Last week I wrote that one person + one person = two perspectives, and two perspectives = inevitable conflict. (Click here to see that post.)
However, conflict can be good for you and your relationships. It all hinges on how you deal with conflict.
You must honestly evaluate why there’s conflict, and what truly is at the heart of the issue. Of course, conflict can erupt for all kinds of reasons, but there are three particular reasons just beneath the surface of many of our arguments.
The good news is there are healthy and practical ways to deal with and mitigate conflict. Here are four of seven things that can help (I’ll give you the other three next week):
Recognize the cause.
Ultimately, the cause is our fallen nature and our constant concern for our own selfish desires. So we need to do the hard work of discovering the root cause of our conflict.
More often than not, the true cause isn’t what the argument is actually about. As my marriage counselor used to say, “Often the issue isn’t the issue.” Meaning, the presenting issue is seldom the root issue.
If you seek ways to resolve an argument but fail to discover the actual cause of the argument, you haven’t resolved the actual conflict. It will just erupt again at a later date, and likely with more fury.
If you only remove a weed at the surface, it tends to come back. It may be difficult to dig into the heart issues, but the health of your relationships may demand such hard work.
Listen to understand.
Whenever my wife says something about my bad attitude, if it ticks me off, I make a stupid reply. (Shocking, I know.) During the ensuing game of verbal ping-pong, she often says, “I don’t feel like you’re really listening to me.” Typically, at that point I pause and realize that’s the first thing I’d heard her say during our argument.
It never ceases to amaze me how effective honest, intentional, active listening can be. When you listen with the goal of sincerely understanding people—without thinking up your rebuttal while they’re still talking—you demonstrate honor for them and your desire to have a healthy relationship.
Such active listening can help you recognize the real cause of the conflict and identify where you need to take responsibility.
Own your part.
I should say here that almost every step in this process takes courage. These suggestions buck against our selfish natures. We must often war with ourselves in order to bring peace to our relationships.
I think many Christians are keen on quoting Jesus’s “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye?” when they’re the ones being judged. Too few of us, however, focus on the pointed, active verb he uses in the latter half of that command: “First, get rid of the log in your own eye.”
Rather than blame, own. Instead of accusing, admit.
I’ve said this a gazillion times, and I’ll never tire of saying it: being relational is more important than being right. When we make being right a greater concern than being relational, we’re wrong.
When you own your part of the argument, you take the ammo out of the other person’s gun. Remember, Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In taking responsibility for yourself, you’re breaking the cycle of conflict and leading yourself and the other person along a better path.
Owning your part requires honesty with yourself and with the other person without shifting even an iota of blame onto them (even if you really, really want to and they really, really deserve it).
It also means confessing your failure without minimizing what you did. Come clean with your mistake without any justification or rationalization. If you’ve rarely spoken such words to your spouse or friend before, you may be amazed at how such raw transparency breeds the same in the other person, starting a better cycle of confession and forgiveness—much like a relationship with God. Confession can cure guilt too.
BTW, conflict is never 100 percent the other person’s fault. There’s always something you can own.
Express hurt without hostility.
Unhealthy and unholy conflict hurts both people in the relationship. However, when dealt with in humility, each person should feel secure enough in their relationship to be honest about their feelings.
The best way to prevent hostility from escaping out of the sides of your mouth is to shore up your speech with “I” messages rather than “You” messages. This is one area where being selfish, in a way, is recommended.
For instance, instead of saying “You made me mad when you yelled at me,” turn the phrase around to “I feel angry because of what happened yesterday.” By placing the emphasis on your feelings, you’re ensuring that the other person doesn’t feel threatened and become defensive. “You” statements are intimidating. “I” declarations help diffuse hostilities.
If anger or some other heightened emotion prevents you from being able to talk responsibly with a person, take a time out and pray to God about your hurt. He’s big enough and trustworthy enough to take your anguish and turn it into something better rather than bitter.
Next week I’ll wrap up this “conflict” series by giving you three more practical and helpful ways to deal with conflict. In the meantime, remind yourself to ask the why question and start working on these four ways to grow rather than just go through your next fight.
Choose well. Live well. Be well.
A portion of this blog is an excerpt from my book: MR. & MRS. ~ HOW TO THRIVE IN A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT MARRIAGE.
ORDER IT HERE. The eBook (digital) version is on sale today for only $2.99.
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It’s great for couples you need a “tune-up” or couples in trouble. It is also a helpful premarital book.
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