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Posts tagged ‘conflict’

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

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The Same Old Argument

SOURCE:  Jeff Kemp/Family Life

It seemed like the 1948th time we’d had the same exchange. But the solution this time was different.

What happened was silly.

I was downstairs and opened a bill.  Since my wife handles our bills, I ran upstairs to discuss it with her.  I bounded into the room where she was engrossed on the computer.  She was re-watching a 600+ slide show of wedding photos to find a particular photo.  I interrupted her and when she waved me off, I did not take the clue and told her we could handle this quickly.

Unfortunately, I ignored and flustered her, causing her to lose her place and end the slide show.  She was upset and told me so.

I justified myself.

She reiterated her disappointment.

I weakly said, “Sorry.”

She explained how she felt, and the inconvenience I’d caused.

I said, “Don’t freak out.”

Things got worse. Duh!

The conflict was growing and I stood there defending myself in my heart, looking blandly at her, while thinking about how often we have this stupid disagreement.  Finally I zipped my lip and went downstairs.

When I sat in my chair I thought, That is about the 1,948th time we’ve had that exchange.

I began a conversation with God that went something like this.

God, why does that happen so much?  I meant well, but then I offended her, then I hurt her, then I made it worse.

The thought God gave me in return was this:  Jeff, you’re more upset that you had the conflict than you are that you inconvenienced her.  And you’re more upset that you had the conflict than that you hurt her feelings by defending yourself and showing no real empathy. You always want her to adjust and accept you.  You ask for less of these instances of offense and conflict, but you should be asking Me to help you change.  You need to want to not hurt her more than you want to not feel bad that you messed up.

Wow … That led to a very introspective and intense prayer time, and a decision.  I aimed to change so that I could be a better apologizer, be less defensive, and truly be more interested in Stacy’s feelings than my own.

I went upstairs, got down on a knee next to her, and told her I was wrong to not apologize fully at first.  I was wrong not to want to hear from her how I had inconvenienced her.  I was wrong to defend myself.  I did not care for her feelings well, and I want to.

I concluded with four things:  “I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Will you please forgive me?  I want to change.”

Stacy teared up in a good way and swiftly loved me back with her forgiveness, her own apology, and a hug.

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Excerpted from Facing the Blitz, copyright © 2015 by Jeff Kemp.

 

Blended Family Issues: Holiday Power Plays

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal/Family Life

Between the joy and hope of the holiday season, some stepfamilies find themselves in frustrating power plays between homes.

“Because he is on edge and doesn’t want to deal with his ex-wife, he procrastinates in finding out details about the schedule,” Connie complained about her husband. “This causes tension between us when I ask what the plans are. If he has not spoken to her yet, he gets defensive and mad at me. We are always tip-toeing around each other, wondering if the next event will blow up like others have.”

Connie and her husband had fallen prey to the classic unresolved conflict between him and his ex-wife. The more he avoided dealing with his ex, the more the tension escalated between Connie and her husband.

Hidden struggles

It’s not uncommon for special family gatherings and the holidays to erupt hidden power struggles between ex-spouses. Issues that normally can be avoided in the regular routine of life are often not put aside when extra coordination and cooperation is demanded. Even former spouses that typically get along fairly well may burst into conflict during the season of hope.

Some common emotions and power plays that parents and stepparents may experience include:

  • Aggravation when waiting for the other home to decide their holiday schedule.
  • Annoyance when someone changes plans at the last minute.
  • Frustration over the biological parent who refuses to abide by the visitation schedule that was established in the divorce agreement.
  • Stress over grandparents who refuse to cooperate with the boundaries you set.
  • Sadness when the ever-present memory of a deceased parent is so highly honored that new traditions, meals, or decorations cannot be incorporated into your family traditions.
  • Anger when extended family members voice their disapproval of the stepfamily to the children during family get-togethers.

These dynamics can make anyone feel helpless and weary. Here are a few smart steps to help curb the conflict and tension.

First, pay attention to the stress and ask yourself what fears you have that may be fueling your reactions. Then talk with your spouse openly and discuss the situation in a calm manner. For example, after admitting to herself how difficult it is to respect her husband when he avoids his ex-wife, Connie might approach her husband calmly. “Honey, I know that talking to your ex-wife about holiday schedules is very stressful for you. I’m also aware that when I ask you what the plans are, it sounds as if I’m judging you for not talking to her. I certainly don’t mean to judge you or make you feel pressured. How can I best support you?”

