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Dealing with Conflict After 60 Years of Marriage

In a 2011 Leadership Journal article, Gordon MacDonald shares the moving story about his friends Dr. Paul and Edith Rees. When the Rees's were in their 90s, MacDonald asked if they still fought after 60-plus years of marriage.

"O, sure we do," Dr. Rees responded. "Yesterday morning was a case in point. Edith and I were in our car, and she was driving. She failed to stop at a stop sign, and it scared me half to death."

"So what did you do?" MacDonald asked.

"Well, I've loved Edith for all these years, and I have learned how to say hard things to her. But I must be careful because when Edith was a little girl, her father always spoke to her harshly. And today when she hears a manly voice speak in anger—even my voice—she is deeply, deeply hurt."

"But, Paul," MacDonald said, "Edith is 90-years-old. Are you telling me that she remembers a harsh voice that many years ago?"

"She remembers that voice more than ever," Rees said.

MacDonald asked, "So how do you handle that driving situation from the other day?"

"Ah," he said, "I simply said, 'Edith, darling, after we've had our nap this afternoon, I want to discuss a thought I have for you. And when the nap was over I did. I was calm; she was ready to listen, and we solved our little problem."

MacDonald concluded: "These are the words of a man who has learned that conflict is necessary, can be productive, but must be managed with wisdom and grace. By the time I reach 90, I hope to be just like him."

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