each other’s differences. We come into marriage as individuals, seeking to blend our lives together. Our individuality doesn’t disappear after the vows. Differences we once loved and admired about each other may now seek to aggravate a situation.

When this happens, step back from the conflict, assess your expectations of each other, and realize that these qualities have been present all along and are part of who your spouse is. This is also where laughter and a beautiful sense of humor can be very helpful. Laughter, the video mentions, helps us to not take ourselves too seriously. As long as we are laughing together at a situation and not at the expense of each other, it can be such a helpful tool to calm a conflict.

In addition to the marriage course, you can find fantastic resources on conflict resolution at foryour      marriage.org and other websites. Of course, the Diocese of Green Bay has many helpful resources for couples in need, or to assist parishes with programs that support and accompany couples as they work to grow and strengthen their marriages.

Finally, it truly takes three to get married: you, your spouse and Christ. He is the source of grace that will provide couples with strength and clarity in times of conflict. Ultimately, you and your spouse should spend your March enjoying all the great college basketball games, and not spend it getting mad at each other!

Tremblay is coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family Life and Pro-Life.