Conflict and How to Manage It - Part 1
- Tuesday, December 31, 2002
I've come to view conflict as good. Most people, however, don't view conflict as good. Why do I?
Whenever you put two unique individuals together, you're going to have two persons who don't come at every situation in exactly the same way. He has grown up around two unique individuals, and she has grown up around two unique individuals. There are going to be substantial differences.
As a matter of fact, they're going to have all kinds of places where the two of them take a unique perspective on things. It's in the management of those unique perspectives that we have what could be called conflict. However, the management of that conflict can turn out to be a stair step raising you to a higher and higher level of marital satisfaction every time you manage the conflict well.
Here's my concern: If you don't have conflict, it's almost always because of one of two things:
1. One person has decided to let the other person do all the managing of the relationship. In other words, two people are living one person's life. My mother was a little bit like that. My mother was a simple woman, very loving and kind, and she was always good to me and good to everybody.
My dad was a real strong guy and he was the most powerful person in my life. My dad, without knowing it, had a way, especially in the early phases of the relationship, of almost always being in control of everything that happened. My mom managed to endure that for a while.
But I noticed that she started having all kinds of headaches and body problems of various kinds. I really believe, although we didn't know about this in Iowa where we grew up, that my mother was depressed.
That almost always happens for a person who allows another person to control them. If two persons are living one person's life, not having any conflict, one person is going to end up resentful and depressed and hurt. They're going to feel real empty inside.
2. You're just pretending that conflict doesn't exist. Now I know what that leads to. Unfortunately in religious circles, oftentimes, two people who think that conflict is bad will choose to ignore the conflict in the interest of making the relationship seem like it is working.
I get those two people into my office. They sit clear across the room from each other. They never look at each other. They hardly listen to each other. They don't like each other very much. It is like ice in the room. Two married people who have ignored their conflict for so long that they have grown more and more distant from one another.
Conflict is good if conflict comes out and two people deal with it effectively. They come closer together. But beyond that, when they have that kind of conflict, both people participate in the building of a larger and larger relationship.
A relationship bigger than either of their lives. That's what marriage is all about. If you don't know if you have the capacity–as two persons who are dating–to manage your conflict effectively, to resolve it systematically and consistently, then you're not ready to get married.
Until you have conflict and until you know that you can manage it, you know that you're not ready to get married.
I often have people come to me, and they think they're going to kind of snow me. They'll say, "Dr. Warren, you know Linda and I have never had any conflict at all. And we don't think we're ever really going to have any." I'm thinking to myself, "Okay then, you're not ready to get married. How am I going to handle this?"
What I try to say to them is conflict is inevitable in any relationship. You're going to have it. The fact that you haven't had it has not given you a chance to determine whether you have one of the most important skills of all for marriage: Whether you know how to resolve your conflict.
You must know if you can resolve conflict before you take a chance on getting married. The reason I say that is that I have known so many people who have gotten married, had the inevitable conflict, discovered they weren't very good at resolving it and ended up getting divorced.
My goodness. One of two things should've happened. First, they should've found out before they got married that they weren't any good at resolving conflict, and second, someone along the way should've been teaching them how to resolve conflict.
In the next article of my series on conflict management I'm going to give you a five-step rock solid technique for managing conflict. See you then.
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