The Relationship Series: Navigating Conflict
I sat on one end of the couch and he sat on the other, in the kind of silence that can be cut with a knife. My arms were crossed and he stared forward at the blank television screen. Inwardly I was bursting to get my feelings out on the table but outwardly I was stone cold like the guards outside Buckingham Palace. Soon he grabbed the remote to turn on a movie and eventually we moved past the silent fight we were warring over.
I learned pretty early on in dating that conflict was inevitable. At first, I didn’t deal with it well because I had never been taught that it could be done in a healthy way. My version of handling a conflict came from either walking on eggshells around my dad, shutting down with my mom, or exploding in arguments with my brothers. Much of it had to do with the anger I was in bondage to for the first 18 years of my life. I suppose after being miraculously delivered from it at the altar one night at youth retreat I was too afraid to show even an ounce of it in fear it would return, so my only go to was avoiding any conflict altogether.
It was after I started dating someone I listened to a podcast on conflict in relationships. It was as if my eyes were finally open to a healthy way of dealing with conflict. And not just in romantic relationships, but any relationship really: friendships, family, co-workers. Learning how to deal with conflict properly will significantly change the health and length of any relationship. Speaking from personal experience I promise you this is something you will want to embrace and an area you will want to grow in!
What I want to deal with today is conflict because it affects us all. You might be single but learning to address conflict now will benefit you significantly when you do enter into a romantic relationship. The good news is, you can start practicing now with friends and family.
Here are some tips on dealing with conflict in a healthy way:
1. Prepare Your Heart
When going into any conflict, it’s important to make sure your heart is in the right place. If it’s full of anger or bitterness, chances are you’ll have a hard time opening up to what the other person has to say. It’s also important to follow Matthew 7 in regards to removing the plank from your own eye before pointing out anothers. If your desire is to address a friend or family member’s concerning issue, be sure you’ve opened up yourself to God’s work in your heart first. And always be prepared to forgive!
2. Don’t Be Afraid
I would say one of the main reasons I avoid conflict is because I’m afraid of how the other person might respond. Maybe you relate and as a result, shy away from saying anything and end up living with the hurt or bottling it up only to explode at another time. You can’t allow the fear of how another will react rob you of conflict resolution, and ultimately, peace.
3. Follow the SET Formula
My husband taught me the SET formula developed by Jerold Kreisman, M.D. and I’ve found it genius ever since! It stands for: Support, Empathy, and Truth. When going into a conflict, it’s helpful to follow this easy model.Start with support by letting the person know you care about them and desire to be there for them. Start with something like, “I care about you and our friendship deeply.” Once they know you support them it’s time to empathize. This means expressing to them you understand their feelings and what they might be going through, “It must be hard to….” Only when you have let the other person know you support and empathize with them can you then share truth. Following the SET formula helps to take the focus off of yourself and instead put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It opens their heart to conflict resolution and leads to a better understanding between the two of you.
4. Focus on the Real Issue
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a surface level conflict. I suppose part of it has to do with my very logical and sometimes black-and-white personality. I see the action that upset me instead of the core issue that is propelling the action.For instance, suppose someone didn’t return your text or call and it really bothered you. But maybe the week prior you cut down the other person or blew them off. Though the lack of response upsets you there is an even deeper issue of a past hurt on the other person’s side. What they did isn’t necessarily right but it helps to understand the bigger picture and core issue in order to properly address conflict.
5. Don’t Overreact
A sure fire way to cut the conversation short is by overreacting and exploding out of anger. The other person will most likely shrink into a shell or explode as well, and neither will lead to a solution. Instead, remain cool, calm, and collected. In fact, be of a loving nature. 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins and this will prove true when addressing something difficult with another person.
6. Propose a Solution
After feelings have been expressed and each person has communicated they understand the other, it’s best to find a solution. This may mean setting boundaries so that feelings are no longer hurt in the future. It might look like being more strategic in spending time together.What if each person has a different idea of what a solution looks like? Something a very wise counselor once told my husband and me in pre-marital counseling is that if each person has a different interpretation of a resolution always have a plan c, or d, or f, and so on. There is ALWAYS a common ground solution and if that means making a list over the kitchen table late at night, then do it. Find a solution you can both agree on!
My prayer is that this article fosters healthy conflict resolution in your life. In fact, I hope that you can now see conflict as a good thing (when done right) and that your relationships flourish as a result.
(This blog was originally written for and published by Single Christianity here.)