Stepparents in this situation are sometimes tempted to take on all the responsibility for bridging the power plays between ex-spouses (“I’ll talk to her for you.”). This is a dangerous position to be in.

Sometimes stepparents can communicate with the other home more easily, but they should not take on too much responsibility. If they do, the tension that exists between exes will likely shift onto the stepparent’s lap. Instead, work out a plan together for how the biological parent will manage themselves as they contact the other home to work through details.

Second, choose “between-home battles” carefully. Whenever possible, attempt to live in peace with the other home. This will require making sacrifices so the children don’t have to deal with warring parents. This may seem unfair if your family is making all of the concessions, but this is one reality of a stepfamily.

On occasion, however, there are battles which need to be engaged. The difficulty is learning when to deal with the issue and when to let it go. For example, if the other home normally is flexible about the holiday schedule, but for some reason this year is unwilling to bend, then let it go. But if he or she has a pattern of repeatedly ignoring the divorce arrangement, refusing to allow visitation, or if they control the children’s time, that’s probably a boundary worth battling. That parent is being unreasonable and hurting the kids.

Accommodating their antics gives them more power and increases resentment within your home.

When holiday power plays begin, strive to stay on the same side with your spouse. The natural flow of stress, even if it is initially related to those living in the other home, is to ripple into your marriage. Couples must be diligent to guard and protect their relationships from this dynamic. Talking calmly with one another, not out of fear but confidence, lays the groundwork for moving through such stressful situations.

Marriage Q&A: What If I Really Try, But Things Don’t Get Better?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Are You Living by Faith or by Fear?

Today’s Question:  I have read some of your blogs and done some of your suggestions. But what I experience from my husband when I act in the ways you describe is rage, anger, bitterness and resentment and it’s not because I didn’t say it right.  It’s because he’s not getting his own way and it’s becoming too much for me to handle (it’s been 25 years).

I believe the next step is to seek a counselor who can help us both communicate better, respect each other and then allow my husband the gift of consequences if he chooses not to work on these issues.  I signed up for a mutual relationship, not a servant master relationship and I plan to hold him to his word, lovingly.

I believe from my experience with my husband that he will not cooperate with anything and will give me the ultimatum, “Take it or leave it. You have the problem.”

What do you think?  Speaking up terrifies me because I don’t know what could happen and rocking the boat causes a lot of anger, not just in our marriage but in the whole family.

Do you have anything to offer besides trust in the Lord, pray, don’t be afraid or be anxious for nothing.  I know these wonderful truths, but even Jesus cried and exuded blood from his pores, even Moses was scared, even Abraham doubted when he walked the journey to place Isaac on the altar.  All of these emotions are part of being human, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. My family is very dear to me and I’m afraid that if I put my foot down it will only get worse.  Is it wrong to just want peace and rest?  I know God won’t give us more than we can handle, but I am so very tired and I’m afraid of the outcome.

Answer:  You are right – we are human and we all have real and raw emotions when we live in stressful situations where there is continual conflict, bullying and disrespect.

Your letter indicates you are conflicted about this change you want to make.  On the one hand you say you are very tired of living this way and are ready to make a serious attempt at real change. On the other hand you are very afraid that the change you desire won’t occur and by standing up to him, things could get worse.

I was just reading today in the psalms. It said, “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6,7 NKJV).  Your situation reminds me of many marriages where one person wants peace, but when she or he finally speaks up, it just causes more drama, more hatred, more conflict.

You’re right. Just because you finally take a stand and say “I didn’t sign up for a slave/master relationship” doesn’t mean that your husband will be willing to move toward a more mutual marriage. As long as he’s the master and you’re willing to be the slave, it works for him.  However, perhaps he’s just as frightened of change as you are or just as unhappy.

So you ask if there is anything I can offer besides the standard trust God and don’t be anxious?  It’s sad to me that we don’t find the comfort and healing in God’s word that he wants us to but I understand what you are saying.

But here’s what I want you to know.  God designed marriage to be a mutually loving and respectful relationship, not a slave/master one. Because that is God’s will for marriage, know that he is on the side of the oppressed when one person takes power over another and uses words, money, physical force or the scriptures to dominate and control the other.

When you respectfully speak up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or any- where else for that matter), know that God is on your side.  If the other person refuses to listen, the gift of consequences can be a painful but helpful reminder that he or she will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they sow discord and selfishness.

