Seven Ways To Improve the Way You Fight
Conflicts are a part of every relationship. They can be hard, but avoiding conflict means avoiding the opportunity to build a deeper connection with another person. While that might fly with some less important relationships, it's a recipe for disaster when it comes to marriage and those closest to you.
The reality is that most people avoid conflict because they're just not confident that they are able to handle it well, and they think the potential harm of conflict will outweigh the potential good. But if people viewed conflict as a pathway to deeper intimacy instead of likely rejection, we'd all be fighting a lot more and a lot better with one another.
There are books and books worth of material to help improve your ability to connect and resolve conflict well, but the following seven things can help you take steps in the right direction:
1. Watch Out for Flooding
A conflict by nature is about something important to us—important enough to stir up some powerful emotions. Those emotions are valuable for each of us to understand, and they can empower us to speak up and say something when the need arises. But those emotions can also be overwhelming. When the surge of emotions takes over and makes it hard to think clearly and speak reasonably, it's called "flooding.” When it happens, it's better to take a step back and wait to engage a conflict until we are more calm (see #2 below).
2. Call a Timeout for AdultsOften, kids need a timeout when they're way too upset and flooded with their own anger. Timeouts can be seen as punitive, but they're also helpful ways for times when a child's emotions exceed their ability to articulate and resolve those emotions well. The same is true for adults. When we're flooded, we need to know how to call timeouts on ourselves. It may help to agree to schedule a "time-in" at another time.
3. Have Self-UnderstandingIf you think of conflicts as ways to determine a winner and loser, then you've already lost the conflict. Healthy conflicts are about striving for ways to be understood and to understand another person. But in order to be understood, you have to understand yourself and what's going on inside of you, first.
If you're waiting and expecting the other person to "get you" without putting in the work to really understand and express what you need (and where you need understanding), then you’re fighting a losing battle. (Think about the kid in the timeout corner waiting for someone to help him understand why he's so upset.)
4. Be Self-FocusedIt sounds counterintuitive and selfish, but conflicts often go awry because the communicator focuses on what the other party does or says. If 90% of your time is focused on the words or actions of the other person, expect most of their response to be focused on defending their words and actions, since you've given them very little insight to help them understand what's going on with you.
Instead, choose to spend 10% of your time on what they did or said and 90% of your time on communicating how you felt about it, including what it made you think about yourself and the relationship. A typical framework is, "When you _____, I felt _____, which made me think ___________."
5. Practice HoldingHolding is essentially suspending, or holding, your own needs in a conversation to allow you to listen to what your counterpart needs, first. It means seeking understanding before being understood yourself. The most common response in a conflict is defensiveness: "But what you don't understand is _____. But it's because you did _____. But if you knew my intentions were _____."
Conflicts go sideways because we need to take turns understanding one another. When two people try to be understood at the same time, conflicts never resolve well.
6. Be ResilientHolding well usually requires resilience, which is the ability to withstand the discomfort of someone else thinking poorly of you and even saying inaccurate or unfair things about you. People with low resilience can't stand when someone says something about them that they think is wrong. People with high resilience can allow another person to think and say whatever is needed, as a part of that person to fully express themselves and be understood. When resilient people "hold" well, they know there will come a time for them to be understood too, after they have worked to understand the other person.
7. Show Compassion and Grace
Lastly, it just helps to have a good portion of compassion and grace when speaking and listening to a person in the middle of a conflict. Having grace for the one you feel hurt by means pre-forgiving them for their offense. When you do so, the only thing you need from them is to understand you. Having compassion for the one who is expressing their hurts to you means you can still feel empathy for a person in pain—even if they're expressing their pain in hurtful ways.
Resolving conflicts can get messy. Each of the above tips could be its own exercise and challenge. But if you can make a few small, simple improvements in each of these areas, you'll be doing a lot better at making your conflicts opportunities for deeper connections instead of risks for deeper harm in the relationship.
Want a little more help or coaching on ways to improve your conflict resolution style? Contact a pastor or check out one of our care/support groups, here.