Quotes on “Communication and Conflict”
The following are quotes from various resources pertaining to the subject of communication and also on conflict. We pray they will minister to your situation:
• Communication is the meeting of meaning. When your meaning meets my meaning across the bridge of words, tones, acts, and deeds, when understanding occurs, then we know that we have communicated. …When two persons can share from the very center of their existence, they experience love in its truest quality. Marriage is a venture into intimacy, and intimacy is the opening of one self to another. (David Augsburger, Cherishable: Love and Marriage)
• The most common mistake couples make while trying to resolve conflicts is to respond before they have the full picture. This inevitably leads to arguments. When people respond too quickly, they often respond to the wrong issue. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict. When we listen, understand, and respect each other’s ideas, we can then find a solution in which both of us are winners. (Dr Gary Chapman, from the Marriage Partnership Magazine article, “Solving Conflicts Without Arguing”)
• Marriage is a call to listen. Even when our spouses misbehave or create difficult situations for us, we’re to tune in to God’s still, small voice and ask, “What is it you want me to learn from this? How are you stretching me at this time? What are you trying to do in my soul?
Instead of listening, our impatient souls immediately want to provide commentary. Our natural, arrogant selves are eager to speak, to be heard, and to be understood. We can’t wait to express our opinion, state our outrage, or make clear our intentions, yet the Bible warns, “When words are many, sin is not absent“ (Proverbs 10:19). You know what this tells me in a practical sense? The pause button on my tongue’s remote control should get much more use than the play button. (Gary Thomas, “Devotions for a Sacred Marriage”)
• The most important marriage skill is listening to your partner in a way that they can’t possibly doubt that you love them. (Diane Sollee Smartmarriages.com)
• BE EMPATHETIC: Empathy basically means to walk in your spouse’s shoes and understand life from his/her perspective. You don’t even have to agree with your spouse to understand where he or she is coming from in life. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot report, “Research has shown that 90 percent of our struggles in marriage would be resolved if we did nothing more than see that problem from our partner’s perspective. Empathy is the heart loving.” (Jim Burns, Creating an Intimate Marriage)
• The first goal in marital disagreement is not to solve the problem. You must first create safety and predictability so that the higher brain capacities can come out and play. Time limits, written agendas, clarifying needs and problem areas, will help you organize your thoughts. A commitment to hear a partner out without jumping in to defend yourself, may not only make her feel cared for, but may also give you new information about her needs.
Softer ways of starting discussions may also be helpful. If the phrase, “we need to talk,” immediately raises defenses then, “When can we schedule some time together” may be a less difficult beginning. What is experienced as calming, when facing a disagreement, will be different for each couple. But if you break up old rhythms of negative communications, you are in your best position to again become curious and attentive with one another. (Don Ferguson, “Reptiles in Love: Ending Destructive Fights and Evolving Toward More Loving Relationships”)
• Learning constructive ways to handle your differences is one of the most powerful things you can do to protect the promise that your marriage holds. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• Watch what God does, then do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1-2 from The Message)
• Can you imagine Jesus dealing with disagreements as we often do with our spouses? How would He feel about the way you treat your mate during a heated argument? “But that’s just the way I am,” you might say, “Besides, my spouse keeps provoking me!” Instead of justifying our behavior, we need to discover how to properly react to disagreements no matter how intense they may be or who’s at fault. Each time you work out a disagreement in a healthy way, you’re better equipped to deal with the next one. Conflict handled properly can fine-tune a relationship: “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another“ (Proverbs 27:17).
Resolving disagreements can also “un-stick” a couple, moving the two of you to new levels of intimacy and growth. Some of the closest moments a couple can experience often arrive after resolving conflicts. It’s like a lightning storm on a warm summer night; though the lightning itself may be scary it helps to clean the air. Negatively charged ions produced by the storm attach themselves to pollutants, which fall to the ground. That’s why the air smells so clean at times. The same is true when you deal with disagreements in an appropriate way. (Mitch Temple, one of the authors from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• Ask yourself, “What difference will this thing we’re fighting about make in ten years? In one year? In a month?” (Unknown)
• The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they’re still alive. (Orlando Battista)
• Make time for the great things of marriage —fun, friendship, sensuality, and spiritual connection. Agree to protect these times from conflict and the need to deal with issues. Just as it’s important to set aside times to deal with issues in your relationship, it’s critical that you set aside times for enjoying the God-given blessings of marriage. You can’t be focusing on issues all the time and have a really great marriage. You need some nurturing and safe times for relaxing —having fun, talking as friends, and making love—when conflict and problems are always off limits. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• Don’t expect to have thriving marriage if there is too much hostility and lack of attention paid to your spouse. It just doesn’t work that way. It may not be your responsibility to hound, nag, or control your spouse, but it is your God-given responsibility to encourage your spouse. Many marriages would be much better off if the spouses clearly understood that they are on the same side. (Jim Burns, Creating an Intimate Marriage)
• There is a psychological law that says: Appreciate and you prosper; belittle and you lose. Unless we learn to apply this law, as psychological as it is spiritual, we’re doomed to an existence of mediocrity, frustration, and defeat. Appreciation is no simple, vague theme. Appreciation is a real force. It is governed by a principle almost as direct as a law of physics: We draw to ourselves the good of everything we appreciate. (David Goodman, A Parent’s Guide to the Emotional Development of His Children)
• Husbands should realize that the words they speak to their wives have awesome power to build up or tear down emotionally. Affirming words are like light switches. To speak a word of affirmation at the right moment is like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities. (Gary Smalley)
• “Dialog is to love what blood is to the body.”
