Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. And when the conflict happens with those we love, the emotional impact can be devastating and tear us apart leaving us fragmented and wounded. Many times this pain and anguish can last for decades. Not only that, but it can impact how we behave in other relationships.
Sometimes it makes us dread the holidays.
We anticipate being in the room or around the dinner table with the person who hurt us and our anxiety begins to build. For some, the feeling of apprehension can consume us knowing that our kids will be under foot for almost two whole weeks or our spouse will be home during the holidays adding to the stress of too many hours in the same space where emotions can destroy the festive season.
And sometimes during these times hope and fear can kick in–hope that the conflict can be resolved and fear that the other person will misunderstand our goodwill intent not hearing our true heart’s desire to resolve the issue in a win/win for both of us.
So what are some things we can do to make sure that conflict is resolved well during the holiday season? First, understand that conflict takes two people. And next, think about what you might do differently to change the season from one of apprehension into a time of rejoicing in being with those you love?
Consider how you and the other person fight:
- Do you or the other person attack rather than communicate in a loving manner? The litmus test for answering this question is the use of the word “you” and accusations like “always” or “never”. “If you hadn’t made me…” or “You always…” may be true; however, if these words are coming from your lips, the receiver will most likely feel attacked and become defensive. Try communicating what you are feeling by using “I feel” language. If you are on the receiving end of these words, try something like, “I understand that you feel like I’m at fault here. However, it is hard to listen right now because I’m starting to feel defensive. I want to hear you. Would you mind telling me me how you are feeling by using “I” language rather than “you” language?”
- Do either you or the other person avoid resolving the issue? I’ve had several of these people in my life over the years and I’ll admit it drives me crazy. Resolving conflict means that you work through the issue. Avoiders tend to say or think, “Ok, I’m the bad guy” or “There’s no changing you”. Either way, they just want to move on and choose not to get to the root of the issue. The problem is that if you never understand the issue and truly work through the conflict, a piece of the relationship is chipped away and it is hard to return to the level of intimacy that used to exist. Sometimes having a neutral person in the room to help steer the conversation by listening, refocusing, and re-framing can have a positive impact.
- Can you rethink how you view the relationship? When we’ve been hurt over and over by someone, it’s sometimes hard to stay in the relationship arena. We want to protect ourselves from the pain again. What if you began to look at the other person with compassion? Do you think they are intentionally hurting you or is the pain inflicted out of immaturity in how they view relationships? It’s usually easier to resolve an issue with our kids because we recognize that they are still learning and that it is our job to teach them how to respond in the middle of conflict. If we are dealing with our spouse or another adult, it’s not so easy. Try thinking of them with tenderness realizing their emotional capacity might be stunted. Can we give them more grace?
- Can you recognize that for a relationship to change, one person needs to change? Maybe you remember your sister as being your best-est buddy growing up and now you don’t even understand her. One thing I’ve learned is that typically both people are trying to control. When I feel like I’m being controlled, I ask myself if I’m trying to control the same thing. If so, am I willing to lay down what I am trying to control in order to mend the relationship? Are there topics in the relationship that need to be off limits? Are there boundaries that need to be put in place that help each of you recognize acceptable behavior?
Sometimes we reach a place where we need to let go of the fear and hope for the best while recognizing that what we want might not be the relationship the other person desires or can give us.
Years ago I was in a relationship that seemed to put us in the crazy cycle on a regular basis. I would unknowingly do something that would trigger the other person. I would respond in what I thought was a loving, gentle way and would get to a place where I thought we had resolved the issue. Then I would step on what seemed to be another landmine, and the cycle repeated again and again. After a while fear kicked in for me. I was afraid to be hurt yet again so I backed away. I seemed to trigger this person for no apparent reason and their response would feel like an attack. Every time we would be together I would hope for the best but the behaviors of the other person would randomly surface.
One day the light bulb came on. I needed to try new skills to interrupt the crazy cycle. I needed to hope that my new behaviors would change her as I interacted differently. If we had a good day, I celebrated. If we had a bad interaction, I’d try something different the next time. Eventually, I stumbled on what worked.
Was the relationship what I so desired? No, but I learned to accept that God might not be giving me what I wanted but He was giving me what I needed to change me.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Dare you to try some new behaviors during your disagreements this holiday season as you share in His bounty with thankful hearts.
“Let go…and Let God”,
If you know someone with kids 9-29, maybe a great gift idea for this holiday season might be a copy of With All Due Respect: 40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tween. A companion option might be our online eCourse that accompanies the book where they will have opportunity to learn from moms who have been there.
And we continue to get positive feedback from teachers who have read it. Why not make your teacher gift giving easy this year?
Have a blessed day of gratitude!