“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:3-4
As in my home, one of the few things that I can guarantee is that all couples will experience conflict. Since conflict is a normal part of any relationship, learning how to resolve them without emotional injury is crucial.
Resolving every argument with your spouse may seem impossible at first thought. You may be thinking, “Yeah right–you've never met my mate!” However, by doing five important things, you not only can improve your ability to resolve conflicts, but can also decrease the emotional injuries as well. My wife, Erin and I discovered this while in the middle of a heated argument.
During my doctoral studies, I was required to take a class in research design. I knew I was in trouble when during the first class meeting, the professor recited a list of statistical concepts and formulas that we should know. My stomach sickened when nothing he said sounded remotely familiar. I rushed home and informed Erin that I was dropping the class. Unfortunately, Erin didn't think quitting was the answer and a major argument erupted.
The conflict might have lasted longer except my two year old daughter, Taylor interceded. “That's enough guys!” she yelled and walloped me on the backside with a wooden spoon. The shock of being reprimanded by our two year old caused us to double over with laughter. Once the tense moment had ended, Erin and I realized that our disagreement was starting to cause hurt feelings and emotional injury. We were definitely not abiding by Philippians 2 and honoring one another. As a result, we used the following four steps to resolve our conflict.
FOUR WAYS TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS WITHOUT EMOTIONAL INJURY
1. TAKE A TIME-OUT!
For many couples an argument is a time of heightened emotions. Because it can be difficult to think clearly, physically distancing yourself can help your emotions to settle. However, never leave without giving an explanation or without agreeing to resume the discussion at some later time.
2. COMMUNICATE TO UNCOVER HIDDEN NEEDS
Erin and I would not have resolved our disagreement without having made a transition from intense conflict to some type of useful communication. In other words, we needed to get past the arguing and selfishness towards some productive dialog. The best way to do this is found in James 1:19. “…But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Begin your communication with the mind set of listening and understanding one another. As you attempt to clarify the conflict, repeat, using your own words, your mate's position. Actively listen and understand what your mate is saying. In turn, this slows down the process and allows each person to feel heard and understood.
After the conversation has shifted to slow speech and quick listening, try to uncover any hidden needs. Erin and I each had needs that were difficult to express. I didn't want to spend extra time to pass such a difficult class; while Erin wanted us to finish school on time.
Addressing those hidden needs was essential as we moved toward a solution. As you attempt to uncover such needs, it can be helpful to ask questions like, “What is really going on?” or “What must change or happen to meet your needs?”
3. CREATE A “WIN-WIN” SOLUTION
Once your emotions have settled and constructive communication exists, the third step in resolving conflicts is to find a “win-win” solution. This doesn't necessarily mean compromising. Sometimes compromising creates a quick-fix solution where no one is pleased with the outcome. Furthermore, important issues may be overlooked. Instead, in a “win-win” situation, needs are met on both sides. In our conflict, a “win-win” situation was found when we decided that I would ask two different professors what they thought about me dropping the class. After seeking wise advice, Erin and I both felt that the right decision was for me to remain in the class. As it turned out, I got an “A” and Erin was right once again! Win-win solutions can be created in a variety of different ways. Techniques like “brainstorming” and “pros vs. cons” lists work great.
After a “win-win” solution is found, the resolution process isn't complete until you've made sure that forgiveness has taken place. This step is so crucial because emotional injury can occur when resentment or anger continues after the conflict has ended. Although feelings may be hurt once the argument has finished, it's important not to let the sun go down on your anger (See Ephesians. 4:26). Therefore, try to identify your own contribution to the problem and seek forgiveness.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS…
If after unsuccessful attempts have been made to solve a conflict, or if you are exhausted from the physical as well as emotional strain, it might be time to find a person (e.g., counselor or pastor) who can intercede and help bring about reconciliation. Remember: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).