• ON THE SUBJECT OF LACK OF COMMUNICATION: “The trouble in our marriage wasn’t infidelity, it was fidelity with fatigue, a marriage gone soft and sour due to lack of attention. It was the lack of communication that nearly killed us.” (Pat Williams)
• Making your spouse a priority in your mind and a priority on paper (in your schedule) are different. We can say our spouse is a top priority, but do we make sure we schedule time to spend with them? Also, our definition of how we “connect” can be different. We need to make sure we both feel we’re connecting. (Tim Downs, author of the book, “Fight Fair”)
• Q: My wife says I need to get in touch with my feminine side. She says I don’t share my feelings enough and that she never knows what’s going on inside my head. How can I convince her that I’m not mad, but just being quiet? A: The key here is to understand and honor the way God has wired men and women uniquely. We men don’t need to become feminized, but we do need to move toward women in the area of communication and understanding. Talking to our wives will not make us less macho. Meeting a woman’s needs is the epitome of masculinity.
At the same time women need to remember that men don’t share their need to talk, and understand that masculine silence doesn’t indicate a lack of love. Time, education, and insight can give a man more understanding of women, but to expect him to enter marriage with the same relational approaches as women is wanting a dog to purr like a kitten.
Each mate, by learning more of the nature and language of the other, can achieve great communication in marriage. That’s a huge promise, but I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s absolutely true. Honoring your mate’s communication style will make your marriage more intimate and peaceful and eliminate most of your escalated arguments. Expressing your feelings gives your mate a better understanding of your primary needs. The better you understand each other’s primary needs —those mystifying mysteries that each of you brings from the masculine and feminine worlds —the deeper you can go into true intimacy. (From Gary Smalley’s web site)
• Q: Why don’t guys realize that if they would be more vulnerable and honest with us that we would love them more, not less? Paul’s Response: I don’t know your husband or the reasons he won’t open up. I can only speak from my own experience, which is pretty common for passive guys: I felt that I would be criticized if I were more honest with my feelings. I’m sure my childhood had something to do with my reluctance. Also, Sandy would sometimes try to get me to express myself too quickly. And when I did, she sometimes would be critical. She didn’t intend to hurt me, but she did.
So my fears were confirmed pretty early in our marriage. I needed to do some soul work, and we needed to approach each other differently. Sandy’s Response: I wanted Paul to open up more and take a stronger stand in life. And when he didn’t, I just did what most people do: I put the pressure on. Now I see how I needed to back off, create space, and approach the problem from a better angle. (Paul and Sandy Coughlin, Married But Not Engaged)
• For many men, expressing a wide range of emotions is like standing in front of a crowd naked. It’s among the bravest things they’ll ever do. To an average guy, revealing his heart feels something like the equivalent of your moving toward the rat in the kitchen or killing the big spider on the wall with your fingers. So when he does express himself fully or even halfway at first, it’s like a small miracle. It’s a sacred moment when a timid soul exposes itself to the eyes and potential criticism of another. He needs your understanding, not your critique, during such a moment. If you are the strong one in this area of life lend him your strength, and give him room to imperfectly express himself. (Paul and Sandy Coughlin, Married But Not Engaged)
• When a man is silent, it is easy for his wife to feel like he doesn’t care, but maybe the problem is that he is overloaded with too many words and too many details —or he may be trying to formulate a response. Try stopping every three or four sentences to ask for your husband’s feedback. Ask for his ideas before you bombard him with the way you have everything figured out. And when you ask, be sure to listen! (The Walk Out Woman -by Dr Steve Stephens and Alice Gray)
• When I’m sharing with Art and he gets that “you’re losing me in the details” look in his eyes, I feel cheated and misinterpret his actions as disinterest in something I’ve waited all day to share with him. Usually this happens when he comes home with a task in mind other than talking with me. Because he’s a task-oriented person, if he’s got mowing the lawn on his mind, my abundant conversation is a hindrance to his getting the task checked off his list. The more I press him to converse with me, the more he feels pushed and bothered. No good communication can come from this cycle.
Art and I have learned the importance of setting aside a specified time each day to communicate. We do this after the kids are in bed and because it was stealing time for us to connect one-on-one. Now instead of mindlessly watching the tube, we gaze into each other’s eyes and engage in meaningful conversation. Art has learned how to be a wonderful listener. This makes me feel important and special. (Lysa TerKeurst, Capture Her Heart)
• Wives, let’s be careful about how much we talk. We women tend to turn to talking as a solution. When we’re stressed, we talk. When we don’t understand something, we talk. When we want to feel loved, we talk. I want you to think about your talking. Might God possibly want you to exercise self-control in your conversations? Part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-discipline. Just because we’re generally designed to be talkers, women do not have a license to speak whatever and whenever we want. God has a wealth of comments on talking in the Bible: “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise“ (Proverbs 10:19). This is just one of many references to talking in the book of Proverbs.
We live in a culture that allows us to say almost anything we think or feel, but as always, we as Christians must go to God’s Word for guidance. Ecclesiastes refers to “a time to be silent and a time to speak“ (Ecclesiastes 3:7). If we’re going to speak to our husbands about a difficult situation, we need to proceed carefully and prayerfully. If we go to God, honestly submitted to His will, God will lead us in the paths He wants us to take. (Melanie Chitwood, What a Husband Needs from His Wife)
• Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18).
