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A fun way to defuse conflict—and get something you want in the process.

I did it again. I made the mistake of asking my husband for help on some annoying glitch that came up one night while I was working on my computer. Wouldn't you know it, he made the mistake of being suckered into rescuing me. Considering our history, we both should have known better than to head down that perilous path.

These "technical support" sessions always ended the same way—heated conflict. I'd ask a simple I-want-a-quick-fix question. He'd roll his chair next to mine and deliver his let-me-tell-you-everything-there-is-to-know-about-computers answer, which would turn into an hour-long help session complete with tips on things such as reformatting my hard drive and over-clocking my CPU.

Teachable as I am, I'd accept graciously his well-meaning suggestions … with bared teeth, crossed arms, and resentful glares. Tuned into my receptive body language, he'd assume a harsh dictatorial tone that would set me off even more.

Unfortunately, this night was no different. After another one of his "help-sessions," we'd worked ourselves into a frenzy reminiscent of a shark feed off the Great Barrier Reef.

"You are so bullheaded!" he finally exploded.

"You're bossy!" I retorted.

"Oh yeah? Well, you just don't appreciate me! If you're going to act like this, you can figure it out yourself!"

"I don't appreciate you demeaning me and treating me like an idiot every time I ask for a little help with my computer! I don't have time to become a certified Microsoft Windows technician."

At the height of our anger, he pulled an uncharacteristic maneuver—he got down on the floor and egged me on, pointing at the carpet. "You wanna take this to the mat?"

I was surprised at this new and unexpected tactic, but knowing he wasn't the type to get out of control physically with his anger, I thought cockily it might feel pretty good to pin his annoying skinny little butt to the carpet.

"Yeah. As a matter of fact, I do!"

We began grappling this latest conflict out on the floor. By the bulging veins in our red faces, gritted teeth, and straining muscles, any bystander might have thought we were in training for the all-star wrestling team, minus the interesting wrestling outfits.

Shortly into battle, with me sitting on top trying to get the upper hand, I pulled back to eye my opponent. We looked so funny, all sweaty and red and mad, that we burst into laughter. Two responsible adults on the floor acting like two year olds fighting over a toy. It was so unpredictable and wacky. It was fun!

All our strength (and anger) instantly vaporized. Rolling onto my back next to him, our roars and cackles resounded through the house. We looked stupid for sure, but we definitely felt better. When the seizing pain began to recede from our abs enough that we could talk, we sat up on our elbows, grinning sheepishly at each other.

"That was a blast!"

"Yeah, we need to do that more often!" Steve agreed. "I haven't laughed like that since the time I threw you in our pond for turning my underwear pink. It's good not to take ourselves so seriously." Reaching for my hand, he continued in his characteristically humble attitude—one of the reasons I married him.

"I'm sorry, honey. I know you were in the middle of an important project, and I could have been more tactful and considerate about my timing. Believe it or not, it really bothers me that I can't seem to control the harsh tone in my voice when I'm helping you. I could say it's because you drive me crazy with your unwillingness to learn new things, but that's no excuse. I really want to work on this area of my life."

I hate it when he sets the example and apologizes. Now I had to as well.

"Seriously," he continued, "I want to stop being so harsh in my tone of voice. I need something to motivate a change in my behavior. Something that will remind me right at the moment. What's something I could do for you when I slip up—something you really love?"

"Back rubs," I answered immediately.

"I knew that was coming. How about every time I get a harsh tone with you, you call me on it right then and I have to give you a back rub?"

"Really?" It sounded too good to be true. This was a potential 24/7 massage session. There must be a catch. "What do you get out of this?"

"Well, probably a happier wife, for starters. And hopefully I'll get rid of this annoying habit." I liked this deal—but I knew it wouldn't be fair if he were the only one working on something. "So what should I work on first—my angry reaction to your harsh tone or my lack of a teachable spirit?"

He went right for the jugular. "Well, I'd definitely have to go for teachable. But you know, you don't have to ask how to pay up with me." He winked.

I knew there was going to be a catch.

Win-win results

I was skeptical at first that this new bargaining technique would really work, but after several months things changed dramatically between us. Now, whenever he gets a harsh tone with me (he even lets me try to push his buttons on purpose for extra practice), I no longer get angry and hold a grudge half the day. Instead, I see opportunity. I'm like, "Yeah, baby, I get a backrub out of this."

For instance, one morning I asked him if he'd fixed the burned-out light in the kitchen, and he got that irritated, condescending tone to his voice. "Obviously not! Did you see me fixing it? Have you tried turning on the light?"

Instead of getting all huffy and offended like I used to, I simply stuck my finger out at him and yelled gleefully, "Aha! You owe me a back rub. Pay up, sucker!"

"I can't believe I fell for that again! When will I learn?" he said with a cute boyish grin. Our potential conflict was defused before it had a chance to escalate, and I didn't hold a grudge against him all day like usual. Best of all, we had fun together before he left for work. Well, I had fun getting a backrub, anyhow.

As for me? Since he set the example, I'm trying to be more teachable. But it's a slow process. I'll admit, some of his computer suggestions have saved me a lot of time and frustration. Nevertheless, after all this time and practice,

I still don't like to be told what to do or how to do it, so I guess I just have to keep paying up—something he's pretty happy about.

In the meantime, if things ever get out of hand, we can always resort to our other conflict management method on the new wrestling mat we installed in our home office. For his birthday this year, I might even get him one of those cute wrestling outfits.

Julie Ferwerda is a freelance writer. She and Steve have been married 7 years. www.JulieFerwerda.com.

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

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Conflict; Conflict resolution; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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