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How to Deal with Conflict in Your Relationship as a Christian: Three Tools to Use in Your Next Fight

By Hannah Brzozowski


This blog was adapted from Hannah's message on conflict. You can listen to her message here.


When I got married, I had this common-yet-delusional thought that the first few years would be total bliss. I knew that conflict would come but I didn't know it would come quite so quickly.


So, let me tell you about my wedding night. No.... not that part, sicko. I'm talking about the moment that Nick and I got into the car and had to find our hotel using a Map Quest print-out.


You know that moment when you're the navigator and you realize that you forgot to tell the driver when to turn? Well, I had that moment about twenty times. And you know what happened? We got into this big fight right after our wedding. Luckily, we were able to resolve it somewhat quickly but I remember the disappointment in myself that the fight happened in the first place.


Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. These may be things like personality traits your partner has that rub you the wrong way, or long-standing issues around spending and saving money. The research findings emphasize the idea that couples must learn to manage conflict rather than avoid or attempt to eliminate it altogether.


Often, even when we feel conflict coming, we don't have a clue what to do about it.


I know when Nick is mad at me. I know when I'm mad at him. We know what our gut tells us to do - yell, slam doors, or be really quiet - the good old silent treatment. But, so often, we don't know what to do that actually helps.


Well, today, I hope to share with you a few different tools that have helped me along the way since that wedding night in 2011.


1. Don’t let it fester all semester. 

Ephesians 4:26

"And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry."


Matt 5:23-24 “

‘If you’re standing before the altar in the Temple, giving an offering to God, and you suddenly remember someone has something against you leave your offering there beside the altar. Go at once and first be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your gift to God.’” 


Matthew 18:15-16

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'"


One of the most important things in a relationship is trust. Have you ever had that moment where you texted something nasty about someone. Then, it turns out, you texted the person that you were talking about? I have. I'll never forget that moment of utter horror when I realized that mistake.


Now, think about how much that hurt that friend or loved one. Do you want that to happen to your partner, the person you love most in this world? I certainly don't. I'd much rather talk to Nick (my husband) directly than to have him hear about it from someone else. I would be totally crushed if I heard from someone that Nick was talking about me and our problems.


So, instead, talk to your person. Don't let it fester and fester until you explode. That's not helping anyone.


But, what do you do when you have talked about it and you're hitting a dead end. You can't seem to come to a solution.


Try this practice from Prepare and Enrich called the 10 Solutions List.


This is how it works:

You and your partner take time to write out 10 solutions to your problem. They can be anything - serious or silly.


For instance, let's say you're constantly fighting over the temperature of the thermostat in your home. Here are some examples of the solutions you might come up with.

  1. Keep it at 74 degrees at all times.

  2. Get 5 heated blankets for each couch and chair.

  3. Switch off months of who gets to control it.

  4. Call your electric company to see how you can save money.

  5. Use the fireplace instead of turning on the heat.

  6. Don't use the thermostat at all since it's causing so much conflict.

  7. Ask a neighbor if you can just use their house all the time.

  8. Buy some really thick sweatshirts and blankets.

  9. Close vents in rooms that you don't use very often.

  10. Buy new windows since the current ones leak out too much heat.


Now, looking at the list, some of them don't make sense. It's not practical to "never use the thermostat." But at least you put it out there so that you can look at more realistic solutions.


Often times, this exercise can turn a conflict into more of a game. You start to laugh at ridiculous solutions and realize that you're both on the same team. It's you two against the problem, not each other.


2. If you don’t Fight Fair, you’ll pull out your hair. 

“Whoever gives an answer before he listens, is stupid and should be ashamed.”

 Proverbs 18:13


"Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”  

James 1:19


When we get angry, we say things we regret. That one thing that's been on your mind for months, finally spills out and it's not too pretty.


How do you combat that? Well, the first step helps us a lot in that regard. If you don't let it pile up for months on end, it won't bubble over. But the next tool is equally as important. You need to learn to fight fair.


My therapist once told me that sarcasm is birthed from anger. I didn't really get it right away. Then, I started seeing it everywhere. The worst part about this realization? I started to see it in myself. I would make some joke comment about someone being late. Then, I would reflect later and realize - I was angry they were late. Now, there's nothing wrong with anger. It's what we do with our anger that can be the problem.


