We are continuing our relationship series, From This Day On and each week we are exploring one of five principle commitments:
5.NEVER GIVE UP
John Gottman, an eminent marriage expert says that all couples fight: but healthy couples fight clean. Unhealthy couples fight dirty. Healthy couples work toward resolution. Unhealthy ones press for victory and control. He studied marriage for 16 years and in the couples he worked with, he mentions that he can watch couple fight for 5 minutes and determine with 91% accuracy if they will divorce.
Prov 27:15 says A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
3rd Book of E 7:2 It is better to pet a flesh eating cat with human thumbs than to live with a husband who is a jerkface.
We know this, and we see the setup, if we fight in unhealthy ways it is bad for us… so today let’s talk about how to Fight Fair.
Four Signs We Aren’t Fighting Fair
1 Criticizing: This is Gottman again, and he lists four ways that he’s seen couples fight unfairly and in ways that are unhealthy. This one is changing a complaint into criticism, “You told me you were going to do X, and you didn’t do it. I wish you would have done it!” That’s legit. But the unhealthy version becomes, “You NEVER do what you said you were going to do!”
2 Contempt: We make a mistake when we that, in effect that actions and words are all that a person is. Only God knows the heart, and it’s complicated. We can honestly assess what someone does, but it is a mistake to judge the person entirely on the external things we see. It’s a decision we make, and when we do it, we leave all grace at the door. The problem changes from something the person did, to us seeing the mean or unhealthy thing as WHO THEY ARE and you can’t fix that. Do you see it? The problem isn’t something said, or unsaid, or done or undone… the problem IS the person at that point.
3 Defensiveness: When we decide a person is truly dangerous, we make moves to protect ourselves. Don’t misunderstand – there are instances of actual abuse and danger – do what you need to do to be safe immediately and get someone else involved. But we’re talking about a more normal conflict, where we’ve made decisions about the other person – that they are toxic, that they are bad for business… so what do we do? We shut down, we withdraw, we withhold time and information and affection. This is a very dangerous stage of things if you want the relationship to survive.
4 Exile: Gottman called this “stonewalling” and it is where we say, I’m done. I don’t care what you say, I don’t care what you do, I’m done. This is the stage where we actively decide that we’re shutting down and closing off. When the “Exile” stage happens we’ve made the decision to be out the door and the other person may not know it yet.
This sounds pretty grim right? We’ve seen this in a lot of relationships around us. Some of us have experienced these firsthand and it hurts to remember. Here’s the thing. In a relationship with you and another person, if you’re both still alive… the relationship is what you both agree it is. You can define it almost any way you want. And that can be cause for hope! Don’t listen to the doom and gloom script of our culture, or people on the sideline, or unrealistic expectations from stupid romantic comedies. Let’s see what scripture has to say:
James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
The first thing is, Be Quick to Listen. Proverbs 18 says that a fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions. And Solomon didn’t even have the internet!
Learn the tool of active listening. Here we listen, understand, repeat back what we’ve heard and affirm that we understand the point. In the heat of battle, if someone is really angry or upset, let them vent – understand what they are saying and why they are saying it. Be quick to listen. There is probably a legitimate beef in there somewhere – get to it. Active listening helps keeps the topic on topic. So often the fight becomes about, “you’re yelling at me”, or “you’re being passive aggressive and that’s really irritating” and we lose the thread on moving to agreement and resolution.
The second thing is to Be Slow to Speak. Proverbs 21 says, “shut up – it will save you a lot of trouble” – I’m not making that up, read it, it’s in the back half of the chapter. Don’t fly off the handle, it’s rarely helpful. If you have something you want to bring up that might cause trouble… be careful with that. Think it through.
Sometimes it’s ok to just be quiet.
Men are men and will do stupid men things from time to time. Sometimes your best strategy is to give them some grace and let it go. Girls are girls and are mysterious. What are they doing in the car before they start it up and drive away? Why does it take 4-6 minutes? You don’t have to talk about it, just let it lie there. If it’s important and you do want to confront someone, ask two questions before you jump in:
1.Should it be said?
2.Should it be said now?
Stay focused on the issue at hand. This kind of speaking is the opposite of active listening. Be careful. And work on deep improvements during non-conflict times.
Some Practical Advice During Conflict:
Don’t call names
Don’t raise your voice
Don’t get historical
Don’t say, “never” or “always”
Don’t threaten divorce
Don’t fight forever
Don’t quote your pastor during a fight
The third thing is to Be Careful with Anger.
Ephesians 4:26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
It is interesting that the Bible doesn’t say, “don’t get angry” – it says be slow to get angry and when you’re there – be careful. The movie Inside Out actually did a lot of research into the most current science on emotions and one of the things they found was that anger is almost always tied to a sense of justice “or fairness.”
When something unfair happens, or that we perceive to be unfair happens, we get angry. That can be a good thing – it motivates us to action… just be careful because anger can also be very destructive and wounding to the people close to us.
Also, realize that anger is almost always an opportunity. When something small happens and someone gets VERY angry, it is a clue for us to learn something important about our own hang-ups. When our response is disproportionate, don’t let go until you get to the “why” that made someone angry.
Like the tip of an iceberg, the anger we can see is an indicator of a profound wounding. If we can understand it and deal with it well… we can find healing for our deepest hurts.
So if we fight in unhealthy ways, let’s commit to do better! We can all learn to be more Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak and to Be Careful with Anger. It will help us to Fight Fair… and it will bless you and the folks around you.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.