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Biblical Conflict Resolution
by Wyatt Fisher Psy.D.
Biblical conflict resolution skills are one of the most important things for you to master. Conflicts are common in romantic relationships as two imperfect people strive towards oneness and harmony in all areas of life. The success of most marriages is contingent upon how well both partners learn how to manage conflicts because unresolved disputes often lead to emotional walls that erode intimacy on all levels. Furthermore, poorly handled conflicts damage relationships as partners wound one another through thoughtless words and behaviors.
The first step in effective conflict resolution is identifying what you are feeling and why, which many people struggle with. Once you know what you are feeling, express the “soft underbelly” emotions instead of the harsh, protective exterior. Anger is almost always a secondary emotion; therefore, you must uncover the tender emotions beneath it, such as feelings of rejection, insignificance, loneliness, etc. Expressing your tender emotions, rather than anger, will maximize the chances of your partner responding with empathy rather than defensiveness.
The next vital piece of conflict resolution is expressing your emotions gently by “..speaking the truth in love..(Ephesians 4:15, NIV). The first way to do this is through I statements instead of you statements. When we are hurt and angry, you statements naturally come out of our mouth, such as “you always do that, you are so insensitive, and you are so selfish.” You statements encourage the receiving person to become angry and defensive. In contrast, I statements encourage the receiving person to be empathic and receptive. For example, the above comments could be revised to say “I feel frustrated when this happens, I feel hurt because of that decision, or I feel lonely when my needs aren’t being met.” In addition, it’s important to avoid generalizations for the same reasons. Common generalization words include always and never. For example, “I feel frustrated when you always say that, or I feel hurt because you never listen to me” could be reworded to say “I feel frustrated when I hear that comment, or I feel hurt because I often don’t feel listened to.”
The third critical element to conflict resolution is understanding your “triggers.” None of us were raised in perfect homes surrounded by perfect people; therefore, most of us have some level of pain from our upbringing. However, people are usually unaware of how much their current circumstances are triggering wounds from their past. For example, Ben, 28, finds himself extremely agitated with his girlfriend for interrupting him during conversations. While this type of behavior would be frustrating to anyone, it turns out that Ben’s mother continually interrupted him during conversations growing up, making him feel unloved and unimportant. One of the best ways to determine if you are being triggered is by watching the severity of your reaction to a situation. If your emotional reaction seems extreme or long-lasting then most likely something painful from your upbringing is being triggered.
The final piece to conflict resolution is responding to your partner’s criticism by paraphrasing and empathizing. Instead, most people become defensive when they feel criticized by justifying their behavior or blaming it on something or someone else, which usually makes things even worse. The first thing to do when your partner is frustrated with your behavior is to let him or her finish without interrupting them. “…Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19, NIV). Next, paraphrase by repeating back to them what they said to ensure you heard them correctly. Then, empathize by really trying to see the situation from their perspective in order to understand what they thought and felt. Last, make an empathic statement, such as “I can see how you would have felt ___ because of ___.” The more you empathize, the more your partner will feel heard and validated, motivating them to want to hear your side of the situation and respond in kind.
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What other strategies would you suggest for Biblical conflict resolution?