Disagreements: Recently we received an email from a reader telling us about their spousal confilicts and I know that they are not alone. It happens between even the most perfect of couples. Arguments can often be frustrating since most of the time each party believes that he/she is correct and then there is the task of resolving feelings and coming to a feasible compromise or understanding. Too many times during heated discussions feelings are hurt, words are said that can’t be taken back and nothing ever gets solved resulting in even more exasperation and anger to either be dealt with or swept under the rug which is liable to rear its ugly head in the near future. But, there is a much better alternative. Over the years, I have had the privilege of taking some courses on communication and I’d like to share with you some things that I have gleaned.
1. Attitude- A song lyric that comes to mind is “They say attitudes are contagious like the measles or the flu. What kind of attitude can someone catch from you?” One indispensable mind-set is commitment. Be committed to your spouse. Be committed to speak the truth in love. Be committed to compromise. And mostly, be committed to Jesus Christ.
2. Time- Do your best not to engage in spontaneous arguments. Instead schedule a convenient time for both parties to openly discuss an issue. Be sure to do this as soon as possible because the longer a situation isn’t dealt with the easier it is for bitterness to build up.
3. Place- Pick a safe environment devoid of distractions including the TV, kids and phones. Put everything else on hold until your discussion is completely finished.
4. Prayer- Before bringing up a topic, be sure you first discuss it with the Lord. Ask Him to shed light on the situation and to prepare your heart and the heart of your spouse for the upcoming exchange. Then before your dialogue, pray together. Each of you should take a turn to either pray for yourself or one another.
5. Use “I” statements- During your argument, be sure to keep it about what you are feeling. Remember that no one can make you feel a certain way; rather we choose what we feel.
6. Things to Avoid- Don’t be sarcastic. Assuming you know what your partner is going to say isn’t helpful; maintain an open mind. Don’t counter-attack or bring up a “laundry- list” of past wrongs; remain focused on the topic at hand. Remember, it’s not about winning; it’s about understanding and compromise.
7. The Stance- Just like it’s important for an athlete to be at the proper starting position, the same is true for the two of you during a discussion. Always face each other and make eye contact. Don’t close off your body by crossing your legs or arms. Lean in towards each other or even hold hands while you talk.
Alright, now that the ground is prepared by the rules from above, the rest is going to be all about the process of seeking to understand before being understood by way of reflection. Reflection is simply a repetition technique, where the words and feelings are expressed back to the person from whom they originated. This makes sure that the true sentiments are being understood by the listener.
Step 1: Simply state the complaint. State what is wrong and how you feel about it. Your partner will then relay back the information (and only the information). This step may be repeated as necessary. When the originator feels as if they are understood, then segue to the next step by saying something like “I believe that you have heard me. Now what would you like to share?”
Step 2: Your partner will share his/her feelings in regards to the previously shared information. As in step one, the originator will reflect the sentiments of their partner without interjecting personal feelings. This step may also be repeated as needed, but make sure to only talk about the original subject matter.
Step 3: Resolve the issue.
- First, each of you should ask and grant forgiveness out loud. This doesn’t mean that you were wrong or your intent was malicious, it just acknowledges that your actions or words did hurt your loved one.
- Secondly, the partner that originated the dialogue should propose a solution using the same techniques as described in previous steps. Once the reflection and understanding has taken place then the partner may agree, disagree or propose an alternative compromise. Repeat the process as necessary.
- A “time-out” may then be essential to gather thoughts before a solution is chosen. Spend a few minutes alone thinking about your options.
- Thirdly, choose a solution. Make sure the plan is understood by each partner and that it will improve the relationship. Give yourselves a time line to see the solution in action after which you will then reevaluate how it’s working.
Step 4: Affirm one another. Let each other know how much you appreciate their willingness to work through issues. (This could also be a great time for some “make-up sex!)
Step 5: Review the conflict. Spend some time in personal reflection and evaluate if the rules and steps were followed. Ask yourself if you learned anything during the process. Did God teach you anything about yourself or your spouse? Then, at the appointed time, review the solution with your partner to make sure it’s effective.
Now, I understand if you are thinking “This seems kind of lengthy… and cheesy.” And believe me, I didn’t think much better of this technique when it was first introduced to us. But, we tried it… over and over… and once you get the “process” down, it actually flows quite nicely. This technique allows you to convey your feelings without being overly emotional. It takes the heat out of the moment because we must slow down and really focus on the other person instead of selfishly wanting to get our point across by any means necessary.
I’ll leave you with 1Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Love does not demand its own way.
Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.
It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.