• Learning to communicate in marriage isn’t solved by applying a magic potion —it’s a path of discovery. We individually bring into our married lives, different temperaments and various “styles” of communicating (and not communicating). Some are learned from our past family backgrounds and experiences, and some ways of communicating, we just learned on our own as a single person. What’s important, as you enter into marriage, is that you learn how to communicate as a “couple.” You’re no longer one person making everyday decisions and choices. You’re now both part of a team and you need to proceed through the rest of your married lives as a team. (Unknown)
• A BARRIER FOR MULTI-RACIAL, MULTI-CULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS: The way you’re brought up is the way you’ll live, unless you discover another option that seems preferable. Stress causes people to revert to the patterns they’re most familiar with. Even without the influence of culture, you and your spouse have learned different ways to deal with stress. And even without stress, customs and culture have taught you different values and priorities. This means the two of you need to learn and compromise, especially if you haven’t lived in similar areas of the country or world. (Daniel Huerta, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• When you marry, you make a vow to no longer be two separate single people —but two halves of a whole. Both halves can be very different in many ways —but they need to proceed in life as two halves that complete the other —honoring each other’s differences as long as it doesn’t cause trouble within the whole of the relationship. (Cindy Wright)
• Some experts say that while we all shift back and forth from one side of the brain to the other, a man’s brain is likely to be more highly specialized. A woman operates more holistically, with both sides functioning at once. This means a man can give more focused attention to what he’s doing, but a woman, using both sides of her brain simultaneously to work on a problem, has an advantage.
And no wonder! One study indicates that women have more “connectors” between the two sides even as infants and thus can integrate information more skillfully. This apparently enables them to tune in to everything going on around them —like cooking dinner, listening to one child practice scales on the piano, helping another write a letter, and talking on the phone all at the same time—while her husband complains that he can’t read the paper because one child is banging two pot lids together in the next room.
One result of a woman having additional connectors is that she may be extra perceptive about people. She picks up feelings and connects them more readily to what she’s thinking. If these studies are correct —that women have extra connectors —then this means a woman’s expectation of a man’s perceptual ability should be tempered with such knowledge. In other words, women need to have great patience and understanding of men’s difficulty in handling multiple things or in expressing emotions readily. But men need patience too —to understand and accept the feelings of their wives. (Jack Mayhall, Opposites Attack)
• Let me give you a little insight into your husband. Somewhere they may have disconnected their thoughts and their feelings from who they are, from being able to express them. Some of your husbands are in that position and you know what, ladies, for some of them it is a risk because some of you are very quick thinkers. If you’re decisive, you see black and white. That’s a gift. They can’t see that way, so ask them how they think, how they feel, and give them time to process. It may take hours, it may take days, give them time to process.
And then when they tell you what they think or feel, even if you disagree, even if you think their thought is absurd, do not shoot them down. Please accept their thoughts and feelings, because they are different from yours. Mine are different from my husband’s. (Cindy Easley, on Familylife.com radio program titled, “Understanding Your Husband”)
• Perhaps the worst thing about attempting to change your mate is that those attempts can create an unsafe place for your marriage to thrive. And in time your mate will erect walls to ward off your continued push toward change. Trying to change your mate can make your marriage worse and increase its chance of failure. You have the freedom and responsibility to change yourself and how you react. (Gary Smalley)
• Couples tend to operate under a secret barter system. The key word in the system is “fair,” the key concept is “keeping score,” and the key phrase is “It’s my turn now. “The reality is that there’s no such thing as perfect fairness. When we base our relationship on fairness we’re constantly reacting to the other person’s behavior. Integrity, on the other hand, builds stability in our relationships. Integrity has been defined as “who you are when no one is looking.”
A person of integrity is convinced that the unrelenting pursuit toward wholeness and godliness is more valuable than fairness. Integrity has nothing to do with how the other person’s behaving. It’s doing what’s consistent with the person you want to be regardless of the external environment. And serenity of spirit cannot be achieved until we accept full responsibility for our own actions and feelings rather than letting our spouse’s behavior determine how we behave. (Jeff and Lora Helton, Authentic Marriages)
• Pride pushes us away from each other. It exalts itself, it seeks to win arguments, and it aims to advance self and get noticed. Humility draws us toward each other; it seeks to understand, and it aims to achieve intimacy. Pride is one of the greatest enemies of marriage; humility is one of marriage’s greatest friends. Sadly, while pride comes naturally, humility must be pursued. Unless we consciously practice humility in our marriages, we’ll naturally fall into prideful disposition.
To help us counteract this, Paul gives us an effective spiritual exercise [in Philippians 2]: Pause for a moment. Don’t look only to your own interests —look to the interests of your spouse. Think about him or her. Consider his or her challenges. Empathize with the stress your spouse is feeling. …Pride is a wedge; humility is a glue. Which spiritual tool will you wield? (Gary Thomas, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage)
• In Ephesians 4:15 Paul challenged Christians to live a life of “speaking the truth in love.“ Our tendency is to do well on 50 per cent of that verse. Some of us have mastered “speaking the truth.” We’re quick to point out anything that we see or perceive in our spouse and are willing to use any method (attacking, judging, etc.) to drive the point home. Others of us are stuck at the “in love” part of confrontation. We’ve come to believe in complete acceptance and tolerance of any behavior.
