I grew up in a house where my mom and dad argued — a lot. That’s why when I got married and had my own kids I wanted to have an argument-free home. For the most part, I did. Then one day it hit me… bad plan! How will I teach my children about conflict resolution in marriage, and in life in general, if they never see good examples of how to resolve conflict?
If you were to visit my house now, you’d hear me saying things like, “Hey, it’s okay to disagree, but we need to resolve this conflict the right way — with respect and calmness.”
I want my children to understand that conflict is not bad; it’s a natural part of life. I also want them to understand that conflict in marriage is normal too. So set a good example for your children, and teach them how to handle conflict with these 3 keys to good conflict resolution in marriage.
1. Respect is non-negotiable.
Respect is the bedrock of healthy conflict resolution in marriage. And even when we don’t feel respect for our spouse in the heat of an argument, we can still treat them respectfully. This means cooperation instead of condescension and listening instead of interrupting. The point of healthy conflict is to reach a resolution so that differences don’t fester and turn into bitterness and resentment.
When you treat each other respectfully in the middle of a conflict, you’re showing your children how to resolve their own conflicts effectively.
What can you tell me about conflict resolution?
2. Extremes are not helpful.
Unfortunately, conflict and anger go hand in hand. When conflict is present it can easily erupt into anger. Anger, if left unchecked, can lead to yelling, name-calling, and acting out physically. All of those are unacceptable for resolving conflict in front of our children.
One of the keys to successful arguing is to avoid escalation. (Escalation is one of the four communication patterns that can hurt your marriage.) Talk to your husband during a non-heated moment about having an escalation escape plan. It would work like this: both of you agree that when you two are in the middle of a conflict, and things start to get out of hand, that you will each make an effort to diffuse the situation.
For example, if you’re the one who’s keeping her cool in an argument, even though your husband is pressing all of your buttons, step up and de-escalate. “Honey, I can tell that we are getting really angry. I hear what you’re saying, but let’s take a five-minute break, cool down, and then come back and try again.”
3. Avoidance is not an option.
Children notice more than we think they do. They pick up on the undercurrents of tension and disdain in our marriage, even if we try to hide them. So don’t bury them or let them come out sideways — that’s when you’re angry about one thing, but instead of addressing it your anger comes out in grouchiness with your children, an overall sour attitude, or a short temper.
If your husband gets in the habit of doing or saying something you don’t like, instead of biting your tongue around your children show them how to handle that type of situation. Be direct with your husband, “You might not have meant for what you said to come across harshly, but that’s how it sounded to me, and it hurt my feelings.”
Conflict will arise in marriage. Don’t avoid it — deal with it — in front of your children, and also let them see the resolution. But, if you’re not at the point yet where you can handle conflict respectfully and calmly, try to limit your disagreements in their presence. If you do blow up in front of them, apologize and tell them that you and your husband are trying to learn how to do better.
How would you rate your conflict resolution skills on a scale of 1 – 10?