“The best place to start dealing with conflict is before conflict arises. That’s right, BEFORE a conflict arises. Every couple has their own combination of attitudes, emotions, and circumstances that set them up for conflict, but most couples are totally unaware of what they are. As you identify the factors that precede your most frequent conflicts, you’ll discover a gold mine of insights to help you deal more effectively with those conflicts once they arise.”
The above quote is written by Gary and Carrie Oliver who wrote a wonderful book titled, Mad About Us, published by Bethany House.
We’re going to share with you several quotes and seven steps to dealing with conflict contained within this book. They have a LOT more say that would be helpful if you could read it. But we’re giving you what we can hoping it will be a good start to dealing with your own areas of conflict with each other. In an edited version, they write:
“Regardless of the severity of conflict, we’ve found that constructive conflict management is always easier when you have a plan. We’ve worked with hundreds of couples who have told us that the following seven steps have helped them turn conflict from something they feared to an opportunity to increase understanding and intimacy.
STEP 1: “Define the Issue, Pray, Listen, and Seek Understanding.
Remember this: You will NEVER resolve what you don’t understand. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice (let alone criticism) from someone unless you feel that they are trying to understand you. If you want your spouse to understand you, the starting place is for you to take the initiative in understanding them. Answering the following questions will help you better understand and define the issue. Whose issue is it? What kind of issue is it? Is there more than one issue involved?
“Most people have spent hours engaged in conflicts that involved several issues. It’s hard enough to manage one issue. It’s almost impossible to deal with several issues at the same time. If there is more than one issue, decide which is most urgent. Which is most important? What order should we take them in? If you can’t agree, then choose the least volatile issue first. If you can’t agree on that, then just flip a coin. Yes, that may sound silly, but we’ve been flipping coins for years and it works.
“What is my spouse’s core concern?
A critical part of defining an issue is to take time to understand the heart and the perspective of your spouse. In fact, this may be one of the greatest contributions healthy conflict makes to the growth of intimacy in a marriage. The Bible has a lot to say about the power of seeking understanding. Proverbs 4:7 says, ‘Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.‘
“Listening is one of the most powerful intimacy builders in any relationship because listening leads to understanding. That’s why James exhorts us to ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak‘ (James 1:19). When you choose to listen to another person, you are saying that you value them and their concerns and that they are worth taking the time to understand. An open ear is the sure sign of an open heart.
“…What is my core concern?
After you’ve chosen to listen, hear, and understand your spouse, it will be important for you to identify and clarify your own core concern. …Once you define the problem, and before going further, commit this specific conflict —as well as your desire to deal with conflict in a healthier and more mature manner —to God in prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we’re encouraged to “pray without ceasing.“
STEP 2: “How Important is it? Is it a High-ticket or a Low-ticket item?
Once you’ve defined the issue, the next step is to determine just how important it is. Many of the conflicts in marriage can be traced to personal idiosyncrasies, minor annoyances, or passing irritations. Researchers tell us that only 31 percent of a couple’s major continuing disagreements are about issues that they will be able to resolve. The rest, 69 percent, are about irresolvable perpetual problems. These are fundamental differences in personalities or basic needs —that will never get resolved but that we need to learn how to manage and deal with.
“Some differences demand confrontation, while others are simply a part of living with someone else. We all have our frustrating annoyances and so do our spouses. It’s just that ours seem so much less weird than theirs. Before you allow an issue to consume too much of your time, ask yourself, “How important is this?”
STEP 3: “Ask Yourself: ‘What is My Contribution to the Problem?’
It’s amazing that whenever there is a conflict we usually have little difficulty identifying our spouse’s contribution to the problem. But we can be substantially blinded to our own. It’s fascinating how very clear many of us can be about how ‘they’ need to change, what ‘they’ could do differently, and how ‘they’ could listen better.
“…Proverbs 25:12 (TLB) tells us, ‘It is a badge of honor to accept valid criticism.‘ Those are sound words. Listen to what the other person has to say. Even if 90 percent of what they are saying is invalid, look for the 10 percent that might be true. Look for even the 1 percent that God could use in your life to help you deepen and mature into a mature Christlike woman or man.
STEP 4: “Do I Need to Apologize or Ask for Forgiveness?
As you think and pray through the third step you may become aware of something you have done that you need to apologize or ask forgiveness for. Early in our marriage I learned I could be right, but go about being right in a wrong or an unhealthy way. In the intensity of an emotional discussion it’s easy to say things or do things or express ourselves in a tone of voice that discounts and wounds our partner. Over the next few years I discovered that there were some things I needed to apologize for. My intentions had been good, but my words had wounded the person I loved the most.
STEP 5: “Choose Radical Responsibility.
Radical responsibility is our way of saying that we need to take personal responsibility to choose what we can do differently and not wait around for our spouse to do something different. It means that we make a unilateral decision, regardless of what our spouse chooses to say or do. We are to seek wisdom and understanding in dealing with conflict. Regardless of the habits you saw growing up and those that may have characterized you for most of your life, you can teach yourself to take radical responsibility to listen. It’s also important to understand, to accept, to be kind, to be patient, to forgive, and to love even when your partner may not be making that same choice. In fact, we are most like our Lord Jesus Christ when we love in this kind of situation.
STEP 6: “Choose What You Both Can Do Differently.
At this point you are working on identifying a mutually acceptable solution. …Be sure to set aside ample time for discussion and prayer. Find a quiet place with no interruptions. Take the phone off the hook. Remember that this step involves choosing to bargain some of your personal needs for some of your relationship needs. Many couples have found it helpful to read 1 Corinthians 13 aloud before entering into the discussion.
STEP 7: “PRAY ABOUT IT, DO IT, AND REVIEW IT!”
We hope this has been helpful for you. Even if your spouse won’t approach conflict in a healthy way, we encourage you to ask the Lord to show you how you can personally grow in this area of your marriage. Strive to be one who exemplifies the attitude and actions of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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