Often we become paralyzed with a fear of hurting someone’s feelings and withdraw into passivity and silence. Speaking the truth in love combines both of these concepts to allow us to confront sinful behavior without compromise, yet with absolute care and respect for the individual, saying things in a way that the person can accept. When a couple takes the stance of living out Paul’s challenge of “speaking the truth in love” to each other, the old models of judging and passivity must disappear. (Jeff and Lora Helton, Authentic Marriages)
• Some people advocate the kind of transparency where we say everything that pops into our heads. Some feel we can’t even know our own feelings unless we share them aloud with others. But thoughts that are unkind and unloving, and attitudes that would burden the person to whom they might be ventilated, are best shared with God alone. This is not to infer that we cannot share negatives. We can and we must. But negatives must also be shared in love. It is not loving to share things that cannot be changed. It might be true that I don’t especially care for your big nose, but it is not kind or loving to tell you so.
We must accept and overlook things that cannot be changed. Solomon put it this way: “My son, never forget the things I’ve taught you …Never forget to be truthful and kind. Hold these virtues tightly. Write them deep within your heart“ (Proverbs 3:1-3, TLB). Both “speaking the truth” and “in love” have to be considered. Those two statements need to be married forever and ever in our speech. (Jack and Carole Mayhall, Marriage Takes More than Love)
• Sometimes, the truth will be something about your mate that he or she may find difficult to hear. If you’re eager to reveal it, I suggest you wait. If you are reluctant, you are probably in the best position to apply the needed tact and gentleness to help your mate discover a difficult truth. When telling the truth in love, the sole motivation is the good of the other person, which means your speech will be laced with patience and kindness. (Charles Swindoll, Marriage…From Surviving to Thriving)
• Never let the problem to be solved become more important than the person to be loved. (Barbara Johnson)
• Sometimes handling issues well comes down to an act of obedience to the Lord, as you choose whether or not to edit out your own negative responses and to take control of the things you say and the way you say them. …In fact, it is very important to encourage one another in your efforts to strengthen your marriage (See: 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
You could say little things like “It really helped me the way you brought that up” or “Thank you for taking the time to listen to what I was upset about.” Recognizing your partner’s efforts to communicate well can go a long way to keeping your efforts on track. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• While it’s critical to find the truth about issues affecting your marriage, relationship is always more important than issues. You are partners, not prosecutors. That partnership doesn’t end when you discuss sensitive topics. Ask yourself whether you’re showing your husband or wife the same respect you show your co-workers and friends.
If you are Christians, ask yourself whether you’re acting first as brother and sister in Christ, and second as husband and wife. If the prospect of discussing a sensitive subject has you fearing (or worse yet, predicting) your spouse’s reaction, you’re losing focus. Your agenda should be to please God. If that’s your goal, you won’t hesitate to confront an issue like infidelity or addiction that tears your spouse away from Him. (Rob Jackson, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• Your love for your mate should encourage his or her love relationship with the Lord. Righteousness is a shared goal because individually it is your highest calling as a believer. You’re both pursuing the same truth because the Author of truth called you to Himself. He’s also the One who gave you each other as a helper in life’s journey. That’s why love and truth have been inseparable companions since before time. They always go together. Where you find love, you find truth. When you seek the highest good of another, truth is absolutely essential. Sometimes, as a lover of your mate, you must tell him or her the truth, even though that truth is not pleasant. (Charles Swindoll, Marriage… From Surviving to Thriving)
• TRY A LITTLE POLITE HONESTY. Women keep having this idea that if we’re truly loved, our minds will be read and every little wish we have will be anticipated. That’s too heavy a burden to put on another human being. Remember, even God wants us to express our needs and desires to him —and he’s the only one who can truly read our minds. How is it that we’re willing to present our needs to our heavenly Father even though he already knows them, but we often refuse the same courtesy to our human spouses —who really need us to tell them? (Sandra Aldrich)
• Believe me ladies, silence is not an effective form of power. All it does is create even more anger —first within yourself and then in your husband as he realizes you’re upset but he doesn’t have a clue why. And when we keep quiet about our feelings, why do we blame our husbands for daring to assume that everything’s all right? We might have grown up with our mothers anticipating our every need’ but we’re adults now (supposedly), and we need to communicate directly. (Sandra Aldrich, Men Read Newspapers Not Minds)
• Two “Simple Reminders”: hinting, pouting, and sighting won’t get the desired results. YOU HAVE TO ASK CLEARLY. Families are often spared heartache when the husband isn’t required to read his wife’s mind. (Sandra Aldrich, Men Read Newspapers Not Minds)
• Expressing yourself in a truthful, concise, non-shaming, and gracious manner builds intimacy. Conversely, many of us expect our spouse to somehow read our hearts and minds to discover how we feel and think. I have said numerous times to Sandy, half-joking, half-serious, that she must forgive me for not yet knowing or understanding because I flunked clairvoyance in college. However, expressing yourself well is only half the undertaking. Listening with empathy is also foundational, especially since most of us have not experienced (regularly or ever) true empathetic listening.
