Learning to fight fair
There’s no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. Happily, Ever After doesn’t mean you don’t fight, it means you learn to fight fair. We didn’t learn “fair” at home and have to learn, then practice what fair is, and what it looks like.
Myth; In a good marriage, there will never be conflict
Truth; Conflict is the rite of passage to obtain the “holy grail” of unity
Myth; Conflict drives a couple apart
Truth; Conflict fuels intimacy when we navigate it fairly and successfully
Myth; Conflict is bad and to be avoided
Truth; Conflict is good, and helps us discover our hearts when yielded to. It brings us to a place of unity inaccessible without it. It’s only bad when we handle it badly.
Myth; One of us must win the fight
Truth; Both win when you learn to fight fair. It becomes about unity, and honoring, not “winning.” When one wins and the other feels dishonored, you both lose. One uses power to win and not to honor.
The Last Fight
At 33 years in, Linda and I rarely fight about stuff, except for small skirmishes, easily resolved. The last, painful one I remember was March of this year, 2020.
It’s a social setting, and we’re cooking dinner for guests. It’s Easter Sunday and we decide to cook a standing rib roast.
Up, on the Stage
Notice the “stage” for this conflict. A social setting, which usually cranks the performance level to the max.
“What will they think? Who do we need to be?“
You wouldn’t think that would be there, but on some levels it is. Your need to impress or look good. “Who cares?” Apparently, everybody.
Easter. Holidays introduce more of the traditional demons, and family dynamics, along with a dose of “holiday depression.” (It’s real.)
Our conflict seems to be about how the roast is cooked, the timing of everything, and roles of responsibility. It seems stupid but is really a big deal, involving strong emotion.
It’s not about the external circumstances, those are just props on the stage. There are deeper rivers flowing, about to make the water turbulent.
My energy level is low, and I’m feeling depleted and down. (You know that feeling?) Linda, on the other hand is in high gear. I feel I’m being run over by a steamroller, and she doesn’t care about my feelings. It feels like it’s all about performance, and getting the job done.
It’s one of those times you have to push through, and nothing you do is right. I’m sure the enemy’s involved as well, trying to drive a wedge between us. He doesn’t succeed, and eventually, we talk it through and honor all the feelings and needs involved.
Not Always the Devil
The enemy always looks to introduce confusion, judgment, and his accusing mind traffic. We need to discern this, not siding with the accuser against our covenant lover, but resist his lies.
However, conflict is not always the devil. It is often God’s tool to cleanse our marriage of destructive, immature, and entrenched patterns. It’s also his tool to grow us closer together as we take the “promised land” of oneness and intimate connection.
Houston, we have a problem
What’s the Issue? Who has the problem?
Until you answer these two questions, you will fight in circles, and stay on the merry-go-round, unable to resolve the conflict. It’s necessary to push past the “smoke and mirrors,” to get to the real issue and problem.
Where’s the heat?
I have the most heat in this conflict. Historically with Linda, this is the case, because I’m “laid back,” and she doesn’t let up. There always seems to be the next task to be done. You know, “the list.” There is no later, only right now. Since I’m a pleaser, I die without boundaries.
When I refuse and resist without complying and “snapping to,” (like my mother expected,) the negative emotions “present,” and conflict begins.
My issue, in this case, is unmet needs. This is a relational dynamic we face in our marriage over and over. It’s better but remains potentially there because “who we are” never goes away. There’s no such thing as “perfect resolution,” that’s idealism. It doesn’t exist where equal power does. There is tension, and risk, where freedom is.
Victory and unity are found through loving through our differences, not necessarily changing them. We know we can’t change each other.
It resolves when there is communication, validation, and honoring of feelings. Say those words out loud to each other, and feel the power of the words, and the emotions accompanying them.
In our marriage, the dynamic is connected to our differences in personality, and how we operate.
I Need, I Need
Task without connection depletes me. If she’s unwilling to connect with my heart, I deplete and run out of oil. In marriage, it’s give and take. Respecting and meeting each other’s needs is what makes it work.
Task without connection is taking from me. Honoring my feelings is giving to me, then I can “work.”
Work without connection sends the message to my heart,
“What you do is more valuable than who you are, you’re more machine than man.”
This is a painful message that takes “resolution,” to work through.
“Do you love me for who I am, or for what I do for you?”
Any time either feels degraded in the marriage, we need to stop, find out why, and resolve it.
She may not understand this is going on. It is my job to communicate it. She won’t want to hear it, and get,
“bogged down with all these feeling, especially at a time like this!”
This is where I dig in, refusing to co-operate until I get more engagement. She finds herself “pulling the cart” by herself, which she resents, so she applies more pressure or punishes.
This “digging in,” is good for us, levels the playing field, and enables us to establish healthy relating. This takes strength for me to do this as I take permission to “represent myself with integrity.”
My feelings and needs matter, and I have a right to express them, using my personal power.
It doesn’t mean I’m an @#* about it, but it does mean I show up with emotional honesty.
“I feel . . .”
If I don’t do this, I move into a victim role, trying to gain her approval and end up on the “rockpile of performance.” I “throw myself under the bus,” for her acceptance, then resent her for the co-dependent choices I’ve made.
Standing up is healthy, complying like a victim is not.
If I don’t stand up for myself, I may then seek to “balance the emotional scales” through pouting or other passive-aggressive behavior. This is how it works. Welcome to my world.
The Fruit of Conflict
The fruit of conflict will be destructive and bad until we can see how we’re hurting each other and decide to change it.
The pain in marriage only goes away when we find the cause and remove it. This happens with good, soft, engaging words spoken.
We must stop being observers of our bad patterns, take responsibility together, and do something about it. We can then download the negative emotions.
I don’t invalidate by saying,
“How could that be hurting you?”
I validate by saying,
“I see where that’s causing you pain, let’s work together to change that.”
Mike Murdock states in his 101 Wisdom Keys, key number one,
“Never complain about what you allow.”
Lord, help us to fight fair. Use this time to build our marriages instead of letting us drift apart. Give us the courage to speak the truth in love with each other. Don’t let us settle for the “cold war.” Lead us into emotional honesty, risking vulnerability, and truth together. Deliver us from our control, and wasted energy trying to change each other. Help us to embrace and accept our differences, and experience the intimacy that comes with doing that. Help us put away childish things, and grow us into mature, honoring communicators, in Jesus’ name, Amen. XO Dan