My husband and I got in the first fight of our marriage painting our kitchen. We had a good friend over at the time and he was shocked that we would be having such a heated discussion. My husband had one idea about how to paint and I had another. That was the first of many arguments in our marriage and I wish I could say they were all conducted with respect and maturity but that is surely not the case. When we are feeling hurt, disrespected or invalidated our worst side can come out.
When we get in arguments, we may revert to conflict styles that are the product of our upbringing. Some of us learned to be ostrich’s — conflict in our home was suppressed or very painful so we learned to avoid it at all costs- put our head in the sand and pretend it’s not there. Some of us learned to be tigers — we grew up in a home with a lot of fighting and became accustomed to high levels of anger. Anger may have been used to control others or manage fear. Without conscious awareness of our experience with and attitudes toward conflict, we are likely to reproduce unhealthy patterns.
The truth is, some levels of conflict are not only perfectly normal but can increase intimacy as they are worked through and different-ness is embraced. To insure that conflict works in your favor it’s important to determine, in advance, what the ‘rules of engagement’ will be for you as a couple—what are the guiding principles you will always strive to live by when it comes to conflict. You can make up your own list, however, here are some suggestions:
- Never use the word “divorce”. This one is essential. No matter how mad you get, don’t pull out the “D” word. Threatening divorce damages the safety your relationship needs to move forward and grow together.
- Complain but don’t blame or criticize. Complaining focuses on a situation. Criticizing focuses on the person and attacks character or motive. Stick to the issue.
- Never let the sun go down on your anger- keep short accounts. My husband and I always kiss each other good night before we fall asleep, no matter how bad an argument we have had that day. It has always been a way of saying, “No matter what, I love you.”
- Don’t address areas of disagreement when we’re at our worst. Timing is important. Give yourselves every advantage by bringing up issues when you’re both rested, or at least not depleted.
- Avoid contempt (name calling), defensiveness, and stonewalling.
- Never bring up something in the heat of battle which was shared previously in a moment of sincere vulnerability(intimate secrets, comments about one’s own parents).
- Never make unkind comments about the other’s physical characteristics.
Write down your rules of engagement and keep them handy for review.
What are your “rules of engagement”? Please share with us some of yours!
“Be angry, but sin not.” (Ephesians 4:26- KJV)