Even the most God-driven connection can sometimes go through storms. It’s inevitable, no matter how much you love each other. It’s also something that you can get through as a couple. Conflict doesn’t have to drive a wedge between you. All it takes is knowing how to communicate with your partner. Here, Christian relationship experts Bill and Pam Farrel talk about the four steps that can help you with conflict resolution in relationships.
How Conflict Starts
“Bill, we are going to meet John and Amanda at 7 pm for dinner tonight.”
This comment should not have upset me, but it ushered in a lighting fast reaction. A tornado of thoughts swirled in my head: “I can’t believe she didn’t ask me. She is always making decisions for me. I thought she was my partner in life; apparently, she wants to be my parent. I thought Jesus would make her less controlling …”
None of these thoughts were true, but the reaction seemed justified. Despite my best efforts, I blurted out, “How come I didn’t know about this ahead of time? You have to stop doing this to me.”
Pam predictably defended herself, “I told you about this last week. I promise I did.”
“No, you didn’t,” I responded. “You may have thought you told me, but I promise you didn’t. You must think I can read your mind.”
The rest of the evening was strained and uncomfortable. There was no immediate way for Pam to start the resolution ball rolling because it wasn’t based on facts or even a misunderstanding. It flowed out of my reaction to a perceived injustice on Pam’s part. Progress in this case was dependent upon me. Often, the first hurdle of conflict resolution in relationships is figuring out who need to make the first move.
Coming Up With A Plan
When I calmed down, I began to consider, “What am I going to do? I don’t want this reaction to define our relationship.” As I was praying, I came across Colossians 3:9-10:
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
The verses resonated with me, but it sounded too simple. My reaction was too emotional to think I could merely take off the old self and put on the new. I was going to need an intentional plan with clear actions for conflict resolution in relationships. I found that these four steps would lead to the response I was hoping for:
4 Steps For Successful Conflict Resolution In Relationships
Step 1: Call Out The Reaction
Step one of conflict resolution in relationships is being honest about what has set the conflict off. I had to honestly admit this was my issue. The pain I grew up with planted a trigger that makes me feel trapped anytime I perceive decisions are being made for me. My natural reaction is to lash out at whoever set off the trigger.
Step 2: Create A New Response
Step two is to take the plank out of your own eye and, once you see clearly, work out a new reaction to the disagreement. Because I am made in the image of God, I have creative abilities to design the response I would rather have. Rather than bristle at Pam making decisions, I’d rather see them as her wanting us to do things together. I would much rather appreciate Pam’s ability to keep us connected than be threatened by her decisive nature.
Step 3: Travel To The New Response
Designing a new outcome does not guarantee success with conflict resolution in relationships, so I was going to have to take steps to move me from grumbling to gratitude. My journey looks like this:
- React to the perceived injustice.
- Calm down from the reaction.
- Review events from the past when Pam kept us connected to friends and family.
- Thank God in my heart for the gift Pam possesses.
- Sincerely say, “Thank you,” to Pam for keeping us connected.
Step 4: Train To Make The Response Your New Reaction
I was developing a new habit, and habits take practice with focused training. The first attempt was awkward as I said to Pam, “I still think what you did was wrong, but thanks for getting us together with our friends.” This is like thinking “I am sorry you misunderstood me” is an apology. The next time, I thanked God for Pam first, which tempered my words a little: “Thanks for keeping us connected even though I don’t like the way it happened.”
Like all good things, conflict resolution in relationships is an ongoing process. Recently, I was able to say “thank you” to Pam without reacting first. The training is starting to pay off as I develop new muscle memory for this sensitive part of my heart. What reactions do you need to retrain in your relationship?
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