From my last blog post, we talked about several shifts in perspective regarding conflict. I shared the importance of realizing that the problem in the conflict is not your spouse, but instead, the problem is the problem. The issue causing the conflict should be the focus (i.e. lack of communication, scheduling, kid issues, finances, etc.), not the different perspective of your spouse. I also reinforced the idea of ‘not wrong, just different’. I hope you do not forget this phrase. Understand that God created us all as very different for a reason, so that we can complement each other. Hopefully this will help a couple get on the same page and ‘fight’ together as a team to combat the problem, not their spouse. In addition to this paradigm shift, here are a few things to practice in the midst of the conflict.
The first thing to do in the midst of conflict is to consider how important this issue is. Too often, couples find themselves fighting over some pretty ridiculous and petty things. I mean, really…how important is it to have the toilet paper facing one direction or the other? If you find that this is a relatively ‘pointless’ thing to fight over, please…give it up. Step down, walk away, and be done with it. There are too many bigger issues that we should put our focus on which have so much more importance than a simple roll of toilet paper. Be quick to forgive, offer an apology and drop the issue all together. However, sometimes these little annoyances can eventually be a big deal. If you see a ‘repeated offense’, go ahead and deal with it before it becomes a much bigger deal than it should be.
Second, ask yourself to define the core of the conflict. ‘What are my core concerns?’ and ‘What are the core concerns of my spouse?’ The goal of this issue is to hopefully help you see the full extent of the problem at hand. These questions are geared to help you understand why this issue is such a big deal to you. Why you are getting so worked up on this particular situation. However, do not stop with your concerns. I encourage you to also consider the core concerns of your spouse as well. You may not know exactly what their concerns are, but I encourage you to make your best estimate in this area. It is important to consider your spouses core concerns because is starts the pathway towards an empathetic response (which will hopefully defuse a lot of the tension later). Sometimes in the process you might realize that you and your spouse have different values, see things differently, or sometimes both agree on the core concerns and are just frustrated with the situation and inadvertently take it out on each other.
I hope you have noticed that your first reaction to conflict should NOT be to go at it with your spouse. Our first response should be to reflect on the meaning of the conflict, defining the real issue of the conflict at hand. Begin with the internal dialogue. If you are able to consistently focus first on the internal reflection, I am sure you will begin to see an immediate difference in the intensity of the conflict. The reason, is that is slows down that initial reaction and forces us to look at ourselves first. What have I done to contribute to this problem, what role do I play in this situation?
Conflict is one of those areas that is hard to deal with because the emotional intensity can be so high at times. It is hard to change the habit of going right into a conflict without first adequately defining the problem and wrestling with the core concerns and your own contribution to the situation. Keep trying, don’t give up. The more you can begin with the internal dialogue, the easier it becomes. Eventually, you will react with less emotional intensity more often.
- How often do you and your spouse argue or deal with conflict? Are there times when the conflict is actually dealt with and resolved or is it more often simply dissipating with time?
- Next time you engage in conflict, take a deep breath and focus on the core concerns. Ask yourself these questions:
- How important is this issue (scale 1-10)
- Why am I so upset over this situation?
- What are my core concerns if this situation is not dealt with?
- What are my spouse’s core concerns if this situation is not dealt with?
- What did I do to contribute to this situation?
- Remember, before you talk to your spouse, start with YOU first. The only thing you can control is YOU.