My wife, Erin, and I had the opportunity to honeymoon in Hawaii. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve dreamed of climbing a breathtaking Hawaiian waterfall and jumping into the crystal clear pool below. Just like I’d imagined it, we found the perfect spot; however, there was a NO SWIMMING sign posted. Intensely excited, I reasoned that since we were not going to swim in that exact spot, we could cross the river and swim near the waterfall. However, when I tried to convince Erin of my brilliant logic, she refused, explaining the literal meaning of NO SWIMMING! Needless to say, the discussion quickly deteriorated to the point in which I said something that I’ve regretted for a long time. All at once, I screamed at my new bride that because of her hesitancy, the honeymoon was ruined.
As a result of my insensitive remark, we didn’t speak for the rest of the afternoon, but decided to go to the Polynesian Center that night. During the program, I decided to make-up with Erin, so I put my arm around her and began rubbing her shoulder. After a few minutes of zero acknowledgment, I increased the seductiveness of the shoulder rub. As I leaned in to kiss Erin, I caught a look of horror from the woman seated next to her. At that moment, I realized that I was not stroking my wife’s shoulder; but instead, was seducing a total stranger. Later that evening, after they both forgave me, Erin and I resolved our conflict.
One of the few things that I can guarantee is that all families will experience conflict. Since conflict is a normal part of being in any relationship, learning how to resolve your problems without becoming divided is crucial. On our honeymoon, Erin and I almost allowed our disagreement to get the best of us; fortunately, we went through an important six-step process which enabled us to resolve our fight.
1. Fighting without Emotional Injury
Erin and I would not have resolved our disagreement without having made a transition from intense conflict to some type of constructive communication. What happens during this time is the foundation upon which the solutions are constructed. Like a house built upon a damaged foundation, unless families utilize this time, their solutions could have major structural damage which might not hold during storms of future conflict.
Two important things to do during this stage is to first, mentally prepare yourself for resolving the conflict. Physically distancing yourself to allow emotions to settle or praying about the conflict can help. However, never leave without giving an explanation or without agreeing to resume the discussion at some later time.
Secondly, at this point, people involved in the dispute need to develop or review their rules for family conflict. [refer to Rules for Family Conflict] It is important that each person contribute in the formation of these rules and agree to abide by them. If at any point in the discussion, a rule is violated, it’s probably wise to take a time-out to prevent arguments from intensifying.
2. Communication through Parrot-talking
It is critically important for people in conflict to hear and understand each other. One of the most effective techniques to produce true understanding is what I call “parrot talking”. Like a parrot, repeat in your own words the positions or needs expressed by the other person. Before responding or moving on, reach an agreement concerning what was said. This validates interests and allows each person to feel understood.
This is not the time to argue for or against your own position. Instead, use this opportunity to build upon the family foundation by listening and understanding each other.
Throughout the conflict process, meaningful communication should be divided into two parts. It is necessary to clarify what the actual conflict is first. Look to see if there are any other reasons for the conflict: tired, low sugar level, etc.
Secondly, after identifying the conflict, it is necessary to explain the issues involved. I suggest that you write these down and rank them in order of importance. Since any small amount of positive change can create confidence leading to further success, handle the less difficult items first.
3. Uncovering Hidden Needs
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Although the presenting issues can be readily identified in most conflicts, there probably exists several hidden needs. Erin and I each had interests which were difficult to express. I wanted to fulfill my dream, while Erin needed to obey the law.
Addressing these important needs is essential in moving towards solutions. It may be helpful to ask questions like, “What is really going on?” or “What must change or happen to meet your needs?”.
4. Creating Win-Win Situations
During this stage, family members create win-win options or solutions. For example, Erin and I could have found a different waterfall that didn’t have a NO SWIMMING sign posted. In the “Win-Win” situation, needs are met on both sides. It doesn’t necessarily mean compromising. Sometimes compromising creates a quick-fix solution where no one is pleased with the outcome. Furthermore, important issues may be overlooked.
“Win-Win” solutions can be created from a variety of different methods. Such techniques as “brainstorming”, or “pros vs. cons” lists, work great.
5. Resolution: Nursing the Bruises
Like preventing injury by tending to a bruise, it is vital that forgiveness takes place and that no one holds any resentment. Try to identify your own contribution to the problem and accept any blame. During our honeymoon fight, Erin needed me to admit how insensitive I had been. I strongly suggest that you end each fight with an act of love.
Next, assign responsibility for the future. Make sure new rules or decisions have been written down so each person knows exactly what is expected. Most importantly, make conflict resolution a regular habit.
6. When All Else Fails
If after unsuccessful attempts have been made to solve a conflict, or when negotiations have broken down, or if family members are exhausted from the physical as well as emotional strain of their differences, it might be time to enlist the help of a person who will intercede in the middle of a conflict to help bring about resolution and reconciliation between members.