What's Under the Towel on the Floor
By Janel Breitenstein
This is such a dumb thing to fight about.
Ever been there?
But conflict has … layers. The “skin”—the apparent issue—may be the bath towel on the floor right next to the towel rack.
But there is often an unmet desire beneath the conflict—the muscle behind the skin. Usually when we’re angry, it’s the thing that feels trampled on. It may even feel sacred.
You might think that towel carries an embroidered message: I don’t respect the way you care for us. I’m so oblivious, I’ll make another mess for you to clean up.
But look at the other person’s desires. I’m logging major hours to provide for us. I was trying to make it out the door so I can make it home on time, and I forgot the towel. I’m nagged at work all week, and you have no capacity for a forgotten towel?
Even further beneath—let’s say it’s at the “bone” level—are the big-picture desires.
I want to feel like what I work hard at matters to you, and that you’ll help me. I want to feel seen. Valued.
Or on the other side: I want to have the wiggle room to fail without it being a federal case. For you not to jump to conclusions about my character or love for you just because I forget things. What will you do if I really blow it?
Here’s the great news. When you’re able to get to those “bone-level” desires, you might be surprised by what you share.
Both of you, for example, want to feel respected and seen.
You might even find surprising solutions. Oh, you mean you didn’t leave that on the floor because you were a jerk, but because you’ve got a lot on your mind from work? How can I be there for you?
Rather than jumping to conclusions based on the “skin” of an argument, seek to understand what motivates your spouse.
Because it’s probably not the towel on the floor.
The good stuff: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1)
Action points: In your next conflict over the small stuff, ask yourself what lies beneath your spouse’s anger. If you don’t know, think of a neutral way to ask and understand. Listen well! Look to the levels of interest beneath the presenting issue, and speak to its depths rather than fixing the surface.
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