Sadly, when we are in close relationship with people (as in marriage and family) when one person receives painful consequences, often the entire family also suffers.  That’s what you fear and rightly so.

So I think the next step you’ll need to ask yourself in this whole process is do you want to live in fear – fear of staying or the fear of leaving, or do you want to live in faith (whether you think it wise to leave or stay)?  Faith that God knows your story. Faith that God is bigger than your story. Faith that God has a plan for your life and he is your helper in times of trouble.

It’s interesting to me that the psalmist says both, “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:11), and “When I am afraid, I will trust God” (Psalm 56:3). There are times our faith is so big we don’t feel fear. Other times, we are so filled with fear we will be overwhelmed by it if we don’t trust God.

I pray you choose faith, even when you feel fear.

Listening To Hard Things

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 168-169.

Taking Time to be Wrong

Agreeing with others, especially when they are pointing out your faults, is not easy, but it can play a crucial role in peacemaking.

 When you are talking with another person, first listen for the truth, resisting the temptation to defend yourself, blame others, or focus on points of disagreement. Ask yourself, “Is there any truth in what he or she is saying?” If your answer is “yes,” acknowledge what is true and identify your common ground before moving to your differences. Doing so is a sign of wisdom and spiritual maturity. “Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5). “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Prov. 15:31; cf. 15:5; 17:10; 25:12).

 By agreeing with the other person whenever possible, you can resolve certain issues easily and then focus profitably on matters that deserve further discussion.

Think back to arguments you’ve had. Can you recall a single instance when quickly defending yourself from the criticism of another brought peace? In contrast to a quick defense, James exhorts us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas. 1:19). Consider the beginning of Proverbs 15:31: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke…” Simply put, listening requires time–and reflection on what’s been said. You have literally nothing (except pride) to lose and everything to gain by listening and not responding quickly when someone points out what they believe to be a fault of yours.

The next time someone brings a rebuke your way, restrain yourself from offering your verdict on their rebuke–whether that verdict be positive or negative–until you’ve had time to check in with the Lord about it.

Tell the other person, “That’s hard for me to hear, but I know I need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I’d like some time to think deeply about what you’ve said.” If it turns out that you still disagree with the other person, at least you’ll both have the benefit of knowing that you’re not responding at the jerk of a knee.

Is Your Spouse Abnormal?

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

Each of you brings a different background and a different set of expectations into your marriage.

Here’s how to establish the ‘new normal.’

You’re snuggled in your warm bed, about to drift off to sleep. And then comes that dreaded question from your wife:  “Honey, did you remember to turn out all the lights and lock all the doors?”

That was our story during our first year of marriage.

We lived in Boulder, Colorado, where the winter nights were cold and we loved our toasty electric blanket.  I remember the night when I collapsed into bed, totally exhausted, and Barbara brought me back from the edge of oblivion with a light poke.  “Aren’t you going to turn out the lights?”

It occurred to me that I’d been getting up for the past two months and experiencing mild frostbite and that perhaps it was her turn.  “Why don’t you turn out the lights tonight?” I retorted.

Barbara replied, “I thought you would because my dad always turned out the lights.”

A shot of adrenalin cleared my head like the sun piercing the fog.  And I shouldn’t have said it, but I did:  “But I’m not your dad!”

Well, that turned out to be a night when we practiced the scriptural admonition to not  “let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  You see, two forces clashed on that cold Rocky Mountain night—Barbara’s sense of normal and my sense of normal.  She felt it was the husband’s duty to turn off the lights because that’s what her father had always done.  That was normal to her.  But in my family of origin, that task was not irrevocably assigned to the male species.

When normals collide

Each of you brings a different background and a different set of expectations into your marriage.  Your family did things a certain way, and your spouse’s family did things a certain way. Often you don’t even realize what’s normal to you until you get married and suddenly your normal collides with that of your spouse.

On these issues, you need to realize that your spouse is not abnormal–just different.

For example, let’s examine some of the normals surrounding dinner time:

  • Was it normal for you to eat dinner together as a family on most nights?
  • What types of meals did you normally eat?
  • What did you drink?
  • Who cooked the meal?
  • Who cleaned up?
  • How did you normally dress?
  • Did you open the meal with prayer?
  • Did you start eating when you were seated or did you wait until after you prayed?
  • Was it normal to get a debrief from everyone’s day or was the television turned on and the dominant force?
  • If someone called, was dinner interrupted to answer the phone?
  • Was it normal to have friends over for dinner?
  • How often did you eat at restaurants as a family?

