Resolving Conflict – You Can Do It!
When my wife and I married, we almost immediately discovered we didn’t know how to resolve conflict. As a result, the first three months of our “honeymoon” phase were marked by constant bickering. Of course, making up afterward was great, but our issues still needed to be resolved. There was no doubt that we were in love and that God had brought us together, but there was also no doubt that we were headed for disaster if we didn’t get a handle on dealing with conflict.
When faced with almost any topic, task, or issue, we approach it from opposite viewpoints or opinions. She says I come from A to M, and she approaches it from Z-N. Now, we have learned to meet in the middle (MN), but it wasn’t easy to learn how to negotiate, sacrifice, compromise, communicate, etc. – all the skills you need to resolve conflict.
At the root of our conflict was the reality that we didn’t know each other very well. And, even more profound that that was the truth that we hardly knew ourselves. How can you be vulnerable and intimate with your spouse when you are still looking for your identity, worth, and purpose? First, you need to find out who you are and what you have to give to the relationship. To try to find your identity in your spouse is another trap that you can become entangled in.
MODALITIES OF RESOLVING CONFLICT
There are at least five different ways, or modalities, through which people engage in conflict.
- Win at All Costs! This person most often enjoys conflict and strategizes how to come out in the winter. They may go to great lengths to prove themselves right and their spouses wrong.
No one “wins” an argument in a relationship unless you both win.
- Just Keep the Peace. This person will give in or yield to their spouse in an argument because having peace is more important than winning to them. The problem is that stuffing things down may lead to explosive behavior or a “meltdown” later.
- Avoid the Conflict. This person will pull out of the situation rather than engage in the process and resolve the issue. This person hates conflict, probably because they were raised in a family where conflict was constant, painful, or both. By withdrawing, they feel safer.
- Do What It Takes. This person cannot rest until conflicts are resolved. Therefore, they will do whatever is necessary to reach a resolution.
- Triangulate with Others. Relationships often form a triangle composed of three people. For example, in marriage, there is you and your spouse. When you bring in a parent or a friend to agree with you or be on your side, you have created a triangle. If a triangle is unhealthy, such as discussing your marital issues with a third person, your spouse’s trust and sense of emotional safety could be damaged.
I was in the “win at all costs” modality. It was so important to me to be “right” that I was missing out on peace, harmony, and loving moments between me and my wife. But, on the other hand, she was a “keep the peace” person. She would shut down and comply, resolving the issue at the time, but it was a temporary and false resolution. Thankfully we both did a lot of personal work and grew emotionally, so we learned to handle conflict more constructively.
Below are seven behaviors or principles that can lead to healthy conflict resolution.
- Be an expert on you! Know who you are and how you tend to respond to conflict. Do you accelerate it? Do you withdraw? Do you shut down emotionally? Reflect on your past disagreements and think about how you handled them. Which one of the modalities is your default behavior in conflict?
- Believe the best about your spouse and their motives. Don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Trust and hope rather than doubt and judgment.
- Choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on. You may grow irritated with some of your spouse’s behaviors or differences between your personalities. These things will not change. Other things are just simply not that important to your relationship. Focus on the positives about your spouse or the situation and develop gratitude for them despite the unchangeable stuff about them. When a conflict is about something that can be changed, and it is important to one or both of you, use conflict resolution skills and solve it together.
- Take the long view. Put a conflict in its larger context. We all have seasons when we are exhausted, grieving, ill, anxious, stressed, etc. In such times, conflict erupts because of the circumstances and not being your best selves. Take the long view and remember that this is only for a season. Extend grace and cut each other some slack.
- Identify the issue and stick with it. There is a temptation to bring in other matters, maybe from past disagreements, to strengthen your case. This is counterproductive and often ends in a stalemate and builds greater resentment between you. Instead, call one play at a time like a quarterback, and stick to it until you cross the goal line!
- Don’t put it off. Seek to resolve things promptly. Otherwise, anger and resentment can build, and bitterness can grow. It won’t go away if you ignore it, so address the issue together, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it may feel.
- Be good forgivers. Don’t wait to ask for forgiveness when you have messed up. Instead, immediately ask for forgiveness and make restitution when appropriate. When your spouse asks your forgiveness for their mess ups, be quick to forgive and extend grace to them. You will need that same grace extended to you soon, and that’s a fact!
Every couple experiences conflict. With self-awareness and the other behaviors listed above, you can grow closer together rather than moving further apart.
If you want to discuss how we can help you and your relationship, please get in touch with me at Cliff@LoveRecon.org or call 866-218-1716. You may also visit our website, www.LoveRecon.org, for testimonials and information.