A Better Way to Manage Conflict
By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
Do you and your mate struggle to have healthy conflict? Join the club. Many couples struggle to keep conflict to a minimum and relational pleasure maximized.
What if I told you that you could be much better prepared for conflict? I suspect this sounds like an oxymoron---preparing for conflict? No thanks. However, IF you prepare effectively for conflict, actually less conflict will occur.
Much has been written about ‘the slow start’ to relational conflict. But, I believe even more needs to be said with more tools added to our relational skills. Think about it. Conflict erodes your marriage of trust and intimacy. Conflict steals your joy and peace. Conflict smothers your well-being.
So, it behooves each of us to not only manage our own person, but to work diligently as a couple at stopping conflict before it begins. This starts with “the slow start” as well as utilizing other tools to prepare effectively for conflict.
Just recently I debriefed a horrific fight a couple had.
“It started so simply,” the woman said. “All I did was confront him about how much time my husband spent at the gym. I wasn’t that critical, but I wasn’t happy.”
“How did you approach him?” I asked.
“I asked him why he spent two hours instead of the typical one hour?” she said.
“How was your tone?” I asked.
“I suppose I was angry,” she said. “But, I was angry so I wasn’t going to hide it.”
“Then how did things go?” I asked.
“The way they always go,” she added. “I snapped at him, he snapped back and we started yelling at each other. He huffed off and we didn’t talk the rest of the day.”
“So, you would agree that you both could have handled things much better?” I asked.
“He always seems ready to fight,” she said.
“Would you like to hear how you could have handled things better too?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “I hate these fights. They are absolutely draining.”
I was happy to talk to this woman about strategies for managing conflict. I shared the following ideas with her:
First, prepare for and anticipate conflict. Scripture tells us that we will have conflict. It is inevitable. The Apostle James talks at length about our tendency to fight and why we fight. (James 4: 1-2) Prepare for fights by agreeing you will not be caught off guard by conflict. You will, in fact, anticipate times of disagreement, but these times will not derail you.
Second, develop your own Rules of Engagement. Conflict will not derail you IF and only if you are prepared and follow certain guidelines. Most couples do well to have at least some of the following guidelines:
- Only engage in conflict when you are doing so only for the purpose of resolving an issue and have the right heart attitude.
- Only engage in conflict when you are centered and can remain calm, clear and compassionate. Share your concern and love for your mate in the midst of the conflict.
- Work on only one issue at a time, without exception. Guard against “spider-webbing.” Set another time to talk about another issue.
- Share only feelings, without accusation. Avoid shame and blame. Validate one another’s point of view and their right to have it.
- Take turns sharing feelings and needs. There must be one speaker and one listener, always. Take time-outs if needed to settle things down.
- Move the conversation to a mutually beneficial solution with all conversation being solution focused.
Third, hold each other accountable to follow the Rules. You both must agree to follow agreed upon rules. Accountability is key to change. If you want to change the rules, agree to do so together. Otherwise, rigidly follow the rules you’ve made together and believe in.
Fourth, make quick apologies and learn from failures. Failure happens. However, you dare not let failure recur without accountability. Accidents happen once or twice. Should the same failure happen again and again, this is negligence. Take responsibility for your failures and make amends to your mate for the harm you have caused. Agree to hold and respect agreements.
Finally, regroup and refine your process. Review your agreements and Rules of Engagement from time to time. Ask each other if your agreements are working to lessen conflict and increase healthy connection. If they are not working, why not? What is the problem? Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help to adjust your Rules of Engagement.
Are your times of conflict too frequent? Do they rob you of intimacy? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/GeorgeRudy