Car accidents often happen frighteningly fast. Driving experts say that calm, smart, evasive actions can save lives when a collision is looming. If you’ve ever had a near-miss, especially a head-on near miss, you know how terrifying it can be. In a flash, that quick swerve causes your heart to pump and mind to race through a million bewildered thoughts: Where did they come from? How did I not see that coming? What in the world just happened?
Similarly, sometimes marriage conflict comes up suddenly, out of nowhere, and scares the living daylights out of you. You feel that near-miss aversion of a bigger blow-up. Or sometimes, you feel the full pain of a head-on collision.
But some calm, smart, proactive and reactive actions can protect your marriage when that head-on collision suddenly seems imminent. Here are some tips:
Go to a Position of Neutrality:
Our dear friends Ed and Becky told us years ago that when they lack agreement on something, and the temperature starts to rise, they have agreed to shift to what they call “a position of neutrality.” This allows them to think about it, pray about it, and come back together to discuss it. Instead of talking over each other, their neutral mental state deescalates the situation and gets their cars back in their own lanes, metaphorically.
Find Your Lane:
Speaking of those lanes of traffic, Susan and I learned early on in marriage that it helps for each of us to “own” things in the marriage that we are particularly good at. For example, we realized quickly that with her finance background, she was better at paying bills than I was. She took that on and has done that faithfully for 27 years. On the other hand, my law background allows me to handle things with contracts and negotiations, like insurance, car repairs, and maintenance.
Stay in Your Lane:
The double yellow line is there for a reason. Cars in opposite directions have to stay in their lanes to avoid playing high-speed tag. The same can be true in marriage. Let your spouse do those things that are “in their lane” without criticism and undue interference. When Susan, who is a great cook, is cooking, I’ve learned to not to interfere and give her instructions.
Put Up Guardrails:
Boundaries are so important in marriage. Couples who ignore the need for boundaries because they don’t want to stifle each other with rules are setting themselves up for needless pain. Talking openly with each other, acknowledging weaknesses, and avoiding temptations together are just a few ways to put guards in place to help affair-proof your marriage, for example.
Use Extra Caution:
Pay attention to signs in your marriage that extra care is needed. For example, when you or your spouse are sick, tired, or at the end of a hard day, realize that this is the equivalent of adverse weather that requires slower, more cautious driving. Extra caution includes being a better listener, thinking about the timing of conversations – especially tough topics and avoiding trigger points with each other, such as when not to talk about tough things.
Put on the Brakes…Gently:
When a conversation suddenly seems to be overheating towards a collision, it’s time to calmly ease on the brakes if possible. Knowing when to put on brakes is critical in driving and in marriage. Taking a break from the situation might be just what you both need to avoid a catastrophe.
Avoid Driving when Angry:
Bill Murray had a great quote in the movie Groundhog Day that applies to marriage: “Don’t drive angry!” A bad temper can make your proverbial car race towards a collision without even realizing it. You need to face it, find it, and figure it out if that’s a problem for your marriage.
Avoid Distracted Driving: Finally, just like in a real car, keep your eyes on the road of your marriage. When you let yourself get distracted by temptations, addictions, inappropriate friendships, and trivial problems in your marriage, you run the risk of a head-on collision in your marriage.
Head-on collisions are avoidable if you think about them proactively and reactively in a smart way. How do you avoid such collisions in your marriage? Share your comments below.