As parents, our lives are filled with conflict. Emotional swords are drawn between spouses, parent and child, and child to child. Most of us detest arguments and all of the nasty side effects of poorly managed conflict resolution.
If it's done right, conflict can actually help family relationships grow. The Bible clearly says, "Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Eph 4:26-27, NKJV). If we don't bring resolution to our problems, we play into the devil's hands. Our unwillingness to confront problems when they start can lead to heated blow-ups later on. Working through our conflicts in a healthy, open-minded manner will make our families stronger. Therefore we need to be courageous and talk things out. In the words of comedienne Phyllis Diller, "Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight!"
Here are seven tips that can help your family conflicts become more constructive:
Plan for healthy conflict. Expect good things after the conflict. Instead of avoiding problems, accept that they are part of family life.
Set rules of engagement. Lay down some ground rules with your family members. Agree upon the duration of the discussion. If you find that your tone of voice is getting shrill or your heart is racing, then you've probably let things go too long. Give everyone permission to take a break when things get out of control. Pray for God's help in remaining calm.
Focus on solving the problem. Be specific about each issue that comes up. Help the other person understand your viewpoint, while respecting their right to speak. Remember that you are speaking the "truth" as you see it. Someone else might legitimately see things differently. The other person isn't the problem. The problem is the problem.
Compromise on solutions. Be prepared to yield if you are wrong. Remember, it's not about you "winning" the argument. You have "won" when you have helped the relationship.
There's always tomorrow. Think about the long-term consequences of your words and actions. Don't become so intent on making your point that you say something that will do lasting damage to your family.
Get counseling for repetitive conflicts. If you need a neutral third party, don't enlist your friends as counselors. Pick someone each party can trust to be objective.
Kiss and make up. Everyone must choose to move on. Avoid gloating if you "win" the argument. This may make the next conflict even more challenging.
Harry R. Jackson, Jr. is a pastor and the author of the newly released book Inlaws, Outlaws, and the Functional Family (Regal). His web site can be visited here: www.thehopeconnection.org.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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Winter 2002, Vol. 15, No. 2, Page 10