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Conflict resolution: Confrontation is inevitable

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James: Confrontation is inevitable

Many couples see confrontation as fighting, but to Betty and me, confrontation is a positive word. The key, I think, is that we don’t confront each other; we confront the problem or the attitude that would otherwise hinder or stop the flow of open, honest communication.

Instead of letting ourselves stew silently in our frustration, hurt, or doubt, we confront those feelings by thoroughly addressing them with each other.

We rely on the trust and goodwill we have built in our relationship over the years to be the oil that keeps the gears of communication meshing smoothly, even when the heat is on.

This is especially true when it comes to confrontation, which inevitably will occur in your marriage. The fact is this: confrontation must be adopted as a necessary practice.

The word confrontation often brings up mental images of war and strife, heated quarrels and painful conflict, but we want you to see it in a different way.

Betty and I think of confrontation as a way of taking the bull by the horns to ensure we are being heard in the way we want to be heard and as a step toward abiding peace.

Too often, confrontation is seen as an attempt to set the other person straight. Instead, we are suggesting that it is a way of honest communication.

There is a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Assertiveness means speaking the truth in love: saying what you need to say directly and in a loving manner.

Aggressiveness tries to take a piece out of the other person while communicating thoughts and feelings in an inappropriate manner.

When confrontation is done right, it will preserve both the relationship and the message you want to convey.

Betty and I try, in particular, to confront any attitudes of selfishness and blame-shifting. We go to war against our human tendency to avoid responsibility and our natural unwillingness to admit wrongdoing. We fight against frustration and anger, not against each other. And we do this by taking a stand while sharing our hearts with each other. We talk openly and listen attentively. We deal with what we know to be necessary in healthy confrontation.

If your spouse has hurt you or disappointed you enough that it sticks in your mind (or even in your craw), then the situation must be confronted. But keep in mind, how you confront is every bit as important as what you confront.

Betty: Confront with care

Being confronted or confronting a problem or person was never easy for me. But I thank God I came to understand its importance. A vital step in confronting each other is developing a willingness to listen. And when I say "listen," I don’t mean just hearing the other person’s words. I mean really listening to hear the depth of the other person’s heart. For open and honest communication to work, we must treat our spouse’s thoughts, words, and feelings with the same respect we want for our own.

It is very important that we never put down what our spouse says, because this will only close off the desire to share whatever hurts or concerns she or he might be feeling. Instead, when you and your spouse are talking things out, do your best to put aside whatever anger or frustration you may be feeling and really listen, the same way you want her or him to listen to your heart.

Another important step in confrontation is prayer. Ask God to give you ears to hear the intentions of your spouse’s heart. And ask Him to bless your marriage and help you protect the relationship you so deeply desire and cherish. In my initial confrontations with James, I felt really lost. James is a gifted communicator, but he didn’t handle everything well when it came to conflict resolution. Thankfully, he was wise enough to know the importance of dealing with the real issue.

So, for example, I was able to look past his mistakes and see his basic conviction about not letting the sun go down on our anger. Even if I might be really angry about something, I knew it was important to our relationship for us to stay in communication to work things out satisfactorily. On the other hand, I believed I was not a very good communicator because I wasn’t quick with words. Learning how to share my heart and my inner fears with my husband not only felt difficult, but intimidating. I had to practice and work hard at it. Although direct confrontation came naturally to James, it was a style of communication I had not experienced.

I had a tendency to withdraw, to let things fester while I pouted. When we got into a heated discussion or James did or said something I did not agree with, my natural reaction was to get tight-lipped and solitary. I would quietly stew, hoping things would just go away. Instead, the opposite happened. My frustrations did not dissipate; they built up inside me, ready to explode.

Fortunately, James encouraged confrontation. He knew that his gift of authoritative communication could have steamrolled my naturally shy and tender heart. He could’ve seen my timidity and pounced on it, trying to become the lord over our home.

He could’ve easily bruised me and hurt my heart deeply with his strong personality, but God gave him the grace to grow in tenderness and patience. James recognized my weakness and encouraged me to verbalize everything I was already saying with my pouty face and posture. All my frustrations needed to come out verbally in conversation.

I didn’t get there right away, but seeing James honor and validate my thoughts and opinions, even when we disagreed, helped me immensely in this critically important area. I began to realize what was going on inside my heart when I wasn’t telling James what I felt about things, and we began to look at dealing with it as a necessary relationship builder. It was, and still is, one of the greatest things we have ever done for our marriage.

This "Words of LIFE" comes from James and Betty’s new book, Living in Love (Waterbrook Press). It is available in bookstores and at www.lifetoday.org.


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