I am excited to share with you a guest post from my dear friend and colleague, Trista Blankenship. Trista is passionate about strengthening families and has some practical ideas for dealing with conflict during the pandemic.
Commercials and advertisements are making this time together seem like it should be great, easy, and positive. However, for many families, it is anything but that. Instead of bliss inside their homes because they are at home together, time is bringing stress on families. This can add to any conflict that they already naturally present in the home.
Many couples have seen an increase in their conflict because of different reasons including, but not limited to, financial hardship and shorter than normal fuses with each other. They are not able to have time apart, which has increased their conflict; and many are concerned for their health, their jobs, their parents, their children, making the mortgage payment next month, or providing dinner when the stores have empty shelves.
Conflict between parents and children has increased. There are many areas in our current lives that have added stress such as homeschooling, balancing work with responsibilities at home, and the constant state of change around them. Children feel the tension in the home and the world, and they are acting out. They miss their friends and teachers, and they are not communicating well. They are mourning the loss of sleepovers, sports, vacations, playdates and summer camps. Some may be uncertain about exactly what is going on with all the changes in the world and at home. It is scaring them, but they are too afraid to say so.
Does any of this sound familiar? You are not alone! Many families are not feeling that “happy-go-lucky” sensation that the media is telling us we should be because we are all blessed to be at home together. You may be in shock because maybe home was never that great to begin with and this pandemic has amplified that.
Thankfully, there are some things that we can be doing to make this time a time to come together—a time to make our homes a haven either for the first time, or return it to a safe place for all of you.
Conflict is inevitable. While we are all created in the image of God, but we are also all a variety of people from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and think differently from each other (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:14). So, instead of letting those differences tear us apart, let it expand our understanding of God and those that we love by learning from it. Remember it is not just you that is made in the image of God, Scripture reminds us the person on the other side of that conflict is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Take time to see what you can learn about God from His image in them.
Conflict is an excellent way to learn more about people in your lives. Instead of automatically reacting to what we perceive as conflict, ask them to help you understand how they see that or how that made them feel. Take time to truly listen to their responses. Try to imagine their circumstances and how they see it from that point. Philippians 2:3-5 reminds us to take the attitude of Christ by thinking of others before ourselves and to take interest in them. Do not take every disagreement as an attack on you personally. Instead, try to understand the source of the disagreement. Take time away from it for all involved to process and come back together later when emotions are more level and your mind can clearly process what is being said.
During conflict it is okay to call a time out to allow yourself to process what is happening and being said. Proverbs 15:1 tells us a soft word turns away wrath. Sometimes we need a moment away in order to be able to speak that soft word. Conflict cam cause us to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we get so lost in being right that we forget that maybe the other person does not have to be wrong for us to be right. It may be helpful to come up with a sign or a code word to use in conflict to take a time out. However, there needs to be a time scheduled when you will come back to the conversation. When you feel that your emotions are too high, you can use your word or sign and get some distance from the conflict without communicating to the other person that they are not important to you or their feelings do not matter.
Another important rule to conflict is to use words that take ownership of your feelings and that do not attack the other person. So, use “I” instead of you. “I felt hurt when such and such happened.” By doing this you are not attacking the other person, which automatically puts them on the defense, but, instead, you are helping them understand how you perceived whatever it was. This gives them an opportunity to enter your world and learn about you from the conflict. Biblically, we see this reflected in…
Proverbs 15:4 tells us that our tongue has the power to both speak life and to crush spirits. Therefore, you should also avoid using words like “always” and “never”. To the other person, those words sound like an attack on them and (in actuality) it is usually not fully true. Words like “always” and “never” make the other person want to defend themselves and prove you are wrong. Imagine this heated conversation between spouses:
Wife: You didn’t take out the garbage, and now we have to wait until next week for pick up! You always forget!
Husband: I do not always forget to take out the garbage. I took it out last Tuesday. You are a liar!
All the husband is focused on now is proving his innocence, rather than hearing what you have to say. It would be better to approach the situation this way:
Wife: “Today when you did not take out the garbage, it made me feel like you expect me to do everything around here.”
Husband: “I just forgot; I didn’t know it made you feel like that way. I will try to remember next time.”
The first conversation began by blaming and attacking. Remember, another way to turn away wrath as in Probers 15:1 is to use I statements instead of you attacks.
When in conflict it is important to stay on topic! When we are in conflict, we tend to bring out our list that Satan keeps so handy for us. You know the list; it is the list of all that that person has ever done wrong or we have perceived as wrong. John 10:10 says “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy” (NLT). Satan loves for us to be in conflict because he can use that to tear apart what God has made. It makes us weak and vulnerable to his attacks. So, instead of letting Satan in, stay focused on only what is being discussed now. Make a rule to not bring up things you have already resolved or things that are off topic of the current discussion. If you started talking about money, do not bring up the fact that your spouse did not take out the garbage.
Finally, be open to let others in on how you are feeling. Often, we keep ourselves distant and withdrawn, even from the ones we love. We withdraw to protect our feelings. Instead, open the lines of communication that draw you closer to those in your life. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens. Therefore, do not just talk about how you feel and think during conflict, always keep those lines of communication open with those you love. This draws you closer to one another.
Here are a few other ways we can handle conflict when it arises. We can laugh. It is okay to start laughing during conflict if we are laughing at the situation not the other person. If you find that the stress of this pandemic has made you argue over whether the sock is blue or black, you can stop and laugh together. We do not have to take ourselves so seriously. We can worship! Worship together has shown to decrease conflict. So, turn on worship music in your home, tune into a great service online, or find other creative ways to worship God. We can or give and seek forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 reminds that since Christ forgave us, that we should be kind and forgiving to one another. So, forgive each other often and easily. Remember that Satan would love a foothold in your family and unforgiveness is one of the greatest ways that we can give him just that. So, decide once something has been talked about, and resolved, that we are not going to dwell on it, we are not going to hold it against one another, and we are going to use it to come closer instead of letting it pull us apart. Most importantly, we can pray. James 5:16 reminds us that our prayers can accomplish much. We can pray that Satan does not have a foothold in our home or family. We can stop and pray together that God gives you both wisdom in the area that there is conflict. We can pray that God gives us eyes to see the other person as God sees them.
Do not feel alone if this pandemic has not made your life look like a Covid-19 commercial. You are not alone, but there is hope!