Two weeks ago, in my post, “How to have it out without making it worse,” we began to look at Brian Orme’s advice on how to deal with conflict. We covered the things he warns to avoid in marital disputes. The reality is that there are things we can do that inevitably hurt rather than help our chances of resolving issues that come up in marriage. Today we look at the positive side: his list of things to do to make our clashes more constructive.
1. Listen and clarify meaning. When things heat up, it’s easy to assume that you know what the other person is thinking. When your spouse is talking, there’s a temptation to either talk over them or just wait for them to stop so you can continue. Neither approach is helpful. Usually, the biggest factor for the argument is that the two people don’t really understand each other. Slowing down and listening helps. And a simple way to ensure that you’ve heard what’s being said, is to repeat what you feel you’ve heard and ask if you’ve got it right.
2. Validate each other’s feelings. Have you ever had someone try to convince you that ‘you shouldn’t feel that way?’ This never feels helpful. Feelings are seldom dictated by logic. Often, I don’t know why I feel the way that I do. But just knowing that someone understands how I feel can be enough to diffuse my frustration. Affirming someone’s feelings (e.g. “I can see this has really frustrated you.”) even when you don’t necessarily agree with or share those feelings, can help build the foundation you need to move forward.
3. Own your own faults. Nobody likes to admit that they’re wrong. Sometimes, we’re afraid to admit our fault because it feels like an admission that it was only our fault. Or we’re willing to admit our fault, once the other person has admitted their fault. None of this is constructive. If we’re at fault in any part of the tension, admitting that fault only helps to move the discussion toward resolution.
4. Plan on giving 100%, not 50%. There are many ways we can express our anger and frustration in marriage. One of ways is by matching what we perceive to be our spouse’s progress. We bargain with them in our minds, “If they do this, I’ll do that;” “If they compromise this much, I’ll meet them half-way.” This kind of negotiation never gets us where we’re hoping. In marriage, we’re called to do what God asks of us, regardless of our spouse’s response. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” God doesn’t promise that we can always ensure peace in a relationship, but He does call us to do everything in our power to pursue it, and that’s different than a 50-50 response.
5. Pray together. Prayer is hard to do when you’re in a heated conflict. Even if you want to pray about it on your own, it’s humbling to do it with your spouse at those times. You can’t pray together without implicitly calling a temporary truce. You have to lay down your weapons to fold your hands in prayer. Just doing that can change the whole atmosphere of the discussion. But in prayer, you call on God’s help and wisdom as a couple. You remind yourself that you can’t do it on your own and you look to the One who can bring change. In prayer we begin to see issues from His perspective and find His grace and strength to help us.
It’s easier ‘to know’ than it is ‘to do.’ There’s always a gap between our understanding and our practice. I struggle to remember to practice all of these conflict strategies. But it helps to be reminded of them. And I feel God’s help when I do.
May God give all of us grace to be more constructive in our conflicts and see more resolution and progress as a result.
In awe of Him,