By Francis Ewherido
I have been observing this young couple in church since the Sunday after their wedding. They are always on suit-and-suit (clothes made from the same fabric). Over the years, they have had three children and they still wear suit-and-suit to church every Sunday. I saw them again last Sunday and it just occurred to me that this suit-and-suit might be one of their customized conflict resolution mechanisms (personal ways of resolving differences).
The last time I itemized these mechanisms in this column, I did not include suit-and-suit. But I strongly feel it has to be. Imagine not being on talking terms with your spouse on a Sunday; how do you agree on what to wear, if you are into suit-and-suit? It has to be agreed somehow; there lies suit-and-suit as a conflict resolution mechanism.
Ironically, suit-and-suit can also cause a quarrel. Sometime ago, one of my wife’s relatives asked her: “Aunty, how come you and uncle don’t wear suit-and-suit.” My wife lashed onto it and it became an issue. Then I responded: “Why don’t you buy and make them and see if I won’t wear them?” She never took up the challenge. We do have a few suit-and-suits though; some made from lace and Ankara materials and other wrappers and tops of the same materials.
But the majority of my traditional clothes are the now-popular Niger Delta outfits. There are no female equivalents of these outfits so suit-and-suit is out of it for couples. May be that should be a challenge for our fashion designers and tailors.
That will help to make suit-and-suit, a conflict resolution mechanism for more couples from the Niger Delta and the East. Suit-and-suit is easier for couples in the South West because the main fabrics are lace, Ankara and other materials that are unisex. Before I move on, a quick explanation: I grew up hearing couples or people putting on clothes made with the same fabric being referred to as suit-and-suit. It was a competition while growing to be the first to spot such people in public places.
Now let us look at other customised conflict resolution mechanisms couples have evolved to resolve their differences. In the early part of my marriage, eating together was one of our conflict resolution mechanisms. My wife introduced it, but it worked because I found it hard dipping my hand in the same bowl with her while not on talking terms. *But I have found out it is not enough because it papers over cracked walls; the same issues rear their ugly heads again.
So these days, my best form of conflict resolution is empathic communication. First, I listen to understand and respond accordingly. Since we belong to different “prisons” and are both strongly opinionated, we do not always have consensus, but we try to respect each other’s stand.
Some couples say they resolve their differences with sex. Sex is too “sweet” and ephemeral and does not look like an enduring conflict resolution mechanism to me. It looks more like glossing over issues. Some spouses might also just oblige because they see sex as a marital obligation; meanwhile the animosity is still there. It is more like what Jesus said: “These people honour me with their lips (body) but their hearts are far away” (Matthew 15:8).
So while sex might be a good “sealant”, it is better after the contending issues have been discussed (“after the reggae (talk), play the blues (sex)…”). If sex comes before talk, there is a possibility the “sweetness” will temporally blunt the prior pain or feelings, or one or both spouses might be too tired to talk reasonably thereafter.
Some couples say they do not allow the sun to set on any misunderstanding; every misunderstanding is dealt with same day. That is wonderful, because many big misunderstandings in marriage actually started small, but egos, foolish pride and unforgiving spirit make a scratch to become an ulcer. So resolving issues quickly is good, but the issues must be properly thought through, if not they will reoccur. Conflict resolution should also not become mechanical just because you have set a day’s target. There are times when couples really need time to cool down, clear their heads and get a proper perspective on issues. So if necessary, the sun can set on some disagreements to ensure a proper resolution.
We tend to shy away from clichés, but the truth is that a family that genuinely prays together stays together. In the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught us, He said “…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” It is tough praying with your spouse if you bear grudges. In fact, such prayers are hollow rituals. In that regard, prayer can be a powerful customized conflict resolution mechanism.
Some couples go for the old, time-tested apology as their customised conflict resolution mechanism. When you are wrong, simply apologise. Sometimes the conflicts are straightforward and you easily identify the guilty party. But there are situations where spouses look at the same issue from their “prisons” (perspectives) and it is difficult to say who is wrong and right. Here maturity comes in; the more mature party initiates reconciliation, not because he/she is wrong, but because he/she is more secure and the marriage takes precedence over the parties who make it up. Some people might say what is customized about apologies? Refusal by spouses to apologise has killed many marriages, and there are marriages where one of the parties can do no wrong.
There are some other customised conflict resolution mechanisms, some of them very queer and weird, couples use to resolve conflicts. If you do not have any, evolve at least one. It might just be what your marriage needs to overcome the hiccups it is currently experiencing.