10 Nov War or Peace?-Resolving Family Conflict on the Front Lines
There is something serendipitous about the household being in a bit of turmoil when writing an article on conflict resolution. Peacemaking is constantly being discussed. When I asked my twelve year-old what she thought was the best way to resolve an argument, her answer surprised me. “You have to get to the bottom of the problem.” She then went on to say that the answer also depends on the kind of conflict there is. There are those silly arguments where we need to just stop fighting and move on with our day. But there are deeper conflicts, where opinions reign, feelings are hurt, and it becomes necessary to negotiate on another level. But how does one “get to the bottom of the problem” and bridge the void caused by conflict between family members? It was instructive and rewarding to listen to others share what they felt worked best in keeping the peace, and the following advice reveals priceless lessons learned through battles they have fought.
The Heart of the Matter:
As a friend and mentor taught for many years, “getting to the bottom of the problem” with our children can reveal underlying issues of the heart. Heart issues can stem from pride or stubbornness, a lack of understanding, honesty, or kindness in a conflict. Resolving the needs of the heart far outweigh winning or losing an argument. How often though, as a parent, it has been my heart that needed changing as the source of conflict was revealed. True resolution comes not only from understanding the causes of conflict, but also from real restoration between family members. Asking for forgiveness when we are wrong builds trust, and showing grace to one another strengthens bonds.
The Intent to Understand:
There was a consensus among the children in our family about resolving conflict: Those involved in an argument need to be honest about what they think and feel. Letting someone speak their piece without interruption makes them feel like they are being heard, and therefore less defensive. As our dear friend Evie confirmed, we must “listen to the other person before [we] say anything. Get their perspective, perception and intent. Ask questions with the intent to understand.” How wonderful it is to be understood, and likewise to seek to understand others-this requires patience, sometimes long conversations, but is well worth the effort.
Pursue One Another:
My cousin, married for over 34 years, shared that “Physical touch [is] the first thing that goes out the window when a marriage struggles. It is difficult to say hurtful things to someone you are touching. Sit facing each other, knees touching, and holding hands when you discuss those difficult issues.” Separating ourselves from those that we are upset with is sometimes easier, but problems do not get solved when we are distant from one another. Mutual commitment and resolve to stay in active communication is hard work. Reaching out and taking our spouse by the hand may be the last thing we want to do when we are angry or our feelings are hurt. But even hardened hearts can soften under such a loving and humbling gesture.
“Our voices kept raising and as we got louder and angrier he looked at me square in the eyes and said, “no matter how angry we get, I love you.” He said it loud and clear and it stopped me in my tracks. Love communicates.” As another dear friend who has been married many years shares, ‘love anchors us even in the midst of disagreements.’ Its affirmation not only gives us hope that resolution is possible, it dispels doubts and communicates what is most important-even in the heat of battle. Withholding love accomplishes just the opposite; communication breaks down, division grows, and family members can become withdrawn and fearful of confrontation.
Our Goal is Peace:
Though conflicts within a family are inevitable, to be at peace with one another is our goal and constant pursuit. Often, that which is worthy is also difficult, but take heart-Those who have weathered difficult times in their relationships, and have come through with wisdom and strength, are a wonderful example and encouragement to us.