Disagreements are a natural part of life and our homes are not exempt from them. A disagreement is defined as a “lack of consensus or approval.” As individuals we all have our own views and opinions which have been shaped and moulded by our up-bringing, environment, experiences, and God-given personalities and revelations. Obviously then, it is not possible for us to agree all of the time. If you are experiencing disagreements in your marriage or family relationships, don’t be over concerned, it is possible to agree to disagree in many circumstances without much consequence or a compromise can be reached.
However, when disagreements escalate into conflicts, there is more cause for concern. A conflict is defined as “a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests”. Incompatibility is defined as “two things that are so different in nature as to be incapable of coexisting.” Therefore, in the context of our relationships, conflict occurs when there are two opposing opinions, principles, or interests that are incapable of co-existing. This is where many of us are stuck in our relationships. We cannot get past certain issues, we either ignore the issue or are in a state of continual argument, both of which can destroy our relationships from the inside out.
Couples or families in this situation often find themselves responding to the conflict using what is called ‘Dirty Fighting’. Dirty fighting is any response to a concern or complaint that is an escalation. In other words, when the issue cannot be resolved at the disagreement stage and becomes a conflict, it can escalate due to both parties not knowing what to do. The frustration that comes from the unresolved conflict comes out in other ways towards the object of our frustration both when the issue comes up and often even when discussing a completely unrelated topic. Both parties may not even realise where the anger is coming from. Examples of Dirty Fighting are listed below; see how many of them you recognise from your relationships.
- Bullying: Shut your mouth!
- Blaming: It’s your fault!
- Accusing: You did that on purpose to hurt me!
- Criticising: You are always so insulting!
- Putting Down: That’s just what I’d expect from your crowd!
- Ignoring: Looking away, pretending not to hear
- Sarcasm: Well, look at the big shot! Aren’t you wonderful!
- Threatening: Keep it up and I’m leaving!
- Exaggerating: You’re always late!
- Lying: I called but the line was busy (when you didn’t call at all)
- Silent Treatment: Withdrawing or withholding behaviour for a long time.
Most of us would never engage in these types of behaviours when we are thinking clearly. The problem is that anger can make us to act in ways that we wouldn’t normally. I often say it is like temporary insanity. This is why the bible warns that we should not be prone to outbursts of wrath (Gal. 5:20). Imagine the consequences of the above dirty fighting behaviours on the other party, whether it is your spouse, child, sibling or parent.
When Dirty Fighting starts, neither person is open to solving the problem at that moment, therefore there is a need for a ‘Time Out’. This is a mutual agreement to leave the situation for an agreed time period to allow both parties to ‘cool down’ and thereby prevent the conflict from escalating further. It should be noted that a ‘Time Out’ should only occur when both parties agree, it is not appropriate for one party to walk away of their own accord saying they need a time out as the likelihood is that the other party will see that as ignoring behaviour. Time Out be suggested by one party but the other must agree to it and the time period involved. ‘We will discuss this again after 40 minutes’ is more acceptable than ‘I’ll come back when I’ve calmed down”. It is recommended that the ‘Time Out’ period is used to do physical activity such as going for a walk or gardening so as to dispel the feelings of anger. It is also suggested that the time be used to think positively rather than mulling over the conflict and what argument that you want to present when you come together again. Instead, you could use the time to pray for the other party and the situation in general-don’t use it as a time to complain to God about them!
Of course, it would be great if conflict in our marriages and families could be resolved before there is need for the Time Out technique. Therefore, how can conflict be resolved before it escalates to Dirty Fighting? Remember that we said conflict occurs when there are two opposing opinions that are incapable of co-existing. How what is incapable of co-existing be able to co-exist? The first question to be asked is, are the two opinions really so far apart? I always say that the root of all conflict is miscommunication. It may be that either or both parties have misunderstood the position of the other party and their opinions are not as far apart as they believed. This is why it is very necessary to communicate effectively. This involves speaking in a clear way that can be understood by the other party and by listening actively and reflectively, checking that you have understood fully what was said. For this reason, there is a tool called Fair Fight for Change (FFFC). This tool helps you to put into clear words what is bothering you. It also provides built-in time to think before you speak so that you don’t blurt out something that you don’t mean and gives the other person a chance to understand you better. A FFFC is not about fighting against the other person to get your own way, rather it is about fighting together against a problem or issue that may be interfering with your relationship and coming up with a win-win solution. The technique is outlined below:
- Invite the other party to have a FFFC (permission should be sought as the other party may not be in the frame of mind for a discussion at that time and this should be respected)
- Think about your complain
- State the complaint (one specific behaviour at a time).
- Other party repeats what you said (to check that they heard correctly)
- You show appreciation (for being heard correctly)
- State what you want the other party to do instead (say “I would prefer that you do it ‘x’ way”-this puts the blame on you rather than them as it is not that they are doing it wrongly just that you prefer it a certain way.”
- Other party repeats what you said
- You show appreciation (for being heard correctly)
- Other party responds by agreeing to your request or states conditions tied to the agreement
- Continue the steps until an agreement is reached
If, however you find that after trying this tool, it seems that you cannot move forward to reach a compromise, I would advise that a mediator be brought into the situation. This could be your Pastor who will be able to help you spiritually by praying with you and giving you Godly counsel. Alongside this, he can help you physically by mediating during discussions between you so that it does not escalate into dirty fighting.
Most importantly when dealing with conflict in the home, remember that the bible says we should pursue peace with all men, without which no man shall see God (Heb. 12:14). Our most important goal is to make heaven. Let us not miss heaven because of any earthly concerns and disagreements that will one day pass away and be irrelevant.
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