Most of us know of and have been highly exposed to passive and selective listening that focuses in on what relates to us. Empathetic listening includes two crucial elements: undivided attention, and feeling what your partner feels. Feeling what he (or she) feels is particularly beneficial, for while he has feelings, sometimes he has great difficulty labeling and processing them. You can be a huge help to him (or her)! (Paul and Sandy Coughlin, from the book, Married But Not Engaged)
• “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is not really a practical strategy. Sometimes you have to talk about unpleasant things and even verbalize negative feelings, but it’s helpful to agree on some rules about the kind of words you will use when you talk to one another. Determine what kinds of statements tend to wound each other —you probably already know what they are! —and make those statements off-limits, especially during fights. It’s best to do this together, but even a one-sided decision to avoid negativity can make a significant difference.
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend taking all profanity and name-calling off the table when talking to each other. It’s also important to make a habit of positive communication —not empty flattery, but honest praise and encouragement —to balance the necessary negatives. (Dr Steve Stephens and Alice Gray from, The Walk Out Woman)
• The great killer of trust and emotional revelation is contempt, the belief that the other person is worthless and deserves scorn. Studies at the University of Washington’s “love lab” have found that contempt is the best predictor of whether a marriage will make it. The greater contempt’s presence, the higher divorce’s probability. (Paul and Sandy Coughlin, from the book, Married But Not Engaged)
• Recognize the destructive power of words. Paul warns us, “Watch out or you will be destroyed by each other“ (Galatians 5:15). We will never win the war of words as long as we minimize how critical a battle it is. The most powerful way we influence each other is through words, which encourage, rebuke, explain, teach, define, condemn, love, question, divide, unite, sell, counsel, judge, reconcile, war, worship, slander, and edify. People have influence and words have power. It is the way God meant it to be.
As I write this, it grieves me to think about the amount of talk in my family that does not recognize the seriousness Paul gives it here. No, we don’t have “knock-down-drag-out” battles, but there is a lot of thoughtless, unkind, irritated, and complaining talk that slips by every day. I think we are like many Christian families —we minimize these “little” sins of talk because our home is free of physical and verbal abuse and we really do love one another. But Paul’s words yank us back to reality. Words that “bite and devour” are words that destroy. They are not okay. (From the Familylife.com article “War of Words” by Dr Paul David Tripp)
• It’s a tragedy that we don’t stop doing what’s not working but instead keep doing it with more volume. (Bill Farrel)
• You can be right, but wrong at the top of your voice. (Emerson Eggerichs)
• Since we aren’t God, we must carefully look at how our anger differs from His. In order to get to the core of our anger, we must look at our hearts because “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks“ (Luke 6:45). Motive for anger, then, is the key to its core. Our problem is that we’re often blind to underlying motives. In order to respond with appropriate anger, rather than react impulsively, we need to stop and invite God into our anger. A few moments of restraint can prevent lasting and devastating consequences. (Meg Wilson, “Hope After Betrayal”)
• When conflict begins to escalate, we will call a Time Out and either try talking again, using the Speaker-Listener Technique, or agree to talk later at a specified time about the issue, using the Speaker-Listener Technique. If we could get the attention of every Christian couple and have them all agree to only one key change in behavior, this ground rule would be it. It’s that important! This one simple rule can protect and enhance relationships. Why? Because “A fool gives full vent to his anger“ (Proverbs 29:11). Scripture clearly teaches us that escalating and venting at one another is foolish.
Furthermore, research on marital health, and physiological health simply does not support the idea that venting is healthy. In fact, it’s deadly for relationships and for your own health. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• Since it is so hard to control the tongue, frequently it is better not to say anything rather than replying at all. I am not suggesting the “silent treatment” or pulling the old, “I’m not speaking to you” routine, but simply not saying anything until tempers settle and minds are not consumed with defensive thoughts. Someone once said, “It often shows a fine command of the language to say nothing.”
The problem with trying to talk things through when someone is being verbally abusive is that it is normal to defend ourselves against what is said. The more words we utter, the harder it is to control the quality of the content, so it may be best to say nothing. The Proverbs stress the value of silence in heated situations: “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression. He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is counted prudent“ (Proverbs 29:22; Proverbs 17:27-28).
If we verbally retaliate, we end up speaking harshly. We choose phrases that will hurt the person we love the most. We use our words as weapons. We make cutting remarks.“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword“ (Proverbs 12:18). We lash out and wound to get even. We are hurt, so we want to hurt back, but instead we end up losing control and hurting ourselves.
I am not advising that the unequally yoked wife [or any wife, for that matter] let her husband verbally abuse her, that she never talk with him about her feelings, or never disagree with him. I am saying I believe Scripture teaches that the time to deal with heated issues is when they have cooled off; when a problem or disagreement can be approached sensibly and calmly; when the need to avenge has diminished and emotions are not out of control.
Communication should take place when the circumstances are right for it; when both parties can listen with their hearts and their heads, and when they have had an opportunity to think about what needs to be discussed. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer“ (Proverbs 25:11; Proverbs 15:28). Don’t NOT communicate, but DO use common sense about how and when. (Jo Berry, Beloved Unbeliever)
• Most problems start with hurt. After the hurt mulls around in our mind for a while, it becomes infected. (You can end up being angry at “the insensitive louse” that only cares about what they do.) That’s why it’s important to plan peace talks as soon as possible, before hurt turns to anger. (Bill Hybels from his book, “Marriage”)
• Another mistake that causes hurt to turn to anger is accumulating grievances. One hurt is manageable. You can keep it under control, express it constructively, and work through it. Two hurts are a little harder to deal with. Accumulate more than that and it’s almost impossible to keep them from comparing notes and deciding that they deserve to turn into anger. (Bill Hybels, from his book, “Marriage”)
• Please deal with grievances as they arise. Don’t stack them on top of one another or let them fester inside until they turn to hostility. Anger’s always a secondary emotion. If spouses back up to what preceded it, they’ll often find hurt. If they reveal the hurt, they’ll weaken the walls that separate them. (Bill Hybels, from his book, “Marriage”)
• Jack and I are convinced that a great percentage of conflicts are not real conflicts at all, but a matter of misunderstanding. A husband asks if his wife has a new dress on, thinking it looks great, but she interprets the question as saying she’s spent too much money. And away we go. A large percentage of conflicts come under the “hidden agenda” kind of fight that requires patience and multiple attempts to find the way beneath the surface to the real issue —an issue of which even the person beginning it may be unaware.
