Fighting for Peace
Deep down, I think everyone desires peace; if not for ‘peace on earth,’ at least peace for themselves. And fighting is never a peaceful thing to do. However, getting beyond a fight can be a good place to be. Some people never want to have a fight because it is so uncomfortable or because of the potential negative consequences. Most people are actually conflict avoiders and wonder why peace in life seems so elusive. When it comes to a fight with a spouse, a friend, or a co-worker, we tend to avoid it rather than process it.
When Phil had a fight with his wife, Marci, he thought the marriage was over. Married only 3 months, Phil had never experienced so much fighting. The family he grew up in did not express their differences. When a fight seemed to be developing, Phil avoided or ended it quickly. Of course, there were times when a family member would blow up, but it was very seldom. Grudges would ensue and could last a while, but in his family it was always better to have a silent grudge than to actually face the problem. The way Phil learned to fight was to feel the frustration, bottle it up, and then let it out during his regular workout at the gym.
He didn’t want to be a failure in his marriage, though, so he called to ask for some advice. And I don’t think he liked what I had to say at first. After visiting for awhile, I suggested that Phil make an appointment with Marci to talk about the problem. Then I told him to listen to her story completely without interruption. He could ask questions to clarify but at no time should he try to make an excuse or explain his side. When Marci finished, Phil was to thank her for sharing her story and apologize for making her feel badly.
Phil wanted to know if that was it. Would it always be his job to take the blame and apologize for everything that goes wrong? Of course not. After completely hearing Marci’s story, he would better understand her experience. In return, Marci would likely be interested in his story.
”If she’s not interested,” I said, “then you can ask for permission to tell her about your experience. As you tell your story you do not need to make any accusations. Just describe what happened from your point of view. Then explain how those events made you feel. This healthy way of dealing with conflict may inspire Marci to apologize for her contribution to the problem and even ask how she could do things differently.”
A hallmark of healthy, positive relationships is that spouses, friends, or co-workers can express their differences to each other, make collaborative decisions, and realize that their relationships are strengthened because of the experience. Just because people have a fight does not mean their relationship is in trouble. Conflict in relationships is inevitable. Healthy processing of conflict is beneficial.
Phil is a big believer in processing conflict now. He followed the instructions I gave him, Marci did ask about his experience, apologized, and wanted to know how she could better meet his needs. Phil says that the experience gave him a greater ability to trust Marci and be really free in his marriage relationship. They ended up with a relationship that enabled them to be at peace.