In the previous articles we have listed the ineffective behaviors to avoid when handling a conflict. Now let us focus on the method of engagement. As you design your Covenant, the following are some suggestions you might consider when formulating a method for handling conflict.
II. WE WILL HANDLE OUR CONFLICT IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS:
1. Timing: We will take the time necessary to resolve differences. If the timing isn't good, we will make an appointment.
Commentary: Some of us may have been told, 'Do not let the sun go down on your anger.' Phyllis Diller's version of this saying is, 'Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Stay up and fight!' Experience teaches that sometimes when the sun goes down is the wrong time for handling a conflict. When the issue is brought up can make the conflict worse.
An argument can be intensified by bad timing, when we are feeling exhausted, or it is late in the evening, or 15 minutes before leaving for work, or we are overwhelmed with all we have to do. As crazy as it may sound, my suggestion is to make an appointment to talk about the problem.
Choose a time when we know we will be in a better mood and when we can give more time for the discussion. In the meanwhile, the one who wants to present could write out the complaint and feelings in a journal. A word of caution: make sure we are not using this tool for avoiding the problem. This tool will not work unless the appointment to talk is kept!
2. Timeouts: When we feel it is no longer safe to keep talking or when we keep saying the same thing over and over again, a 'timeout' will be called. This means there will be no more discussion. We will go to separate places in the house in order to 'cool off.' Our 'timeout' period will be for __(number of minutes) minutes. After the agreed time, we will sit down together and take turns speaking and listening to each other.
Commentary: When it gets to the point when a timeout is necessary, one partner gives a pre-agreed-upon signal. The signal could be a sports' timeout with the hands making a 't'. Once the timeout is called, there is no more discussion. For a description of 'timeout' instructions and guidelines see my article entitled 'TimeOut' in The Shopper on the website, www.theshopper.com.
3. Agreeing on the problem: We must agree to the problem before moving on to the solution.
Commentary: A helpful approach in defining the problem is: Explore to seek an Understanding before we move to Action. The problem for many of us is that when a problem is presented we rush to 'action' without understanding the problem. We need to spend time exploring the problem so that both parties understand what the problem is and its impact.
Next month we will continue with the final article on the Conflict Covenant. There will be more suggestions as to how you may handle conflicts. (October 2001)
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700