If you want to be in relationships, you have to learn how to do conflict. One of my mentors, Dan Allender, says it well: “All good communication leads to conflict.” Most of us believe that good communication will lead to consensus, not conflict.
The word “communicate” comes from the Latin word communicatus. This word has two parts: Communi (to inform, impart, or share.” and Catus (which means “care”). The heart of the word (and act) communication is to give care.
Some experts estimate that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. This means that it’s nearly impossible to not communicate. We may not be communicating well, but we’re always communicating. Even if we’ve left the presence of a relationship, we are still communicating something in our leaving.
Conflict is the result of good “transmitting” (communication) of differing messages. The word “conflict” comes from the Latin word confligere which means “to strike together.” Notice this doesn’t say “to strike against each other.” The reason a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of conflict is because it usually feels like a “strike against” not a “strike together.” Unfortunately, avoiding conflict is only going to make it stronger the next time we face it.
Good communication that leads to conflict and then reconciliation is the foundation of a strong relationships. Communication that leads to unresolved conflict after unresolved conflict is what weakens relationships. This idea applies to all relationships: friends, spouse, family, work, professional, doctor, etc.
If you want better relationships, you have to become better at striking together, not against. Start with how you communicate. Instead of communicating to receive something, try communicating to give something of care to someone you love. That might be the conflict that turns things around.
The next time you find yourself in conflict with your spouse, take your shoes off. Seriously.
Conflict in your marriage is holy ground. It’s where our life story shows up at a primal, non-verbal level. Our bodies remember things our words can’t describe. We offer silence and respect when entering a place of reverence. Conflict is this place of reverence.
Taking your shoes off puts your feet in bare contact with the physical ground, and terrain. You’re more sensitive to what you’re walking on without your shoes. You will walk slower, with more caution. If you are aware of it, this practice will help you to be more sensitive to what you’re wading into emotionally with yourself, and your spouse.
Criticism without hope will lead to contempt.Criticism with hope will spawn creativity.
It’s way easier to give the criticism than to receive it, but we all need helpful, loving, critical feedback in order to grow and change. We can be more receptive to hearing critical feedback if we feel secure, valued, cared about, and loved. If you hope for the best in and for me, you can say a whole lot to me, including critical thoughts.
Tips for giving critical feedback:
- Ask for permission to share. “Are you open to me giving you some feedback about the situation?” If the answer is no, “will you let me know when you are ready?” Give it 24 hours, and ask permission again.
- Tell them what you hope for in sharing the feedback. “I hope we can avoid this particular pitfall in the future.”
- Be on their team. “Here is what I want for us.” Rather than “you need to do ‘this and/or that’.”
- Ladle it with kindness. Don’t feel kindness towards the other person? Don’t share the feedback.
- After sharing, ask for feedback about how you gave your feedback. “Did you feel like I was on your team?” “How could I have said this better to help you not feel attacked?”
Trying to enact change in relationships takes a lot of time, consistency, grace, and love. And love is inefficient.
How to Fight:
Strike when the iron is COLD!
The heat of the moment is usually too hot. Wait for things to cool down.
Smile. Use hopeful, positive language
Smiling takes less facial muscles, is linked to an increased production of dopamine (the “feel good” chemical in our body), and makes it harder to stay in resentment/anger for both you and your sparring partner.
Offer a compliment
Want to disarm yourself and your partner? Tell them what you like/love about them.
Tell a story
Eugene Peterson says it well, “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” Welcome someone with a story.
Designate a safe room, and safe time of the day
What room in your house can you designate as the place to have adult discussions around conflict? Is there a time of day that works best for you and your partner?
Take off your shoes
This grounds you, helps you to feel and get in touch with being human. The goal is to repair the relationship, not to win the fight.
Open your body (arms, legs, clothing)
Open postures invite open dialogue. Closed postures create closed dialogue.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. How can I make it right?”