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Choose Your Conflict Style

It's nearly impossible to connect your life to another and not have significant disagreements. These ideas will help you direct your conflicts in a positive way.
By Bill and Pam Farrel


Adam was walking around the Garden of Eden feeling very lonely, so God asked him, "What is wrong with you?"

Adam said he didn't have anyone to talk to.

God said, "I was going to give you a companion and it would be a woman. This person will cook for you and wash your clothes. She will always agree with every decision you make. She will bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them. She will not nag you, and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you've had a disagreement. She will never have a headache, and will freely give you love and compassion whenever needed."

Adam asked God, "What would a woman like this cost me?"

God said, "An arm and a leg."

Adam asked, "What can I get for just a rib?"

Conflict is normal

Conflict is an ordinary part of every intimate relationship. We all entertain the thought that we should be able to get along with this person who has captured our hearts because there is something special between us. While this is true most of the time, it is nearly impossible to connect your life to another and not have significant disagreements. As you go through your journey together, you will get under each other's skin and challenge each other to search the depths of your heart for what really matters to you.

One decision that will help you direct your conflicts in a positive way is choosing your conflict-resolution style.

Your conflict style

When faced with a conflict in your relationship, choose one of the following approaches.

The planned approach. Schedule a time to discuss what you are upset about. Your conflicts will almost always be highly emotional. This person to whom you will say "I do" is the only person on earth you will share everything with—your finances, your emotions, your bodies, your social calendar, and your dreams. As a result, when you have a disagreement, intense emotions surface with the potential to take over the discussion. This is further complicated by the fact that men tend to get flooded by intense emotions and shut down in defense. When this happens, couples often struggle to reach any kind of resolution because their emotions take over the conversation and override their logic. Scheduling a meeting gives you an opportunity to prepare your heart and your thoughts for navigating the discussion.

Before the meeting, describe in writing the issue as you are aware of it. Keep in mind that the presenting issue is not always the real issue, but you have to start somewhere. If you can clearly state your thoughts about the disagreement without reacting to each other, you will have a much better chance of resolving the conflict.

The spontaneous approach. The spontaneous approach for handling conflict takes the most self-control and relational skill. In this approach, you deal with issues as they come up. You don't wait, you don't reschedule, and you don't give yourself time to gather your composure. You just jump in and try to get to the heart of the matter. There are a few skills that will help you in this approach.

Insulate. Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. It's easy to say you will do this when you are calm, but it is a very different matter when you are upset with each other. "You" statements sound like accusations when they are mixed with negative emotions. "You did this," "You are so inconsiderate," "You were being selfish," may be statements of truth, but they easily elicit defensive responses. Your ability to use "I" statements will determine your ability to successfully work through these discussions. "I was surprised by what happened," "I am very upset by this situation," "I was shocked when this happened and I reacted very strongly," are statements that do not avoid the subject but give the other person an opportunity to respond without getting defensive. If you choose this approach, keep in mind that the statement, "I think you are wrong (or stupid or inconsiderate)," is not an "I" statement!

Investigate. Take time to relieve the pressure by describing what you believe the issue is. The purpose of this phase is to lower the intensity of the emotional climate between the two of you. Ask the question, "What is the real issue we are facing?" As with all conflicts, the goal is to identify the issues that are at the heart of your reaction so you can find a positive direction to move.

Identify. Brainstorm solutions. Verbally investigate possible ways to address the conflict. Take enough time to explore possibilities to see if a new solution surfaces that wasn't clear in the heat of the moment.

Initiate. Commit to a course of action based on your conclusions.

Interconnect. The reason you have such intense discussions with each other is the emotional connection you have. Before you end your discussion, seek to rediscover what it is you love about each other. You are highly attractive to each other, but we believe these attractive traits can also have a dark side that may show itself and create intense negative responses. Since these negative responses are attached to the things you love about the other person, they can easily be turned positive.

The delayed approach. If scheduling a meeting or having a spontaneous discussion do not work for you, you might try taking a short break before you work your way through an issue. The purpose of the break is to calm your emotions and get yourself back to a more rational place. It is more reliable if you choose a specific time to get back together, but you may be able to say, "As soon as we calm down, let's get back together." If you take this approach, you will want to check in with each other every couple of hours to see if you have calmed down. If you do not diligently check in, it is likely you will ignore the issue and conclude that time has taken care of everything. This is like planting a land mine in the middle of your relationship. If you do this enough times, those mines will eventually erupt and cause severe damage. It is much better to deal with the issues as individual discussions rather than waiting for a compound problem to unleash itself.

When you get together, you will want to follow the same steps as above: insulate, investigate, identify, initiate, interconnect.

In the absence of decisions about how you will approach conflict, you will simply do what you know to do. Conflict, however, does not need to be destructive if you guide it rather than let it get out of control. One of life's great truths is that our emotions follow our decisions, which is good news when it comes to disagreements. If you decide ahead of time how you will face conflict, you can guide your emotional energy so that it draws you together and adds value to your relationship.

 

Taken from The Before-You-Marry Book of Questions. Copyright © 2013 by Bill and Pam Farrel. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon. Used by permission; www.harvesthousepublishers.com.

Listen to Bill and Pam Farrel on a recent FamilyLife Today® interview.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 

Next Steps

1. Read Dennis Rainey’s article on “6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage.”

2. Words can bless or they can injure.  On FamilyLife Today series titled “War of Words,”  Christian counselor Dr. Paul David Tripp explains why our words matter to God.



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