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Keeping It Clean

Conflict coexists with relationships. It’s unavoidable (no matter how satisfied you are together). It’s how we manage conflict that dictates how healthy our relationships are and, oftentimes, whether we end up in divorce court. When properly handled, healthy, fair disagreements can actually strengthen relationships.

In their book, The Remarriage Checkup, marriage and family therapist Ron Deal and researcher David Olson discuss the differences in how couples handle conflict. “Research has suggested that happy and unhappy couples alike share the same number of conflicts. Unhappy couples just can’t get through the differences. They get stuck in them. Healthy couples, by comparison, are much more likely to find creative solutions to their differences and work them out.”

Conflict doesn’t have to be bad. It’s simply a sign that something needs to change in the relationship. It turns bad when we attack the person instead of the problem.

Researcher James McNulty, reports that relationships can benefit from healthy conflict. Short-term angry discussions let your partner know that certain behaviors are unacceptable.

It’s also important to recognize our part in conflict. In Peacemaking for Families, Ken Sande says, “It takes two to tangle. The fact is we frequently contribute in some way to relational problems. Whether it be through our words, our thoughts, our motives, our attitudes or our deeds, we are more often than not guilty of either starting or at least aggravating any conflict we are involved in.”

Taking a personal inventory and considering how we contribute to conflict requires courage and humility. After a fight early in our marriage, my husband told me I always had to be right. I insisted I knew best how to handle every situation and had little regard for his opinions. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those words, and I knew he was right. I’ve worked hard to overcome my prideful attitude and recognize how it contributes to conflict. As a result, my husband and I work through conflict now with a win-win ending.

When conflict comes knocking at your door, don’t despair. If you commit to practicing healthy conflict management, you’ll find your relationships deepen through resolve. You don’t have to get stuck arguing about the same old thing.

Are you up for a challenge? Pick your weakest link when it comes to conflict. Where could you improve? Then determine to do conflict differently and watch what a difference it makes in your relationships!


12 Tips for Fighting Fair

Agree to remain in control. When emotions escalate and nasty words start flying, resolution never occurs. If the situation proves to be too volatile, take a time out and come back when both of you can discuss the matter calmly.

Be fair and flexible with solutions. Come to the discussion with both ears open to hear your partner’s take on the disagreement. Don’t insist your way is the only way even if you think it’s the right way.

State the problem clearly. Be specific. Use I instead of you. I statements take ownership of our feelings and needs and communicate them to others without placing blame. It’s easier to hear, “I feel insecure when you ignore me” rather than “you make me angry when you don’t listen to me.”

Address conflict as it occurs. Don’t let issues pile up until you’re ready to explode. If your partner neglects to address your stepson’s lack of respect, don’t let it go 10 times before discussing it.

Keep conflict away from your children. If you and your husband can’t agree on discipline, don’t argue about it in front of the kids. Take tough discussions behind closed doors.

Be a team player. Your partner is your ally. If you insist on winning for a successful outcome, that means your partner has to lose. It’s not a competition. It’s a partnership.

Don’t argue via email or texting. Give your relationship the respect it deserves and take time to confront conflict face-to-face. If you begin a disagreement while texting, stop. Resolve to finish the discussion in person.

Don’t bring up old issues. Put boundaries around the subject at hand and resolve one issue at a time, thus helping to prevent explosive arguments.

Pick your battles. Life’s too short to argue about every little thing. Choose what topics are important enough to argue about and leave the others alone. When “disagreeable” spouse comes home after a bad day, don’t engage.

Steer clear of name calling or character assassination. Hurtful words create deep wounds that don’t heal easily. Stick to the issue instead of diverting to the person.

Listen more than you talk. I’ve heard that women speak about 20,000 words per day, close to 13,000 more than the average man. I’m convinced God gave us one mouth and two ears so we would listen more and talk less.

Offer grace freely. Be quick to apologize and slow to hold grudges. When we don’t forgive, we suffer mentally, emotionally and physically. Forgive and let it go.

Gayla Grace is an author and stepfamily coach with a his, hers and ours family. She loves helping nontraditional families learn to thrive in their relationships.

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