Keep the time between the point of conflict with someone and resolving it with them as short as possible.
Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of cause and intensity. If our lives involve other people, conflict is inevitable. Especially in marriage where living with someone is full time.
Conflict can give way to differing reactions. Some raise their voice or yell. Some weep. Some nag. Some shut down and stonewall. Some just leave the room. And usually one or both parties end up hurt or misunderstood. But if we are willing to endure the pain, conflict also bears opportunity.
Let me point out that some conflict causes great harm both physically, mentally, and emotionally. In those circumstances professional help and intercession must be sought.
But for day-to-day conflict that we all experience, it’s beneficial to keep the time between a conflict occurrence and its resolve as short as possible.
Allowing conflict to linger as unresolved can weigh heavy on our relationships, like an ever widening iron wedge slowly sinking deeper and deeper between us. As we are wedged further and further apart it can become more difficult and less concerning to come back together. The risk is that we harden over time. And if we let the conflict remain unresolved and go dormant… beware. Because the next time there’s conflict, it will become like fuel to the fire.
And actually, what I’ve noticed in my own life, is that I’m prone to a shorter fuse and poor attitude towards others because of unresolved conflict with someone else. Bitterness from the unresolved conflict spreads, whether intentionally or not, and is at risk to escalate. Tension, from failing to seek timely resolve with those closest to us, can seep into other aspects of life. Little seeds of bitterness can grow into great weeds of destruction, and the risk increases of slipping into the category as mentioned above: causing great harm and in need of professional help.
Do note that the time between conflict and its resolve is not void of benefit. This time can be useful for cooling down, especially if a conflict was heated. When angered, we don’t think and act rationally, so taking time to calm down is good. And furthermore, time is needed for self reflection and self examination asking of self, ‘what am I missing?’ or ‘where did I go wrong?’ or ‘what part of this conflict am I responsible for?’ Even if it’s only 10%, I must own it.
Sometimes we need the reflection time, others we don’t. Whatever the case, don’t leave the time between any longer than you have to and always aim to meet together again.
So then what?
Take some steps towards resolving the conflict.
A first step…. be the one to reach out and request a time to meet. Even if it’s just a simple text like, ‘hey, can we talk tonight?’
Be ready to extend some patience and forgiveness. Be willing to own your part and say you are sorry. Much conflict doesn’t get resolved because pride gets in the way and blame is shifted to each other.
Come willing to talk things through. Where are you mis-understanding each other? What caused it? Are there unclear expectations? What is it that bothers each of you? What am I missing? What needs to change? Take some time to hear each other out. Seek to get back to the place where you still had connection (before the wedge dropped between you). What got in the way to separate you? If there are numerous issues to deal with, talk them through one at a time. If you need more time, set another date, stick to it, and continue the conversation.
Remember that something beautiful can come of it.
If we are willing to endure, conflict also bears opportunity. Through it we gain deeper relationships, a broader perspective, and our blind spots opened to us. We are prompted to articulate unclear expectations, and we get to practice grace and forgiveness. And through it all, we can enjoy the beauty of coming back together again.
Conflict can indeed grow us closer together. The clincher is, when we seek not to resolve it, we will drift apart. And the chances of not resolving conflict increases when we let the time between grow too long. It’s best we keep the time between the point of conflict with someone and its resolve as short as possible.
Perhaps do a little conflict inventory. Who are the people in your life where the wedge of division has sunk a little too deep and too much time has lapsed since you made an attempt at resolve?
Top Photo by Frida Lannerström on Unsplash // Bottom Photo by Andrea Brataas on Unsplash