I think this comes into play when we're getting "revved" up to be in an argument. The sarcastic, passive aggressive comments start. And that, my friends, is a great place to realize that you might need to talk through some things. Face the conflict head on (AKA Go back to step one).


What happens when you can't resolve in a quick game of 10 solutions? What does fighting fair look like? For a lot of us, the best course of action is to step away and cool off for a break.


When you're in the heat of an argument, you can go into fight or flight mode. You're body can sense the tension and without thinking, you can start thinking with the survival part of your brain. If you are actually in danger, great. But if you're not, this is not helpful to resolving the conflict.


Instead of screaming or just staying quiet, use this tool from Prepare and Enrich.


Take a Break: 

  1. Realize that you need to step away. Is your voice getting louder? Are you feeling your face get red with anger? Are you tense in your chest? Are you crying? Are you becoming really quiet? Is your partner doing any of these things? In a book called Crucial Conversations, they use the phrase: Silence or Violence. This is a great way to realize when you might need to take a second away.

  2. Ask for a break. Don't just leave, dramatically slamming the door behind you. Instead, say something like: "I need to take a moment and think about this. Can we talk about this more tonight?"

  3. Take some time to breathe, go for a walk, or journal your thoughts. Why did this conversation make you so upset? Is there something more going on that's really been bothering you? I've done this a number of times and it always helps me to realize what is really going on beneath the surface.

  4. Think of some ways to approach the conversation later that day. Using "I" instead of "you" statements is a good place to start. Tell them how it made you feel. Try to see it from their point of view.

  5. Resume the conversation. This can be the hard part. Sheepishly coming into the room and cracking a smile. I've done it once or twice myself. However, if you don't resume the conversation, then it'll just keep coming up again and again.


3. Forgive and repent to the full extent.

"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Be gentle with one another, and sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you."

Ephesians 4:32


“‘Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend's eye, but you don't notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend's eye.’” 

Matthew 7:3, 5 


“You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

Colossians 3:8


There are times when forgiveness is easy. For instance, your husband is late for dinner. He got caught up talking to a friend on the phone and totally lost track of time. That's easy to forgive. But, what if he's late at least twice a week for months and it feels as though he doesn't care about your time or time with the kids?


When you've been deeply hurt by your person, forgiveness is hard. Sometimes, it can feel as though you're excusing the behavior or sweeping it under the rug.


However, I would argue that forgiveness isn't that at all. It's acknowledging the hurt, sin, and pain to yourself and to the person who hurt you. It's taking time to process and reflect on why it hurt so much. It's becoming more self-aware.


If you're not sure where to start, I found these steps really helpful from Prepare and Enrich.


Steps for Asking for Forgiveness from Someone

  1. Admit what you did was wrong or hurtful.

  2. Try to understand/empathize with the pain you have caused. 

  3. Take responsibility for your actions and make restitution if necessary. 

  4. Assure your partner you will not do it again. 

  5. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. 

  6. Forgive yourself. 


Six Steps for Forgiving Someone

  1. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected. 

  2. Be specific about your future expectations and limits. 

  3. Give up your right to “get even,” but insist on being treated better in the future. 

  4. Let go of blame, resentment, and negativity toward your partner. 

  5. Communicate your act of forgiveness to your partner. 

  6. Work toward reconciliation (when safe).



 

Do you fester? or do you fight fair? or do you need to forgive someone in your life?


Take a moment now and think.


Which area do you need to work on this week or month? Is there someone you need to talk to you about it? 


The great news is that God gave us the instructions but he didn’t leave us there! He’s there for us in the midst of this and he’s the reason why we follow it too.


As Christians, we’re called to something different. We’re called to follow the word of God, even when it’s hard. Why? It’s what’s best for us! God’s the one that created relationships and marriage. He’s the one who knows how to deal with it the best! 


If you'd like some extra help working through conflict in your relationship, Nick and I are both certified with the Prepare and Enrich curriculum mentioned throughout this blog. We'd love to help however we can. Simply email me at hannah@anchorchurchil.com


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