Conflicts, if left buried, ignored, dismissed, or unsettled, could create emotional distance, dull the relationship, and even bring about depression in some cases. In family relationships, one needs to learn not only to manage the conflicts that come every so often, but to also resolve the conflicts well as they come. It is so much better to live life with the ones you love with enriching, deepening, and growing relationships. Resolving conflicts is one of the stepping-stones to accomplish this.In the Family Life’s Home Builders’ couples’ study series on Resolving Conflict in Marriage, there is one activity that illustrates several of the ways we try to resolve conflicts. Each couple is given a cloth with a tear, and needle and thread. They are to work together as a couple to try to mend the tear. Tears could be small, some are crisscrossed, a few are large. Different couples displayed different approaches. Usually the men let the women do the mending. Others just wanted to get the job done and used big stitches that show rough work. Some couples unhurriedly took turns threading the needle and sewing. One couple had the husband hold the cloth together well so the sewing by the wife could be very finely done.
These approaches also mirror the way we try to resolve conflicts. Some people may find the conflict resolution one-sided: only one who is working to settle the matter and wants deeper relationship while the other remains passive and is content with the way things are. After a while, the other person just gets tired of pursuing and lets things slide until it does not matter anymore. Other people want to just gloss over issues and quickly settle conflicts, but the other may not have felt listened to nor understood and felt one’s feelings dismissed. In these first two ways, the conflict is still not truly resolved. Neither does their relationship get better.
The next two approaches are the better ways to resolve conflicts. The first is to take turns talking while the other intently listens. The one talking (offended one) needs to express what the issue is, what one felt, and what could be a possible solution. No blaming, no excuses, just what one thinks and feels about the matter. The one listening (offender) needs to hear the feelings, the extent of the pain or disappointment one caused the other, and the impact of one’s insensitivity or sin. No defenses, no excuses, just listen with your eyes, ears, and heart. The offender needs to acknowledge the expressed hurts or feelings of the other, clarify the issues or any misunderstandings, and humbly ask forgiveness for the offense (state it). Do not just say sorry. This leads to the second approach: finely work through together the issue until everything is truly resolved on both sides: feelings acknowledged, forgiveness is asked and given, and solution is mutually agreed on. Settle one issue at a time, not lumped together. It always takes the full cooperation and commitment of both sides to truly settle a conflict. Ephesians 4:31–32 says: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, jsut as in Christ God forgave you.”
We adopted and learned to practice this process in our family. Even when our children were in elementary grades, all of us needed to say “will you please forgive me for____” and “I forgive you” to settle our conflicts. It was not always easy, especially for our strong-willed boy, to ask forgiveness. One time, he did something wrong and needed to ask forgiveness. SInce he was not ready to do so, he was asked to sit on a chair at 4 pm until he was ready. He did stay on the chair, and finally asked forgiveness at almost midnight! And you know he meant it when he asked, not just to get off the hook. He had enough time to think and mend his ways. Because asking forgiveness was costly for him, he learned to control his anger and behavior as he matured. Resolving conflict builds humility, fosters love, develops sensitivity to others, hones character, and makes for better sleep at night!
Conflict is like a tear that if left untended, the tear increases until the cloth is discarded because it is beyond repair. In the family, no conflict should be beyond repair! It takes humility, guts, unconditional love, and commitment to keep on working, smoothing, strengthening the fabric of our relationships at home.