A wife picks a fight because her husband forgot to take out the garbage, but the real issue is her desire for more physical affection. In fact, the desire for more love and affection is probably the number one problem beneath the surface of many quarrels. Years ago, one older wife observed profoundly, “I wish men would realize that many times when wives are unhappy, irritable, or ready to pick a fight, they really need a reassurance of their husband’s love.” After years of observation, I’d say she was right on. (Carole Mayhall, Opposites Attack)
• We speak, and we hear our spouse’s words through the filter of our own thinking, woven of the filaments of low self-esteem, insecurity, our temperament, and past traumatic experiences. As the comments of our mate pass through this filter, we interpret those comments based on our own viewpoint. (Larry and Kathy Miller, When the Honeymoon’s Over)
• Someone once said, 80 per cent of all questions are statements in disguise.
• People only fight about the subject they’re angry about for about a minute or so. The rest of the time they’re fighting with how the other person fights. (Tim Downs, author of book “Fight Fair”)
• Do your best to keep the conversation focused on the original topic until it has been adequately resolved. Then, and only then, move on to additional topics that the two of you may need to address. Be careful to not overload your spouse with grievances. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-proofing Your Marriage)
• Most people tend to react to truthful and uncomfortable conversations in one of four ways: they placate, they blame, they detach (remain unemotional), or they redirect. (Paul and Sandy Coughlin, Married But Not Engaged)
• Failing to resolve disagreements affects our relationships as arthritis does our bodies; it impairs movement, slows us down, and causes a lot of pain. The only way to deal with “relational arthritis” is to develop healthy responses to conflict. (Mitch Temple, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• Conflicts and disagreements are a given in both sports and marriage. It is not the presence of these that should concern us but rather our ability to resolve them by using the rules of fair play. By agreeing to a particular set of rules of conduct and following them, the members of a team are assured that conflicts can be resolved in a healthy manner. It has been said that “marriage is the only game that both people can win,” I would add, “or that both can lose.”
I would define “winning” as having a growing relationship that provides intimacy and satisfaction and lasts for a lifetime. Based on this definition both parties either win or lose. Although some relationships may last for a lifetime, they are not all described as satisfactory or intimate by the parties involved. Several researchers have studied long-standing relationships to try to identify what separates the satisfied from the dissatisfied couples. One major answer tends to surface every time —constructive problem-solving, or conflict-resolution skills. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage)
• “Unfortunately, humans are so determined that they’re right, they set up lawn chairs to wait it out instead of trying something different,” said Michelle Weiner-Davis. “Humans operate under the assumption that if they didn’t get it right it must have been because they didn’t try hard enough. So they speak louder, give more examples, or say it in different words. Ultimately, they do more of the same —expecting different results.”
Weiner-Davis encourages people to be creative as they work to achieve different results. Individuals must first determine what their goal is and then they should ask themselves if what they’re doing will help them reach that goal. Based on previous experience, most of the time the answer’s no. If you want something different to happen take responsibility to tip over the first domino by doing something different. (Julie Baumgardner, from the Chattanooga Times Free Press article entitled, “Bringing Out the Best in Relationships”)
• If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Be more strategic. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results… Make your relationship the best it can possibly be. (Smartmarriages.com article, “One-spouse Marriage Strengthening”)
• WHEN YOUR SPOUSE HAS A TENDENCY TO OVER-REACT: Create awareness and accountability. Your spouse may not realize how reactive he or she has become. Habits aren’t just hard to break; they’re often difficult to recognize. Next time your spouse overreacts, change the way you respond. If you typically overreact, turn and walk away. If you usually don’t say anything, bring it up later and describe how it makes you feel. If your spouse is volatile, allow at least an hour to pass before you bring up the conflict. This allows him or her to calm down and return to a normal heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological levels. In extreme cases, you might try writing your mate a letter and making him or her aware of how much of a problem this really is.
