Now that the royal couple have tied the knot, I felt it was time to provide some practical advice on living peacefully with each other, not just Will and Kate but all of us. My wife and I have been ‘happily’ married for 25 years. She comes from a large Italian Midwest family with a few somewhat dubious connections. When we were engaged, my future mother in law called me over and issued to me the following dictate, “I just want you to know,” she said eerily, “that we in this family do not believe in divorce but we do believe in murder.” I just want to repeat, we have been ‘happily’ married for 25 years (Just violated point #6).
Looking back at those years, I have tried to identify not only the fear of my mother in law as a source of marital success but also I must attribute it to my wife and I learning to overcome what we view as the 12 major sources of conflict in relationships. These we call the dirty dozen and they are listed below.
By revealing and understanding the roots of conflict, steps can be taken to resolve each challenging situation. Although these apply largely to marriage or dating relationships, most of the following principles actually apply to all human interactions. If there is one area that people need help, it is in the arena of relational wisdom. This blog shares some powerful, insightful and helpful tips that provide some practical answers to conflict resolution.
A former teacher of mine once shared an anecdote about his marriage. He confessed at the time to have been at his wits end with his wife’s behavior. Being a person of faith he finally blurted out at her, “I cannot understand why God made you so beautiful and yet so stupid.” She barely missed a beat and fired back at him, “He made me beautiful so you would marry me and he made me stupid so I would marry you.” Sometimes it just takes one light sentence for a woman to put a 200 pound man in his place.
In the first blog on this topic, I will cover the first six areas of the dirty dozen and mention the other six. In a future blog, I will cover the other six in more detail. Let’s look at the first one.
1) Pride – An old adage says, “Only by pride comes contention.” By this definition, whenever there is conflict, pride is either in one party or both. – Solution: both parties kick pride to the curb and swallow a good dose of humility. Remember that when you point a finger at someone else, there are 4 others pointing back at you. Always start with yourself and if both parties humble themselves, you create a pathway to forgiveness and healing in the conflict.
2) Differences of Perspective – We all see things from a very subjective viewpoint. Often not understanding the other’s perspective leads to strife. Solution: Each person needs to step out of their own shoes and make an effort to put themselves into the shoes of the other. Role playing and arguing from the other’s point of view may help both of you understand where each person is coming from.
3) Misunderstanding based on a lack of communication – How many times do people in a conflict start a sentence with “I thought…” Remember that a lack of communication always leaves room for imagination. Solution: a healthy dose of listening, not just to the words but also to the non-verbal communication of the other. Some have pointed out that God gave each of us one mouth but two ears, from which we can deduce that we should do twice as much listening as we do speaking. Whole wars have been started and continued because of bad communication. Probably the most famous is the Japanese Premier’s use of the word mokusatsu in response to the allies Potsdam ‘terms of surrender’ Declaration at the end of World War II. The word has two meanings, one is “to withhold comment for the moment” and the other means to “ignore”. The premier meant the former, the press interpreted the word as meaning the latter. The rest is history, Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost as a result. That’s an extreme example I know but the point is that miscommunication can have dire consequences.
4) Differences of convictions, beliefs and opinions – These are often deep seated and frame our worldview. They can be like impenetrable barriers to healthy communication and understanding. Solution: People in close relationship need to have respect and a high degree of tolerance for the convictions of each other. Even the Apostle Paul in the New Testament taught that if someone has a problem eating meat, don’t criticize them. Never try and impose your freedom to do something on another human being’s inability to embrace your position. This must work both ways, liberal to conservative and conservative to liberal. Where there are few or no convictions, then some framework of right and wrong will have to be found, agreed upon and adopted if there is going to be peace.
5) Selfish behavior – This is behavior that does not consider the implications of personal actions on the livelihood and well being of others. A woman is free to smoke but not if she is carrying a child because then her actions will damage the life of an innocent other. People can consume alcohol but if they get behind the wheel of a car under the influence, then their behavior moves into a realm of utter selfishness. Gambling, drugs, alcohol, reckless spending and self-abuse would all fall into this category. Solution: Each person in the relationship needs to understand that they are not an island unto themselves. Both parties must learn to respect the law of sowing and reaping and realize that every decision in life has consequences beyond themselves, both for good and for bad. Doing one’s best to obey the golden rule will solve most conflicts caused by selfish behavior.
6) Outside influences (parents, relatives, work etc.) – This is a tough one for many because it overlaps a later reason for conflict, which is a lack of right priorities. Most of the conflict caused by outside influences in relationships come from people who have a high degree of manipulation and control in people’s lives. Solution: Ancient Jewish culture mandated that a man had to sever the controlling relationship with a father and mother when he got married. I only start with the influence of parents because the control of a mother in law is legendary in relational lore. When people outside a relationship try to interfere, they need to politely or not so politely be told to mind their own business. If that control is coming from a boss, boundaries to the influence need to be established. Work time and non-work time need to be clearly separated. So in a nutshell, identify the source of conflict from outside parties, set boundaries on it and do your best to neutralize or distance yourselves from those influences.
Here are the other 6 sources of conflict, which will be covered in Conflict Resolution Part 2
7) A Violation of the three As – Adultery, addictions and abuse
8) Unfulfilled and unrealistic expectations
9) Finances – their mismanagement and a lack of communication & unity in their use.
10) Wrong priorities
11) A lack of clear good definition of roles and responsibilities in the relationship
12) A violation of the relational requirement to love and respect each other and to treat each other with dignity.
Please subscribe to the blog if you want to get notification as to when part 2 will post. You can also order a full copy of this message, which my wife and I team-taught for a Valentine’s Day meeting. It is hilarious but also very helpful, especially on the resolution side of the equation. Order that $10 Audio CD (shipping included) by clicking on the following link. Resolving Conflict