Recently I spoke about the issue of conflict resolution in marriage. I spoke about how the goal is not to AVOID conflict, but rather to RESOLVE conflict. But the question for today is how? Practically? What are some tips or strategies we can implement to help us really resolve conflict and remove any bad feelings/bitterness within us?
As I mentioned yesterday, the starting point is setting the right goal. The goal isn’t conflict-free living; the goal is what’s best for the oneness in the relationship (obviously I am referring to a marriage relationship here, but the same principles can be applied to any relationship).
So if the goal is oneness and depth and intimacy, then compromise won’t get it done. Neither will avoidance. Those strategies only yield short term results and in the long term will lead to resentment and relational distance. Instead we need LOVING CONFRONTATION.
Two parts to that – “love” and “confront”. Please don’t do one without the other. Confronting without love is judgmental, critical and mean; and loving without confronting is enabling, short-sighted and cowardly. We need both – loving confrontation.
Loving confrontation – I’ll bet that as soon as you read those words, one of them resonated with you more than the other. Remember the swords and the pillows post? Some of us are naturally better at the “loving” part (congratulations, you’re a pillow). While others of us are naturally better at the “confrontation” part (look out, here comes a sword).
Regardless of your natural inclination, if you want to improve the quality of your relationship, you must learn to do both. That is your only hope of achieving true long term oneness in your marriage.
Two points to consider when preparing for loving confrontation:
STEP ONE: EXAMINE BEFORE YOU CONFRONT
Swords, I am talking mainly to you here. Before you run off and start chopping people’s heads off, take time first to sit alone with God and examine a few things.
a) Examine the offense. Is it worthy of confrontation? Not everything needs to be confronted. Does a rude waiter really need to be confronted? How about when your appointment is running 5 minutes late? Some things are better to let go of. A wise man knows the distinction. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11
But isn’t that contradictory to what I said before about avoiding issues? No. You cannot avoid an issue that is troubling you inside when it deals with someone that you care about. It will come back to haunt you and will most probably lead to distance in the relationship. However, you can learn to let some things go.
If you’re a perfectionist, for example, you most likely hold your spouse to extremely high standards – standards which are not Biblical nor are they godly. This will no doubt cause undue stress on your marriage as you are setting your spouse up for failure. Instead, learn to overlook some of the things that you might be inclined to classify as “transgressions.”
b) Examine your contribution to it. What role did you play and where do you needto make a change yourself. Be honest. Is it really all your spouse’s fault? Where do you need to take responsibility? “But let each one examine his own work” Galatians 6:4
c) Examine your motivation. Why are you so eager to confront? Are you trying to retaliate? To punish? To get even? Is your desire to confront coming from a desire to restore the relationship and pursue peace? Or is it coming from jealousy or pride or selfishness or personal frustration? If you’re too eager to confront, you probably aren’t doing it for the right reasons.
Here’s a tip for you who struggle to know your motivation – check your tone of voice. Your tone of voice is often a window to what’s in your heart. Is it to seek peace and resolve the situation? Or is it to cause hurt and get even? “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
STEP TWO: CONFRONT IN LOVE
Pillows, this section is mainly for you now. Once you’ve examined yourself and the offense prayerfully, then it is time to confront in love. Remember, keeping the issue inside you won’t resolve anything. That feeling of bitterness will only grow and grow. And eventually it will eat away at the fabric of love and trust and oneness in your marriage.
So even though it isn’t easy for you, you must learn to be assertive and express what’s inside you. It might not be easy at first, but in the long run, you’ll be better off because of it.
Some tips to help you figure out what to say and how to say it:
- Focus on one issue, not many issues
- Focus on the problem, not the person
- Focus on behavior, not character
- Focus on specifics, not generalizations
- Focus on “I” statements, not “you” statements
- Focus on facts, not on judgment of motive
- Focus on understanding, not who’s winning or losing
Approach the confrontation prayerfully and with humility. Your goal is not to “win”, but rather your goal is that oneness be restored. That is a “win” for both parties.
For discussion: do you have any suggestions or strategies that have been helpful in your relationships? If so, share them in a comment and we can all learn from each other.
P.S. That concludes my week-long focus on marriage. In case you weren’t around at the start of the week, this all came from a recent trip that Marianne and I took to FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. It was a much needed getaway for our marriage and I would encourage all married couples to consider going to a Weekend to Remember® conference too. They take place all over the country all throughout the year. And you can get a 50% discount to the conference by simply subscribing to my blog – click here for more information.