Conflict Resolution

Yes, you who must leave everything
That you cannot control;
It begins with your family,

But soon it comes round to your soul...

Leonard Cohen

There was no way he was going to allow his teenage daughter to go off in a car by herself with that young man.  She was too young—this time he wasn’t moving an inch!

Mother on the other hand, was concerned for the social development of their daughter and trusted the young man. She was sure her husband was over-reacting and needed to be straightened out. Mother and daughter made a formidable team as they joined ranks to take on poor uninformed father.

So who won?

How conflict is handled will determine both the length and health of most relationships in life, especially the relationship between a man and woman.  How we deal with conflict will largely determine whether we go through life lonely, or surrounded by deep, meaningful, relationships.  One thing is sure, when we interact with other people there will be conflicts. What we do with these situations is up to us!

Going back to our little drama above, let’s think a minute about the various outcomes based on various reactions.  Father can just say no, either respect my word or leave! Daughter just might take dad up on that and leave.  Mother might say ‘She’s my daughter and you will not be allowed to ruin her life! Unless you give in, our marriage is over!’ Daughter could go to her room, slam the door and turn her music up loud as mother and father square off over the issue.

Or they could sit down and talk about it. 

One of the big hindrances to meaningful communication is the lack of listening skills.  Being heard is vital to being able to feel trust toward another person—and relationship is built on trust. When we assume the other person is an extension of ourselves and therefore has no business to their own opinions we’re undermining the basic trust that is the basis for the relationship to prosper.

One good tool to use when it’s obvious that there is tension is to make sure you’re hearing the other person. Repeat back to them what you heard them say. Not the words—but the message you received. When you see the light go on in their eyes and their body language tells you that they are experiencing the sensation of ‘Ah, they understand what I’m trying to say!!’ you know you have heard them. Generally when a person knows they are heard it reduces their frustration level by about 95%. Often we brush the other off without listening deeply because we already have our own ideas formed. This is called prejudice and nobody likes to experience it.

If we can lay out what we are upset about so the other person understands, we’ve almost resolved the issue. If the other person just doesn’t care what you think or feel, then that’s another huge problem that transcends the current conflict. This kind of selfishness precludes any meaningful relationship and most likely it isn’t the issue that’s causing the problem, but the selfish manipulation that undergirds the relationship.  When we care about someone else, we care about what they think and feel—we take it seriously and we respect their rights and freedoms as much as our own. Often when caring people talk things over, understanding each others reasons, fears and attitudes a reasonable compromise or consensus can be reached without too much lost on either side and often much gained by both. People who love each other find joy in doing things together, this includes reaching decisions about the things in their lives. 

One of the first things to do is determine if there is really a conflict at all, or is the tension caused by emotional pressure of some kind?  Have husband and wife been filling each others ‘love tank’, or are both running on empty? Is it the end of a long, tiring day and both are hungry? When people are tired, unfed and uncared for, it isn’t hard to get a conflict started. Sometimes just saying ‘good morning!’, when the other has been up with the sick baby all night is enough to start a fight. Why do you feel negative or tense feelings rising? You need to identify the reasons to know how to resolve them.

Remember also, you cannot read the others mind. No matter what you think that look might have meant, or that you think they were intentionally ignoring you, you cannot read their mind. They might have a headache, or indigestion. They might be thinking about how to pay the credit card bill and not even have heard what you said. Don’t jump to conclusions, ask questions, clarify issues and make sure you are both on the same page. Dr. Amen (Daniel G. Amen, MD is a physician, psychiatrist, brain imaging specialist often talks about what he calls ANTS—automatic negative thoughts. He suggests we all need to install an ant eater. We need to challenge these negative thoughts. Just because they come up in our mind does not mean they have any validity in reality. We can choose to think the best. If someone is actually out to get us,it will become apparent as time goes on, but no use creating battles where there are none, especially with those we live with!

