Every good relationship experiences conflict. If your relationship isn’t experiencing conflict, chances are you don’t actually have a growing, thriving relationship.
I used to think that because Justin and I never fought (when we were dating and early in our marriage) we had a great relationship. The truth was that we weren’t actually communicating what was going on in our hearts, and this in turn lead to a lot of problems that could have been avoided had we been more honest with each other. Conflict isn’t a bad thing, as long as you navigate it with reconciliation as the goal.
It is important to have a conflict resolution plan in place before you have a conflict. This means you need to discuss it with your spouse before you actually need it. It is also important to have a plan in place before your kids get on your very last nerve and you react in anger instead of responding in love.
Something I had to learn about myself was that I have a natural tendency to bottle things up. Obviously, this is not a good thing, but recognizing your weaknesses is a great place to start. It is much better to express your feelings as they occur rather than wait for everything to explode out at once, and it’s something I’ve gotten much better about over the years. Something that Justin has learned about me is that I typically need time to be mad for a little while. It took him time to learn this, but once he did, it made our conflicts go a lot smoother. I need time to process things on my own before I’m able to work them out together. It is important and worth the time it takes to to learn these things about the people you are in a relationship with. Did we know these things before we got married? Nope, and it wasn’t easy figuring them out!
No two couples’ conflict resolution plan will look exactly the same. It would be nice if you sat down – preferably while you’re both in good spirits – and discussed what might help you get through things a little easier. One trick Justin will use if I’m continuing to feel frustrated after we’ve talked it out is to slyly put on American’s Funniest Home Videos. I cannot resist and it usually takes care of that last little grump I was holding onto.
Men, sometimes when your wife is mad about something, she just wants you to listen to the problem, not solve the problem for her. This was something that would start arguments between Justin and I, because I just wanted him to listen and would get frustrated when he would start trying to give me solutions. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want his help when he had some really great ideas! If you prepare yourself to listen when your wife comes to you with a problem, you may end up with less conflict to solve later! (I definitely recommend this video. It’ll make you laugh and demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about. It’s Not About the Nail)
Conflict Resolution Plan
Some questions you might want to use when creating a conflict resolution plan are:
What do I need to feel safe?
How can I make you feel safe?
What do I need to do to bring peace during a conflict?
What do you need most when dealing with a frustrating situation?
Is the problem personal or environmental? (Did I not eat well today? Am I tired? Am I in physical pain which is causing me to be short? These are real factors that need to be considered when in conflict. You might be surprised to find that you got into a fight, not because of something your spouse did wrong, but just because you were hangry or over-tired.)
What does reconciliation look like for us?
These are just a handful of questions to get you started. Once you begin the conversation you might have your own questions and observations to add. The important thing is to just get talking! It may be hard to remember when you are in the middle of an argument, but keep in mind that you are on the same team and the only way to truly win in a conflict is if you both win. For more on that concept of “Same Team”, check this out: Our Secret to a Strong Marriage.
Conflict Resolution With Your Kids
I cannot stress this one enough: Have a plan in place before your kids act out of line so that you do not react to their behavior, but rather respond in the way that you want to. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to do the right thing, or the thing that you want to do, but it does ensure that you are at least going to think about it and have it in the back of your mind at some point beforehand. Yesterday, I had one win in this area and one big loss, and it was with the same kid! While shopping for groceries at Aldi, I let Asher pick something special, and he chose kombucha. When it was time to put the cart back I said, “Hey buddy, I like to leave the quarter in the cart to surprise the next person. You can just leave it in when you take the cart back, or you can have the quarter.” Well, Asher, who is usually the most generous of my kids, decided he wanted to get the quarter. While in the process of trying to hook the cart up so he could have the 25 cents, he ended up dropping his drink on the ground and the glass bottle broke. When he came back to the car and told me, I wasn’t mad at all. I just told him I was really sorry. I also pointed out that he lost his drink to try to get 25 cents and asked him if he thought it was worth it. Of course he said no, and it was actually a great teaching moment. One that would have been totally missed if I was angry about him dropping the drink that I just bought for him.
That evening, while Asher was unloading the dishes from the dishwasher, he was goofing around and I asked him to stop and just put the dishes away because I could see that it was escalating a bit. He just kept goofing around and ended up breaking a mug that is one of my husband’s favorites. I’m not happy to admit that I lost it. It was after doing dinner alone with the kids (Justin is out of town for work), and I just yelled at him really angrily and sent all the kids out of the kitchen and Asher to his room. Immediately, I knew that I handled that situation completely wrong. The first thing I did when I went to talk to Asher wasn’t point out what he did wrong; I apologized for yelling at him and not having self control and asked him to forgive me. Then we talked through what he could do to make things right, and restored our connection. That evening would have looked a whole lot different if I just punished Asher without admitting my own fault. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk through how to make things right. I would say even though losing it in the kitchen wasn’t one of my proudest moments, I didn’t waste the opportunity, and I know that being open and apologizing actually strengthened our relationship. Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” So, I guess in the end I really had two wins. They just looked very different from each other.
A great resource I highly recommend for parenting is Danny Silk’s book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. Really, anything by Danny Silk is pure gold when it comes to relationships. He talks about empowering our kids through connection and as parents, instead of being an outside form of punishment, giving our kids a safe space to make mistakes and learn how to navigate the natural consequences.
Another great C word when it comes to your kids is Consistency. When you make your conflict resolution plan, stick to it so your children know what’s coming.
I hope this series has been encouraging you and giving you some good tools to use in your relationships! There is one more key in the series that I hope to post about by the end of the week, so keep an eye out for that! If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the Keys in the series here: Communication, Openness, Practicing New Habits until they Become Natural, and Encouragement.
I would love to hear if you have any more good questions to add when creating a Conflict Resolution Plan in the comments.