Perhaps they are prophetically looking at this year’s holidays. Maybe they appear every November and I’ve never noticed before. Quite suddenly, my emails are peppered with unsolicited articles on resolving conflict.
I will preface this by sharing a blessing. Husband and I rarely disagree anymore. Over the years, we have settled our major character conflicts. The rough spots are — for the most part — rubbed off and healed over. We might not be in perfect agreement over the quickest way to the mall, or which of us is the better driver at night, or what time we need to leave for church, but the big stuff? Gone.
Nonetheless, a quick study of why we fight and how we can best resolve our differences, is always welcome. Besides, God always uses what we take time to study.
So what can you do when you find yourself in a communication mishap?
Conflict occurs in our families when our values collide. He wishes she would pay more attention when parking the car. She wishes he would get his dirty socks closer to the laundry basket. The next thing they know, both people are shouting about their political preferences, mask mandates, and who over-spent the family budget.
James 4:1-2 says, “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves …
“You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.”
Conflict can be unspoken or overt, tangible or intangible, quiet or frighteningly loud. Quarrels might involve clashes within our own values, the other person’s preferences, with the world in general, or even with God.
How we resolve conflicts can be tricky. The way we handle them is heavily influenced by the culture in our family of origin. Some families shout it out, risking damaged relationships because being right is more important than loving-kindness. Other families adhere to less brutal resolution techniques.
Here are my three suggestions if tensions erupt during your holiday visits:
Stop talking: Defending yourself may be your instinctual response, especially if the conversation starts to descend into personal attacks and generalities (i.e., you never, you always.) Take a moment to breathe. Choose your words wisely. Do you really want to argue, or do you want to resolve the conflict?
Start listening: What may have triggered the rise of emotions in the first place? Was it a fear of disconnection, a past trauma that may have surfaced, accumulated stress, or maybe an insensitive comment just pushed them over the edge? When you are curious enough to understand what is happening in them, you are less likely to put up your defense. Listening opens the door to empathy.
Express understanding: When there is a miscommunication, often no one is really at fault. You don't have to admit you were wrong if your motives and intentions were right. However, it is helpful to express understanding. The goal is to open the door of communication so you can resolve differences in a healthy way.
Miscommunications are inevitable. However, with some self-awareness and genuine concern for the other person, you can work to resolve any conflicts that arise. Let your genuine care and concern for the other person shine through.
Remember, resolved conflicts are the foundation of healthy relationships.
“Never answer an angry word with another. It’s the second that makes a quarrel.”
Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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