“All couples fight. However, the key to fighting is to fight fair.”
This is a statement that is taught in marital therapy. However, is it a valid statement? I don’t think so. Couples will have disagreements. The dictionary definition of the word “fight” is: to be involved in a battle or combat or to be aggressive. Conflict resolution needs to be focused on solutions rather than on trying to win or gain one-upmanship over a spouse. Here are some thoughts that can turn potential wounds into victory.
Insights on Conflict
- Contrary to popular belief, conflict is not necessarily bad. In fact, conflict can be a powerful tool for strengthening relationships and solving problems.
- The goal is not to avoid conflict, but to embrace it from a biblical perspective. The Bible says, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). By God’s grace, it’s possible to be angry and resolve conflict without sinning.
- We live in an imperfect world, in that we are all sinners. So conflict is inevitable. A good rule of thumb is that you will not like everything about everyone. In fact, 15 percent of who your spouse, boss or best friend is will be unfavorable to you. The opposite is also true! That is why the Bible says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
- Conflict can be painful. It brings out anger, fear and anxiety, all emotional experiences most of us try to avoid.
- Learning to manage conflict is a skill that requires commitment, emotional maturity and experience.
Possible Positive Results of Conflict
- Problems can be creatively solved by merging the concerns and points of view of all sides.
- Parties from both sides of the conflict can learn to appreciate, understand and accept other’s points of view.
- Conflict can spur us to grow and change.
- Relationships can be strengthened as tension and distrust give way to harmony and understanding.
Rules to Resolve Disputes Fairly
- Never debate at times of high energy and stress. Instead say, “We are both too upset, and things are too heated right now to discuss this. I think we should wait awhile and cool down before having a discussion.” A conflict can be resolved in half the time if this rule is followed!
- If you raise your voice during the conflict, you should make your voice softer.
- If an issue is brought to your attention, first repeat the concern and then ask, “If you could assign a price tag to this issue, what would the value be?” (The person coming to you should be able to explain why they placed this particular price tag or value on that particular issue.)
- If in a marriage, set aside one to two times a week to deal with relational conflict. I suggest using the following four ground rules for discussing conflict:
- Twenty-four hours before the meeting, set an agenda with any issue that one spouse wants to discuss.
- The one with the problem must present at least two win-win solutions for discussion.
- Don’t put solutions in cement. Instead, you should say, “For the next week can I suggest we do ‘x’ or ‘y’ and see if our frustration level subsides?” Most spouses will agree to try something new for one week.
- Re-evaluate the solution at the next meeting.
- When dealing with conflict, stick to the subject at hand. If the other individual starts to bring up something else, say “If you want to talk about ‘x,’ we can do that after we come to a conclusion about this issue.”
- In times of conflict, avoid overgeneralizing. Be specific. Challenge “you always …” statements.
- Always avoid personal insults and character assassinations. Keep the conflict focused on the issues, not on personalities.
- Express real feelings; avoid intellectualizing. Conflict resolution is not a philosophical exchange of ideas.
- Demonstrate unconditional love and affirmation, but avoid patronizing.
- Demonstrate empathy and reflective listening.
- Affirm publicly, confront privately.
- Confront to heal, not to win.
So to all the couples … let’s go out and win!
Dr. Rick Fowler earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Theology (Greenville College), a Master of Arts degree in Social Science Education (University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point), an Education Specialist degree in Social Science (University of Georgia), a Doctorate of Education in Social Psychology (Highland University), and received his LPC, LMFT certification (University of Texas at Tyler).