Writing a letter underlines that you’re addressing a real difficulty, and allows your spouse to read it without your presence or the pressure to immediately respond. It also gives you the opportunity to pray and think about what you’re trying to communicate —not just settle for what typically comes out of your mouth during a heated exchange. (Mitch Temple, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Year of Marriage)
• The issue isn’t whether you fight, it’s how you fight and how rich your stockpile of good feelings is about each other to weather difficulties and keep your basic attitude toward your partner positive. (John Gottman)
• The next time you’re in a disagreement, take some time to think about how you address challenging issues. Do you listen to your partner’s point of view? Do you remember to treat your spouse lovingly —no matter how strongly you disagree? Conflict provides an opportunity to love your mate in the midst of difficult circumstances. (Toben Heim, Happily Ever After)
• And what about [trying to resolve conflicts] late at night? This is a tricky time for many couples because many of us are so busy that bedtime can seem like the only time to talk. Many times, though, it’s a bad time to try to have important discussions. You may be thinking, “Doesn’t the Bible say to ‘not let the sun go down on your anger’“? (Ephesians 4:26)
Yes, but note that it says to not let the sun go down on your anger, not that you have to resolve the issue before you sleep. Some issues just are not going to be resolved late at night. When you are working together so well that you can agree to put off an issue until tomorrow and have confidence that it will be dealt with, that goes a long way toward reducing anger and frustration —and you can go to sleep. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• “Couples who stay happily married disagree just as much as the couples that get divorced,” says Diane Sollee, Director of smartmarriages.com. “It’s about knowing how to do marriage.” Research tells us many couples are unprepared for that second or third year (sometimes even first year) when the excitement fades, real personalities emerge, and conflicts grow. “We mislead people. We call it the honeymoon phase, and we should call that the clash of civilization phase,” says Sollee. Experts say long lasting marriage means “managing” the things that divide you.
Here’s a surprise: conflict avoidance is a no-no. It’s good to fight, but couples need the Geneva conventions. “If a couple gets into a big fight and their heart rate goes above 100, they are not thinking clearly,” Michelle Gannon explains. “When you get too hot, you take a time out,” he husband adds. The research has identified specific fighting behaviors that torpedo marriages.
“There are four main hostile behaviors that are predictive of divorce. They’re criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. And stonewalling often goes with the conflict avoider,” Michelle Gannon says. “They just leave the room. Hang up the phone. Go away for a few days. And that is very dangerous for a relationship.” Set a time and place for potentially difficult discussions. Men in particular, who make up 80 percent of the stonewallers, need parameters. “What time does it start? How long will it take? And, how do I signal for a timeout? They love it. They will even talk to their wife if they know those three things,” Sollee says.
Bottom line: keep talking; a little communication goes a long way to making that walk into the sunset a little smoother. Finally, there are some absolute don’ts: no eye rolling, do not threaten divorce when you’re fighting, and ladies, be succinct. (Tracy Smith, from a CBS Early Show video clip, titled, Pre-Marriage ‘Divorce Prevention’)
• Trauma puts you at the wall of conflict (Gary Smalley). Be especially “on the alert” during times of trauma in your life. The enemy of your faith will try in every way to try to pit you against one another in your marriage.
• Sit down with your spouse at a time when you’re not upset with each other and make a list of what is and isn’t acceptable to say and do during a time of conflict. This provides a safer and more mature way of working through your disagreements so you come to a healthier understanding of each other. Put into writing that which you’ve agreed upon. Both of you are to sign the agreement. Then display it somewhere so you can read through it each time you need to resolve conflict.
• You may want to come to an agreement that certain times are never good for bringing up important things. For example, we have worked with many couples who have agreed that neither will bring up anything significant within thirty minutes of bedtime. Other couples also include the time getting ready for church, transition times when preparing for or arriving home from work, date times, mealtimes, and so forth. (From the book, A Lasting Promise, A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, by Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan)
• Stop complaining and start asking for what you want. (Dr Phil McGraw)
• The difficulty is —[marriage involves] two people. The mis-perception is that if you find the right person, you won’t disagree. But in a real marriage, two people disagree all the time. They need to learn non-destructive ways of expressing differences and must also be prepared for the inevitable disappointments that come from living with another person. (Diane Sollee)
• Rather than avoiding conversation or withdrawing altogether, take time-outs when things get dicey. When you’re not making progress by talking, when you feel emotionally exhausted, or when the conversation becomes negative, step back and take a break. Time-outs can help you get a new perspective. Agree to continue the discussion constructively or end it until you and your spouse can handle it well.
Here’s the process of calling a time-out: • Stop the conflict. • Express your need to take a time-out. • Affirm your intention to solve the problem together later. • Communicate your respect and love to your spouse. • Give each other “space” to gain perspective and think clearly. • Establish a time to resume the discussion later the same day, if possible. (James Groesbeck with Amy Swierczek, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• The Bible tells us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” That can be also true in how we approach our spouse over a situation that’s important to us. If we come in with both guns blazing, we’ll usually only succeed in getting shot back. But if we soften our approach, “speaking the truth in love” our spouse will be much more receptive to listen. (Cindy Wright)
• No matter how well you search for the perfect person, life always throws some surprises. The messy fact is, people grow and change. Of course, this is a blessing, not a curse. But it’s one more piece of proof that successful marriage hinges not on the perfect partner but on possessing skills for, among other things, negotiating differences, surviving change and staying in touch with each other through it all. (Diane Sollee)
• Honor is one of the most important skills you can master. One marriage expert, Dr John Gottman, says that “without honor, all the marriage skills one can learn won’t work.” Another expert, Dr. Scott Stanley, says that “honor is the fuel that keeps the life long marriage loving and functioning. If only a spark of respect or adoration remains, the spark can be turned into the flame in a few days.”
• “When contempt creeps into the marriage, “be careful,” warns John Gottman (Ph.D., psychologist), because it can act “like sulfuric acid on love. The antidote to contempt is to create a marriage environment of appreciation, fondness, admiration, understanding and pride. Whenever contempt starts rearing its head, force yourself to scan for positive thoughts and feelings about your partner. This is your friend, the love of your life you’re arguing with —not some mortal enemy.” (Judi, Dash, from article, “Lessons for the Love Lab”, Family Circle Magazine)
• We all have many kinds of filters packed into our heads, which affect what we hear, what we say, and how we interpret things. They’re based on how we’re feeling, what we think, what we’ve experienced in our life, and our family and cultural backgrounds, among other factors. Four types of filters that can affect couples as they struggle for clear communication are: (1) Inattention (2) Our emotional states (3) Beliefs and expectations and (4) Differences in styles. (From the book, Fighting for Your Marriage).
