I made a presentation once to a room full of pre-marrieds—couples who were either engaged or thinking about engagement.
I spoke for an hour about conflict resolution and was truly impressed with how well I did. I was organized, used good illustrations, and concluded with some practical take-aways. But it was a snoozer. All of them had facial expressions that implied, “Conflict? We don’t have conflict. We love each other.”
I felt like I had just wasted an hour trying to convince middle-schoolers to save for retirement. But if I had those same folks in a seminar two years into marriage, there would have been rapid-fire questions and impassioned note-taking. Heck, they might’ve even requested another session. You know why? Because they would have had conflict.
Here’s something about human nature: we’re all mixtures of positive and negative traits—maturities and immaturities.
We’re obviously attracted to each other’s positives but encounter the negatives when we get in close. Now, it feels nice to be around someone’s nicer attributes and we may even use the L-word (love) to describe it. So much so that we tend to disregard the other person’s negatives because the positives feel so good.
That’s why my pre-marrieds looked bored.
Probably every one of them would’ve acknowledged their partner’s negative qualities but they just didn’t matter “because we love each other.” To them, conflict was nothing more than a theoretical abstraction. But when we get in close and stay there over time, those negatives we previously understood academically become experiential. At that point, we have conflict or . . . people problems. In fact, the closer the contact, the more likely the conflict.
And people problems don’t only happen in marriages but in any setting populated by homo sapiens. They occur in families, at work, in neighborhoods, or even at church. If you doubt me, take an extended road trip with six of your closest friends. Let me know how that goes for you.
Here’s something else about human nature: we’re lousy at conflict resolution.
We can learn to do it but we’re not naturally very good at it. It’s an acquired ability. Left to ourselves, we fight like children, which is why my pre-marrieds would likely be motivated to learn more about conflict resolution after two years of handling their problems immaturely.