Mark says: Navigating conflict is one of the hardest parts of marriage. We see situations through different eyes. We hurt one another without realizing it.
Jill says: When we try to talk about our hurt, too often we both try to put our perspectives—our hurt—out there at the same time.
Mark says: It’s too much at once and instead of making things better, we actually make things worse.
Jill says: We end up throwing gasoline on a small fire and before you know it, there’s an explosion of emotion and we’ve both been burned in the process. We also neither one feel safe to put any hurt out there again so we stuff our emotions, build walls, and separate our hearts from each other.
Mark says: There is a better way. We actually discovered it by accident, but what a difference it has made!
Jill says: When we were rebuilding our relationship after the affair, there were so many layers of emotions to work through. As I put my hurt on the table, one piece at a time, Mark responded ONLY with acceptance and apology. No defensiveness. No “yeah, but you….” Nothing but, “I can see how that hurt you. I’m so very sorry for _________________ . Would you please forgive me?” I felt heard, valued, and loved.
Mark says: Sometimes that’s all that needed to happen. Jill’s heart was mending as I owned the hurt I had caused.
At other times, there was something more I felt I needed to communicate. Sometimes there were things that Jill had done that were related to the situation she brought up. When that was the situation, I waited until another time to put that on the table. It might be an hour later, a day later, or a week later. The key was that it was later. One person’s hurt dealt with at a time.
Jill says: When Mark would come back with something he needed to communicate with me, it made it much easier to listen to his heart and respond well to it because he had listened to my heart and responded well when I put it out there.
Mark says: Here’s what I learned in the process: You have to be careful in the waiting because there may be a temptation to just let something go. That’s not a bad thing if you realize that you have made a mountain out of a molehill and you need to give grace and move on. It is a bad thing, though, if you tell yourself “It’s not worth it,” or “I don’t want to risk conflict so I’m just gonna let it go.” All you’ll do then is add to the fire inside your own heart and that’s not healthy at all.
Jill says: There are three keys to handling one person’s hurt at a time:
Humility-– When your spouse brings up a way that you have hurt him or her, you have to lay pride and defensiveness aside. Own whatever you can own of the hurt that happened. Apologize specifically. Ask for forgiveness.
Self-control— You have to be patient and have self-control, asking God when the best timing is to put your hurt on the table.
Perseverance–If you need to communicate any hurt or perspective you want your spouse to understand, follow through as the Holy Spirit leads.
Mark says: The process continues in this manner until everything that needs to be communicated and cleaned up has been communicated and cleaned up. It takes longer, but we found it was far more effective at bringing resolve and closure.
Jill says: If you and your spouse are both reading these blog posts, talk about trying to do this the next time you have some conflict. It may take some time to get used to a new rhythm, but you’ve got to try something new if the old isn’t working.
Mark says: If you’re the only one who is reading these posts, ask God to help you to respond differently the next time. One person’s hurt at a time.
What about you? What strategies have you found helpful for resolving conflict?