Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Conflict occurs in the best of marriages. Though I feel blessed to be in a healthy marriage, Christie and I are not without our times of tension. We have to practice all the tools and skills I write about in this column.
Many falsely believe if they are Christians, smart, educated or special, they won't have conflict in their relationship. They think since they love the Lord and pray regularly, they will somehow be immunized from conflict. Sadly, they are often disappointed.
While I have yet to find a way to get around it, we will experience conflict. However, I have also found many strategies to help maintain unity and cooperation—which is our calling as Christians, even during these periods of conflict. Rather than share "fair fight skills," which are questionable at best, I'd like to share tools to practice before you experience conflict. I believe efforts taken before conflict occurs are as valuable as tools used after conflict has erupted.
Consider this fact; conflict often occurs when we are at less than our best. Conflict usually happens when we are stressed out, uptight, pressured, experiencing financial issues and our defenses are down. Since we know this, it makes sense for us to be on guard against those times and make provisions for them.
The following acronym, H.A.L.T. is borrowed from the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and has much to teach all of us. Consider your particular situation and see if conflict doesn't occur more often when you are experiencing one of these.
H—Hungry. It makes sense that when we are too hungry, we are not at our best. Our brains are sluggish and our bodies are craving nourishment. Our blood system lacks the nutrients it needs to fuel our vital organs. Thus, it makes sense not to engage in any heated issues when we are under-nourished.
A--Angry. Many seem insistent on engaging in conflict when they are angry. Yes, I understand that the issues themselves, or perhaps your mate's response to certain issues, are the very reason you are angry. Yet, anger does nothing to help you deal with issues effectively. Quite the contrary: anger causes you to feel tense and irritable; anger causes you to see things more narrowly with a "closed" point of view; anger causes you to say things you wouldn't ordinarily say. Don't engage in any charged discussion when angry. Call a "time out" and resume discussions when you are calm and clear-headed.
L—Lonely. When lonely we are often dispirited and not in a mood compatible with discussing "high voltage" issues. When lonely we often feeling rejected, abandoned and are more apt to be overly sensitive. Dealing effectively with relationship issues requires that we feel connected to our mate and are engaging in conflict for the purpose of healing some issue. When you are feeling lonely, it is better to stay away from heated issues.
T—Tired. There is perhaps no worse time to engage in conflict than when tired. With limited energy, our heightened propensity to irritability and impatience exacerbates our down moods. As with anger, when tired we are prone to overreact to words spoken to us, take up an offense over trivial matters and take a "position" will very probably prove damaging. Things always look better in the morning when we are fresher. There is merit in the often-heard advice to "sleep on it". Try to avoid conflict at the end of the day when your reserves are low.
To summarize, healthy conflict requires our best energy, our best effort and our best attitude. Scripture offers many directives on how to engage in healthy communication, the backbone of which is often patience—something we have more of when we are at our best. "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." (Proverbs 19: 11)
To engage in conflict when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired is to set yourself up for failure. Make an agreement to only discuss serious issues at the right time, the right place and in the right way. Then notice the positive change.
Feel free to contact me about conflict and ways to lessen it in your relationship.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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