by Dr. Bill Austin
In the past articles, we have been dealing with ways of handling conflict in our relationships.
In the past articles, we have been dealing with ways of handling conflict in our relationships. Conflicts can be opportunities that bring us closer or they can create distance. We can get stuck in conflicts by getting so embedded in our position that we will not compromise or understand our partner's viewpoint.
The danger is that we can win the argument or get so embedded that we lose or damage the relationship. One of the crucial problems with most of us is our not knowing how to express our anger. It is usually expressed in one of two ways: fight or flight. Most of the time we express anger the way it was modeled to us and that can be very distasteful to others and to ourselves.
Many people come from homes of origin where anger was expressed in abusive, destructive or in frightening ways. The anger might have been expressed in the form of hitting, severe restriction, or belittling. The fear was that the angry person might lose control and hurt us. To protect ourselves from being hurt, we did not share our anger, our other feelings or even our opinion.
So what did we do with our anger? Usually, we stuffed our anger and even now, we may be holding it in until it erupts. The problem is that when we do finally express ourselves, it is no longer anger, it is hostility. Hostility goes to wound and cut someone off at the knees. It is like using a sledgehammer to drive in a tack.
Another problem with stuffing is we may be giving our partner the unexpressed anger that really belongs to our parents, our former spouses or others. It is misplaced anger. Since anger has to have a target, in many cases the target is not the one we have the problem with but the safest person such as our wife or child - or dog! After unloading his anger on his wife, a man said, "I told her everything I wished I had said to my first wife."
One important goal in conflict management is to handle conflict in such a way that everyone feels safe. Ideally, anger needs to be expressed in ways that will not hurt another mentally, physically or spiritually. As a couple or family, we would feel much safer handling conflict if we had rules or structure for dealing with it. One of the best tools for keeping conflicts safer is a 'conflict covenant' because it provides that structure and rules for fighting fair.
I have found conflict covenants work well with couples and families. They are given an outline to design their own conflict covenant and then they bring it to the next counseling session. After some discussion, the covenant is finalized and printed. It is then posted in several rooms in the house so it may be referred to when needed.
Next month I will be presenting the Conflict Covenant with instructions on how to design it and ways to use it.
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