• A difference that is a major source of hurt and anger to many women involves making apologies. Many women say “I’m sorry” as a way of making a connection and joining with the other person. It can be another way of saying, “I’m sorry this happened to you” or “I’m sorry you feel so bad —I do too.” For many men saying, “I’m sorry” means admitting that they were wrong and they need to make an apology. They believe this puts them in a one-down position and for many men that is unmasculine and unacceptable.
Another difference is the way in which men and women deal with conflict. In an interview, Dr. John Gottman stated that in a marriage,
“Women tend to see it as their responsibility to do something about it. Men tend to withdraw —they’ll work harder, do things with friends instead of family. It’s important for couples to understand this so they don’t attribute problems to one another when the problems really have to do with gender differences.”
(Gary Oliver, from the book, “A Woman’s Forbidden Emotion” by H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver)
• When considering the possible cause of anger it’s important for us to rule out two categories of causes. First, we must make sure that our anger is not due to sin or selfishness. That’s right! One of the main effects of sin is to make meeting our own needs, rather than doing God’s will, the most important thing in the world. When we put ourselves first, we will inevitably end up last. When we put Him first (see Matthew 6:33), He will take care of everything else.
We are born selfish. We want what we want, and we want it when we want it. When we don’t always get our way, when we aren’t treated the way we think we should be, when we see others who get something we think we deserve, it is easy to get angry. If your anger is due to selfishness, identify it, confess it, seek forgiveness and ask the Holy Spirit for some practical steps to change that part of your life.
The second cause that is important for us to rule out is that of over-sensitivity. If we allow ourselves to become oversensitive, anger can easily sound a false alarm. One of my good friends recently built a new home and had an alarm system installed. The first week they lived in the house, there were 11 false alarms. My friend finally discovered that the levels were set too high. If our sensitivity levels are set too high, we can take offense when none is intended. We can look for slights when they aren’t really there. We can assume the worst when it may not be true. (Gary Oliver, from the book, “A Woman’s Forbidden Emotion” by H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver)
• We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. (2 Corinthians 5:19 —from: The Message by Eugene Peterson)
• It’s hard to guess how many arguments could be averted if couples would pray about their differences and let them go. This is hard to do, since most of us want to be “right” and justify our behavior. (Romie Hurley, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• One of the most practical things to do [when talking about a sensitive issue] is to start your discussion with prayer. This habit can transform your marriage as you invite the Holy Spirit to guide your conversation. It also helps you steer clear of the pothole of confronting your spouse impulsively. Speaking of steering, remember that driving along a cliff is even harder going in reverse. In other words, don’t bring up past issues while trying to resolve new ones. If many of your old conflicts lack closure, get a mediator —a pastor or Christian counselor —to help bring your marriage up to speed and moving forward again. (Rob Jackson, one of the authors of the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• Often when a woman is thinking of giving up on her marriage, she resists improving communication. Deep in her heart, she knows that if she and her husband start talking on a healthy level, the improved communication will draw them closer together and will weaken her reasons for leaving. She doesn’t trust words because she fears they may lure her back where she will be hurt again.
Even if that is true for you, the bad news can be changed to good if you give it a chance. Start by trying to remember a time when you thought your husband’s conversation was irresistible or at least appealing. (If you felt that way before, you can feel that way again.) And then, before reading any further, take a minute to ponder two questions: • What’s it like being married to me? • What’s it like hearing the words I say?
Whenever I feel like my Al is disappointing me in the same way, I try to ask myself those two questions. Most of the time I realize I’ve been so focused on his few shortcomings that I’ve overlooked how much my actions are contributing to the problem. And this certainly applies to our communication glitches —those times when we just aren’t connecting with each other. (Alice Gray from the book, The Walk Out Woman)
• “During tough times, think of why you fell in love in the first place. Dwell on those things.” (Cindy Francis in her book, “Life Lessons for Couples”)
• “When something goes wrong, instead of assessing blame, focus on how to do better next time.” (Cindy Francis in her book, “Life Lessons for Couples”)
• In a healthy marriage, it is essential you and your mate be responsible for what you say and do. However, should you and/or your mate react defensively; you are likely to feel attacked, intimidated, overpowered, diminished, and misunderstood. When this happens, I would ask you to look inward and consider what it would be like if your spouse was right and you were right? Are each of you entitled to express your own opinions without being discounted?
My husband, Mark, and I decided early in our marriage to declare “blame” off limits. How would you feel if you did that, too? Personally, I discovered that I felt incredibly lonely when there was no one for me to blame. Only then did I feel obliged to go deeper within. I talked to God and asked for direction. And the answer came as a guiding light: Acceptance. As I focused on the broader meaning of Acceptance, I understood that I was to have compassion for myself and compassion for my husband, because as God reminded me, “We are all human and that means we are a little lower than the angels.” (Lee Raffel)
• Love aims at unity.
• Be careful not to fall into the habit of talking AT each other.
• Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. “But, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.“ (Ephesians 4:15).
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