The other day I talked about the different types of perspectives we have (some we choose, some that choose us). So much of what we see is based on our story, where we come from.
Wendell Berry says it well, how is it that we can know where we are going if we have not figured out where we have come from?
So much of conflict in our relationships comes from our own personal conflict DNA: The physiological makeup of our being combined with our emotional makeup. If you watch a newborn baby, they will respond to what they see in their mom as she looks at the baby. The mom smiles, the baby smiles back. The baby mirrors what they see, they don’t yet have an identity.
The same is true for our conflict styles. We are often mirroring what we have seen, and have yet to develop our own way of handling conflict.
What did you learn about conflict from your childhood home?
How are you continuing that legacy today?
What place (if any) did emotions have at home?
You can’t change what happened to you as a child, but you can change how you navigate your relationships today. They don’t have to be the same.
Our perspectives matter in life, especially in relationships. Usually we see what we want to see, what we are looking for. But, we don’t have complete control over what we see. There are 3 things that shape our perspective:
1. My Stance (what I am conscious of, what is my viewpoint). What is it that you’re looking for, or not looking for? Sometimes I will have a couple stand at opposite ends of my office to look out the windows on either side of the building. Their backs are towards each other. They have very different objects to look at and tell the other about.
2. My DNA (what I’m predisposed towards). Remember the dress? Is it black/blue or white/gold? Turns out, your DNA controls what colors you see. Not everything that we see is our choice to see.
3. My Story (what I am unconscious of). We need others to help us see what we’re looking for, because we’re unable to see all parts of ourselves. Sometimes we are driven or motivated by what we cannot see.
Fights occur when we think that only one person’s perspective can be right. The reality is, both perspectives matter (and contain truth!). Trying to fight for who is right gets really messy.
Stages of a Fight:
There is a direct correlation to the severity of a fight in regards to two factors.
1. How often does the offense reoccur.
If your conflicts are happening about the same issue over and over again, chances are the fights are going to be more difficult to overcome. The overwhelming majority of conflict in relationships is perpetual. It’s way more important to process the perpetual conflict together as a team than it is to find a solution or a fix to the problem.
2. How much damage is done in the escalation stage?
We all have a choice in how we’re going to respond to an offense (or in how our partner responds to an offense). Limit the damage (yelling, name calling, contempt, stone walling, etc) and the repairs will be far easier.
Lastly. Most fights become worse because of a 2nd offense. Our natural reaction to pain usually creates another offense. We hurt the other person (with words, yelling, etc) to show how badly we hurt. The challenge then becomes what offense do we focus on first?
I recently finished some pre-marital couples counseling with a delightful young couple. Before I released them to the wild world of marriage, I challenged them to adopt two words (concepts) as cornerstones for their upcoming union: Grace and gratitude. Here’s why:
Showing grace implies forgiveness, acceptance, and a belief that your spouse is a better man/woman than what the offending action shows. It’s easy to get offended or hurt and turn away from them as protection. Next time this happens show them grace by placing your hand on their chest over their heart and say, “I don’t believe that you intended to harm me, and that you do love and care for me.” Watch what happens next.
The second is gratitude. As a whole, we are not that grateful of a people. Instead, we are an entitled people. It feels like a personal insult when I ask my wife to do something and she either forgets, or doesn’t do it the way I wanted her to do it. Rarely do I encounter couples that genuinely like each other. Most couples remember liking each other, but I’m not in the line of work that usually gets to hang out with folks who are in that stage of life. But even outside of my profession I don’t see a lot of couples who seem grateful for one another. Entitlement will destroy your relationship — Gratitude will repair and heal your relationship.
Practice giving thanks to your spouse, for even the smallest of items.
“Thank you for smiling at me this morning.”
“Thank you for sitting next to me on the couch.”
“Thank you for turning off the TV and listening to my tough day.”
“Thank you for marrying me.”
“Thank you … <fill in the blank>”
It doesn’t take a lot to change the tune of your day, or your spouse’s day. Show them grace, and gratitude, and see how quickly you begin to like them again.