You could probably add to that list.  And that’s just one set of normals.  How about breakfast and lunch?  What were your normals regarding family entertainment?  Vacations? Birthday celebrations?  Christmas gifts?  Pets?  Handling finances?

Reader feedback

After I first wrote on this topic for an issue of Marriage Memo, a number of readers wrote to tell about the struggles they faced with this issue.  One wrote:

I mostly have a problem with my wife when it comes to turning off lights and celebrating birthdays and having parties all the time. I prefer the light to be off when I sleep but she prefers the opposite.  Again, my wife believes that every birthday (including that of our children) must be celebrated with a lot of presents (if it’s the children, then they must have a party at school, which she does all the time).

Another described a conflict that arose when she and her husband were celebrating their seventh anniversary.  They had a new baby, and this would be the first time they left the baby with her mother while they went on a date.  The baby was fussy at night, so she felt they should go out for lunch, but her husband insisted on dinner.

We finally sat down and talked about how both of us were feeling.  I was upset because I did not feel he understood how nervous I was, and I did not understand why we had to go out for dinner instead of lunch.  It turned out that that was not his “normal.”  His family rarely went out to eat, and they never went out for lunch. You just had a sandwich for lunch at home. It did not seem romantic or special to go out for lunch to him. On the other hand, my family went out a lot more frequently and it was for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I always loved going out for breakfast growing up, but my husband and I never do.  Now I understand why.

Creating a new set of normals

No matter how long you’ve been married, one of your priorities is to create a new set of normals in your relationship. And it’s especially important early in marriage.  In their book, The Most Important Year in a Woman’s Life, Susan DeVries and Bobbie Wolgemuth write, “Over the years we’ve seen couples in conflict over money or sex or in-laws, but what they’re really fighting about aren’t those things at all.  They’re really fighting about normal.”

A good first step is to commit to understanding each other’s normals.  Make it part of your vocabulary.  If you find yourself disagreeing about an issue, ask yourselves, “Is this a question of differing normals?”  You can create a spirit of discovery, where you can talk about normals in a way that doesn’t feel threatening.  Remember that, in most cases, different is not bad—it’s just different.

It’s amazing how honest communication, plus a good dose of flexibility, can help resolve conflict. In the above story about the couple celebrating their anniversary, the wife wrote that once she understood how their normals were colliding, she agreed to put aside her fears and go out for dinner.  “The baby was just fine with my mom,” she wrote, “We were able to enjoy our evening together because we had talked about where we both were coming from beforehand and were on the same page.”

A second step is to make choices together that reflect your priorities and values.  Let’s say that you grew up in a family that gave each other inexpensive birthday gifts, while your spouse’s family splurged and spent a lot more money.  As you consider how to celebrate your birthdays, this is an opportunity to make your own choices that reflect the importance you place on birthdays, and the number of banks you have to rob so you have enough to spend.

As you make these decisions, follow the guidance of Romans 12:10, which tells us to “give preference to one another in honor” (NASB).  In most of your decisions, your sense of normal will not be superior to that of your spouse.  If you both determine not to hold too tightly to what’s comfortable and familiar, you will find ways to compromise and honor each other and create your own normal in your new home.

So … who’s going to turn out the lights in your family?

A Remarkably Different Course of Action

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 247.


Overcome Evil with Good

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Peacemaking does not always go as easily as we would like it to.

Although some people will readily make peace, others will be stubborn and defensive and resist our efforts to be reconciled. Sometimes they will become even more antagonistic and find new ways to frustrate or mistreat us. Our natural reaction is to strike back at such people, or at least to stop doing anything good to them.

However, Jesus calls us to take a remarkably different course of action: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36).

Think about someone who could be described by one of the following:

• Your enemy
• Someone who hates you
• Someone who curses you
• Someone who mistreats you

Maybe someone pops right to mind.

Or maybe it’s a little hard to identify one (though “someone who mistreats you” is quite a one-size-fits-all descriptor of a person who make your life difficult). But in each case, Jesus has called us to this “remarkably different course of action.” He calls us to love, do good, bless, and pray. But in our own strength, this command is impossible to obey.

Pray that God would give you a special measure of grace today to overcome evil with good, even when it seems the most difficult thing in the world to actually do.

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