Relational Intelligence Can Improve Your Marriage

Relational Intelligence Can Improve Your Marriage

Consentia Group is seeing marriages transformed through our Soulmates For Life Couples retreats in amazing ways.  Recently I led a retreat for experienced retreat leaders and the response was overwhelming.  One presenter said, “I have attended and led marriage retreats for more than 15 years and this was by and far the best retreat I have ever attended.”  When I probed him further, I learned that he discovered things about himself and his spouse that they had never considered, and they were life changers for them.

One ah ha moment in our conferences happens when we learn about conflict.  Every marriage has conflict.  Even my marriage.  The issue is how to go about navigating your conflict in a healthy and productive manner.  Better yet, what if you could eliminate more than 80 percent of conflict before it does damage to your relationship?  I have found that relational intelligence has helped me do just that in my own marriage.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.  He knit us together in the womb.  Our unique design is part of God’s creative work.  No two people are alike and have a unique fingerprint.  We have unique gifting, desires, pleasures, talents, and quirks.  It wasn’t God’s plan to make us all the same.  But together we display the image of God on earth as his representatives.  Sin has messed up our ability to represent God perfectly, but we retain the image of God and are being restored day by day by God’s Spirit who lives in us.  Understanding our unique wiring and how we interact because of our differences is key to living in harmony.  We need God’s power to live this knowledge out.  It can be tough, but I am a witness that your marriage can grow and improve in major ways.

How does conflict start in a marriage?  It is different for everyone, but the sources are somewhat predictable and therefore avoidable.  Sometimes we do and say things that trigger conflict in our spouse, and we are not even aware that we have done it.  The reason for this is that for one person, what you did or said, is just opposition to an idea, but for the other person it is interpreted as conflict.  Learning the difference between opposition and conflict in your marriage can be extremely helpful.  We will have different ideas about the way things should be done or decisions that should be made.  We have reasons for why we believe this to be so that are often complicated by our past but are also informed by the passions of our soul.  We will come back to the passions.  But right now, we are concerned with the interpretation of each other’s behavior or speech and why we see things so differently.

We are defining opposition as simply a difference of opinion.  Conflict however is about violating what is most important to the other person.  Opposition is not necessarily bad, nor does it have to be conflict.  I want to go for Italian food, but my wife wants Mexican.  That seems like simple opposition to me.  But my wife might see conflict instead of opposition.  Why?  Well Italian is much more expensive, and she is watching the finances.  She may actually feel that my desire for Italian is infringing on her desire to save money and security is important to her.  Her passion for security is high.  I know that as her husband.  I try to love her well by providing a secure environment for her as my wife.  But I still like Italian!  Besides, we ate Mexican the last three times we went out to eat!  Okay.  That is an exaggeration (which may further the conflict).  You get the point.  I think I am just giving on opposing idea, but for my wife it may be interpreted as a conflict (because security is important to her).  A simple decision and how we express our views can erupt into a conflict.  Now if I speak with a demeaning tone or don’t look with affection in her eyes while I am expressing my opposition, I might send another invitation to conflict.

All opposition has some potential for conflict, but not all opposition is conflict.  We can learn to adjust our behaviors and words to avoid triggering each other into conflict.  As we grow and learn why we respond to cues as conflict, we can retain greater control of our emotions and recognize the cues for what they are rather than seeing everything as conflict.  As a RED I can come across super confident and sure of myself which can trigger my wife in thinking that she has little input into decision making.  I also change directions often and without warning which is another trigger.  She needs time to adjust to new ideas.  I am learning to introduce new ideas more gradually and with less confidence, inviting her to analyze options that lay before us.  Making this small adjustment helps us to work together more effectively and to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

What are your spouse’s conflict triggers?  Knowing and avoiding these are key.  Make a list and think about what strengths you can bring that might help you relate more effectively.  Here are my wife’s conflict triggers that I am aware of and alternate behaviors:

Conflict Behavior                                 Alternate Behavior

  •  Too confident                                      Modest
  • Move to quickly                                   Analyze
  • Change direction                                 Plan more deliberately before starting
  • Risky behavior                                    Cautious
  • Lack of empathy or care                     Express concern and help

I have listed the alternative behaviors that help us to work together more effectively.  The use of my natural strengths when deployed has a tendency to trigger conflict in my wife so I try to bring these other strengths alongside or use these other strengths to relate with less conflict.

As she grows to understand my conflict triggers, she also is learning to use different strengths.  This takes intentionality and focus.  We do it for each other demonstrating our love for each other.  Sometimes we mess up.  It is a journey, but it is worth it.  We are celebrating 42 years of marriage next month!

We also have a different conflict sequence.  I go RED and my spouse goes GREEN.  I want to engage right away and get things fixed.  My spouse wants time to think things through and needs some time and space.  If I rush things, I can trigger her into deeper conflict.  I have learned to ask her when it would be good to talk things through and that seems to satisfy my desire to get things resolved in a timely manner as well as her need to process things before we talk.

I am a RED that married a BLUE/GREEN.  We are opposite in many things.  Perhaps I married her because I saw things in her that I needed in my own life.  In the process of learning how to love each other well, we are also growing in our ability to reflect the image of God better to the world.

I would challenge you to make a list of the conflict triggers of your spouse and discover strengths that you can deploy that might help you to relate more effectively.  If you have both taken the SDI 2.0, you can use the compare function on the platform to share and compare your results as well as read incites into how to improve your relationship.  Also look at your conflict sequences and discuss how this impacts how you resolve conflict.  Read the Compare report on conflict and discuss it together.  This may be a great date night!

Learning your own conflict triggers and your spouse’s conflict triggers will go a long way to navigating conflict in your marriage.  May the Spirit of God give us the power to love our spouses well.


Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.