Conflict is inevitable. The determining factor for healthy relationships is not the absence of conflict but the ability to work through them. Many people battling addictions have trouble with conflict resolution. Rather than confronting an issue, one might look at porn as an escape or avoid it.
In all the years, I’ve counseled or mentored others, one of the most common issues I hear is the fear or lack of knowledge of how to navigate conflict. People will often avoid or deny their feelings or memory about the situation, and sometimes even try to appease others to “keep the peace” and move forward… or so they think.
Our minds, bodies, and souls are so interconnected that when we choose not to address something that has brought about pain, anger, hurt, betrayal, etc., then we are actively choosing to leave a wound raw and unhealed. This is the birthplace of triggers that will subconsciously control us as we continue in life in the same relationship or cross-contaminate future ones.
Here are four keys to help you successfully navigate through conflict:
The first is listening. We can either seek to understand or seek to be understood. But the latter will get us into more trouble if that’s our default. It seems so simple, yet it is incredible how often conflict occurs because someone didn’t listen clearly or misinterpreted what was said. For example, if there was something that upset you, then be direct and ask, “Did you say ________?” This will allow him/her to confirm or correct what you think you heard. And then you can address that very thing by clarifying the “intention” behind it next.
Sometimes couples end up arguing about something else that happened the other day or years ago. Listening to what is said then clarifying it will help you both see if this conflict is from the issue at hand or something that happened in the past that needs to be addressed. For example, you can ask “why did you say _____” or “what did you mean when you said ____” because a question offers the other person a chance to be heard and explain what he/she is feeling. This gives you a chance to check any possible error in what you thought was said and avoid a potential trigger response because of your past with him/her or because of a similar situation with someone else.
If issues are residing in your heart that has been unresolved from the past (aka triggers from past experiences), then misinterpretation and misunderstanding will come in more often than not. In a marriage, it is crucial to create a safe space for both parties to be heard and have their feelings validated. In marriages where there is healthy communication, you will find the absence of defensiveness and hostility. It’s not uncommon for people to feel insecure when they communicate because it’s a learned skill and not an innate one. Love is a verb that requires action. Choose to love by choosing to understand yourself and your significant other.
To preserve and protect a relationship, do what the Bible encourages in James 1:19 “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Our mouths can often be the first to get us into trouble because we said too much or said the wrong thing. Discourage name-calling, assumptions, accusations, and anything that would attack the other person or make him/her feel defensive. Sometimes people don’t know how to communicate what or why they think or feel the way they do. Protect your relationship and significant other by guarding your mouth and speak from wisdom, not emotion.
The strongest marriages don’t consist of perfect people or relationships, but those who are willing to put forth the effort to serve, love, and communicate with one another well.