How to Fight Fair, Part I
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."1
I recall hearing the pastor of a large church, when celebrating his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, declare that he and his wife had never had a conflict. I didn't believe him. Wherever there are two people, there will always be some conflict, misunderstanding, or difference of opinion at one time or another. About the only way to live without ever having a conflict is to live in isolation as a hermit, or have one partner become a doormat who chooses "peace at any price," but this is not conflict free. The conflict/s have just gone underground and hidden from view.
Handled creatively, conflicts and disagreements can lead to growth and increased mutual understanding. But to make differences of opinions productive, we need to learn to disagree agreeably, and to value the other person's perspective in the process. So how do we do this?
First, and foremost, listen…listen…listen—not only with our ears, but even more so with our hearts. We need to hear what other people are really saying—not just what we think they are saying. We need to listen to their feelings as well as their thoughts. Good communication and conflict resolution requires listening beneath the other person's words to their sometimes hidden emotions and unspoken needs or wishes.
Careful listening ensures that we won't distort what the other person is trying to say. This is necessary because we each tend to interpret messages through our own lenses. If we are extremely sensitive to criticism, for example, we may interpret our spouse's potentially helpful suggestion as a criticism. The more our seeing and hearing "lenses" are distorted by our personal unresolved problems, the more likely we are to twist the messages people are giving us to make them match our perception of reality.
Second, always strive to speak the truth in love. Remember that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."2 We, too, need to precede truth with grace; that is, to always give loving, gracious acceptance. Some of us are long at speaking the truth but short on listening and short on loving. Unless we speak from a point of sensitive caring, people will not feel safe enough to share openly with us. Consequently, they may hide their true feelings, or become angry or defensive. Unless both parties can share their thoughts—and more so their genuine feelings—there can be no resolution.
Third, we need to be aware of our own true thoughts and feelings. If we feel angry, for example, it will be important to acknowledge our anger. But we should also be aware of what feelings and thoughts lay beneath our anger. Anger, for example, often covers anxiety or fear. Instead of being aware of our fear, we get angry. That feels safer. Not acknowledging this only makes matters worse.
At other times we use anger to stop others from getting close to us because we fear intimacy. Equally destructive, we deny our feelings altogether and pretend to be something we are not. Each of these reactions prevents conflict resolution. Unresolved conflicts create resentment, and festering resentment destroys many relationships.
To be continued ….
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, whenever I am in a conflict situation, please give me a listening and understanding heart so I will always hear and give consideration to the others person's point of view, and not be deafened by my own need to defend myself nor blinded by my own self-interest. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Romans 12:18 (NIV).
2. John 1:17.