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Solving Conflicts without Arguing

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Conflicts are inevitable. Arguing is a choice.

Conflicts grow out of our uniqueness. The goal of conflict resolution is not to rid ourselves of our differences. The goal is to learn to work together as a team, using differences to make life better for both of us.

But for some couples, conflicts lead to arguments and arguments often get out of control. Instead of finding solutions, they create new problems. One wife told me, "I just do whatever he wants because I'm tired of arguing." Obviously, this approach won't lead to an authentic relationship.

The downside of arguments

What's so bad about arguments? When you win an argument, your spouse is the loser. And we all know it's no fun to live with a loser.

Arguments accomplish a great deal. Unfortunately, the accomplishments are destructive. Arguments are those carefully worded statements designed to appeal to the other person's sense of logic and reason. The implication is clear: any reasonable person would agree with my argument. When the spouse fails to agree, she now falls into the category of being illogical.

Arguments quickly become charged with emotion. You may end up yelling or screaming or crying; spouting out words that assassinate your mate's character; questioning his motives; and condemning his behavior as unloving, unkind, and undisciplined.

Arguments ultimately lead to one of three results. You win and your spouse loses; you lose and your spouse wins; or you argue to a draw. When arguments end in a draw, both spouses are losers. Neither one is convinced of the other's position, and both walk away disappointed, frustrated, hurt, angry, bitter, and often despairing of hope for their marriage.

The upside of conflict resolution

The good news is that conflicts can be resolved without arguing. Finding a winning solution begins by choosing to believe that such a solution is possible and that you and your spouse are smart enough to discover it. It requires you to respect each other's ideas even when you disagree, and to respond lovingly to your spouse in spite of the fact that you presently have a conflict. The objective is to find a solution, not to win an argument.

Conflicts cannot be resolved without empathetic listening. Unfortunately, most couples believe they are listening to each other when, in fact, they're simply reloading their verbal guns. Empathetic listening means seeking to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. It's putting ourselves in the other person's shoes and trying to look at the world through his or her eyes. It means we lay aside our verbal guns in favor of truly understanding the other person's viewpoint. Instead of focusing on how we're going to respond to what the other person's saying, we focus entirely on hearing what the other person is saying. We can't have a loving response until we first understand the meaning and feeling behind their words.

Empathetic listening may require you to ask questions to make sure you're hearing correctly what your spouse is saying. A husband might ask, "Are you saying you want me consistently to take out the trash without your asking?" to which she responds, "Yes. When I have to ask, I feel as if I'm being your mother. And I'd like you to take it out after supper and not leave it until the next morning so the kitchen doesn't smell." Now that he understands her, he can affirm her desires by saying, "I hear what you're saying and it makes sense. I think I can do that. The only problem I see will be Wednesday nights when I have to leave quickly in order to go to a meeting. Would it be possible for you to take out the trash that night?" Chances are she'll agree and the new "garbage removal program" brings harmony to their relationship.

When you affirm your spouse's perspective, then you can share yours and together you can negotiate a solution that will respect both of your ideas and feelings.

The most common mistake

The most common mistake couples make while trying to resolve conflicts is to respond before they have the full picture. This inevitably leads to arguments. When people respond too quickly, they often respond to the wrong issue. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict. When we listen, understand, and respect each other's ideas, we can then find a solution in which both of us are winners. When a husband and wife lovingly seek solutions to conflicts, they find the harmony and teamwork they're ultimately trying to build.

Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., author of Everybody Wins: The Chapman Guide to Solving Conflicts Without Arguing (Tyndale House), has been married 45 years to Karolyn.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Arguments; Conflict; Conflict resolution; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2007
Posted September 12, 2008

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