Is the conflict a moral or civil issue? One partner thinks it’s all right to have an affair and the other feels it’s justification for murder? Yes, this is a serious conflict with some black and white aspects to it. In this case there is no room for compromise, but again there are much deeper character and relationship issues that need to be addressed. For issues like this professional help may be needed. Does one partner want to embezzle money from an employer and the other will have nothing to do with it? Again, will a caring, honest person want to put a loved one in the position of going to jail? Taking time to really understand the thinking of the other and the implications the decision has for the family is vital.

Does the conflict have to do with an opinion or taste? Like what colour to paint the sitting room? How important is your relationship? Is it more important than the sitting room? If one ‘wins’, both loose. In marriage it generally requires for both to give about 80%, or more. When both win, both win. That’s what people that love each other strive for, a satisfactory consensus that all are happy with. It’s uncanny how this can happen almost without even realizing that it is happening when people talk and listen closely to each other and enjoy the closeness of doing things together.

Katharine Hepburn said: ‘”Love” has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get - only with what you are expecting to give - which is everything.’

No, you won’t get your way all the time—none of us do. But when we live together with others we think about their rights, opinions, feelings and desires. We need to assess what is best and what is right along with what we want.  Both opinions may be lacking and there may be a better road to follow, but this won’t become obvious until you think together, talk about it and maybe gather some more information on the subject.

Fight fair. No name calling or demeaning statements. In international diplomacy this is the course that leads to armed conflict. If the situation is emotionally charged, no use lighting the fuse by hurling an insult or insinuating the others intelligence is under par because they don’t happen to agree with you—maybe you’re the one with the cognitive deficiency! Drawing the extended family into it is not going to win friends and influence enemies. Tribal warfare usually ends up with someone getting roasted and eaten—and you just may calm down and want to have the person around later in the day.  Some problems belong between two people and should go no further. If it is something that cannot be resolved over time and is damaging to the relationship, get competent professional help. The object of relationship is to serve and love each other, and healing hurts and resolving issues is part of that process.

Don’t use ‘you’ messages. This generally only serves to make a person defensive. ‘You always do…’ ‘You never…’, etc. If you say ‘I feel hurt when you shout at me.’ It often is better received than saying ‘You hurt me when you shout at me!’ The shift from accusing the others actions to sharing how those actions affect you makes a big difference, especially in an emotionally charged situation.

Don't go to bed with unresolved conflict. While it isn't possible to control others choices, if possible find a way to at least negotiate a truce before you go to bed. If there are lingering issues to be dealt with, write them down and agree to meet at another time to sort them. Remember, your relationship is bigger than either of you separately, and it's your job together to keep it and each other healthy.

It’s important that we continue to analyze how we are dealing with conflict in relationship. When things are cooled down and everyone is settled, take a look at the situation. Where were the trigger points? Is there pride or selfishness in your (not the others) life that led to the breakdown? What was best for the family in the situation? Were everyone’s feelings taken into serious consideration? It’s important that we all own our own contribution to dysfunctional issues. We cannot change someone else, but we can change ourselves. Remember the worlds of Jesus: 

And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV

And remember there is always Someone bigger than you and the situation you can turn to. God is our best Friend and we can always ask for His help. If you don’t make a habit of praying, what do you have to loose by giving it a try?  When we talk about 'praying', we're meaning talking to God as a Friend, entering into relationship with Him in an intelligent way. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through helping with your problems.  Pray about issues that are troubling your family. You will be surprised how much help can come from asking for help from our Creator, the One Who is love and knows all about our needs, problems and desires. He respects our free will and will not intrude uninvited, but when allowed access He works miracles in peoples lives and impossible situations.

Going back to the little family feud we started with: After mother and father talked it over between themselves, they included their teenage daughter. Mother explained how Father felt from his male perspective as head of the family and the one responsible for the daughter’s health and well being. Father told daughter that he understood her desire for social interaction of this kind and said they both agreed that she could go out as long as there was another couple that the parents trusted also included. Daughter thought this was a good idea and it worked out that by two couples going out together they could share costs for the activity and had more fun than if they had done it alone. Mother and father used the evening alone to snuggle on the sofa and watch a movie together without interruption.



Marriages are all happy. It's having breakfast together that causes all the trouble.--Irish Proverb