Tag Archives: Mental Health

The I’s Have It

7 Sep

Most conflict isn’t of the relationship-ending sort. It’s more often about who cooks and who washes the dishes. However, even small-unresolved conflict causes stress and wears on relationships.

I once taught peer mediation to 4th-8th graders. Even kindergarteners were able to settle disputes with the help of a mediator. I realized anyone could learn simple mediation skills. These skills pertain to parent/child, siblings, roommates, business associates, spouses, and more.

That was huge for me. As a people pleaser, I hated conflict. My heart and prayer is that we become problem solvers even without a mediator. Here are some tips.

An “I Message” can be a handy communication tool during conflict. It allows us to acknowledge our responsibility, emotions, and needs without blaming. It contains three simple parts.

I feel ______, because (when you) ______. I want (need you to) ______.

The goal isn’t to spew out pent up frustration. Instead, let’s problem solve. Give yourself time to think. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28 NIV). The prodigal son rehearsed exactly what he would say to his father (Luke 15). Let’s plan and practice.

Suppose roommates (Cici and Didi) disagree over cleaning. If Cici says, “You make me furious because you won’t carry your load,” she’s inviting defensiveness. Instead, Cici might say, “It seems unfair that I work fulltime and still have to do most of the cleaning. I want to divide the chores evenly.” Notice Cici covered the three parts of an I Message, but didn’t use the exact words.

Proverbs 12:15 Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others (NLT).

Didi, in a perfect world and after practice, resists the urge to explain and summarizes, “You feel I’m not doing my fair share of chores and you want to divide them differently.” Notice it’s a paraphrase as she absorbs Cici’s meaning. (See last week’s post.) Since Didi got it, it’s her turn. “Sure, I only work part time, but I’ve got school and studying. If I do more chores, my grades will drop.”

After both feel understood, it’s time to brainstorm for solutions. Write down each proposed solution without judgment. Cici might say, “You can pay me $15 an hour to do your part of the cleaning.” Incorrectly done, Didi might say, “Are you crazy? Where do you think I’m going to come up with $15 an hour?” More helpful—she’d offer another solution. “We can divide chores according to my class schedule.”

Cross off all ideas except solutions both consider workable. Discuss possible implications and consequences for each. Select the best alternative and agree on a timed trial. Each person writes how she’ll keep her part of the agreement. It might look like this.

“We agree to meet Sunday afternoon and make a list of chores and times we’ll do them. Cici promises not to nag, remind, or complain about chores. Didi promises to complete her jobs on time. We will meet again in one week to determine our success.”

(Signed) Cici             Didi

In a week, chores or times may need tweaking. If that solution doesn’t work, choose another and try again.

“Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8–9 NET).

In Conflict? Pass the Pencil.

31 Aug

My words stuck, unable to pass the lump in my throat. How well I remember the first time I tried important communication with George. We’d been dating only a few months. He encouraged me with these treasured words, “You can’t say the wrong thing.”

That was thirty years ago. Since that day, I’ve said the wrong thing more than once. So has he. Yet the underlying truth remains. We genuinely want to know each other’s thoughts and feelings even if we don’t agree.

Close relationships present more possibilities for conflict than casual associations. The paradox is that loving confrontation increases intimacy. Confrontation forces us outside our comfort zone into transparency and vulnerability. It’s risk-taking of the most dangerous sort. If we ask for changed behavior or expose our true feelings, we risk anger, rejection, or even a lost relationship. However, when we find mutual vulnerability and an eagerness to preserve the relationship, the rewards are staggering.

Sometimes conflict is simply a miscommunication or mistaken motives. We may have an emotional reaction based on a prior relationship or an earlier stage of our current relationship. We may have incomplete facts. That’s why the first step in resolving conflict is to identify both viewpoints. I’ve found the pencil technique to be an effective tool for couples, families, and co-workers. (This is a communication technique, not a substitute for professional counseling.)

Couples choose a pencil, couch pillow, or other object. The symbolism counts. As long as I have the pencil, I know I’ll be heard. I hold on until I feel understood.

Remember God’s communication wisdom.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV).

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).

Good communicators give eye contact, focused attention, and encouragement. Remember both people can be right based on different underlying (and sometimes unknown) assumptions and dreams. Believe the best of each other.

The person who finds communicating difficult goes first—in this example, the wife. Wife holds the pencil and explains her position. Husband doesn’t interrupt, defend, or explain. His first priority is to understand. Wife sticks to one subject without bringing up other problems. Her responsibility is to be honest and thorough without rambling. Then she asks Husband what he heard. He summarizes or paraphrases her words. (Parroting exact words doesn’t equal understanding.) If he gets it right, he takes the pencil and they switch responsibilities. If not, she retries explaining her feelings and he listens more closely. Repeat as necessary, then switch. Remember, defensiveness is a conversation killer.

Include appreciation for each other’s honesty and effort plus assurances that conflict and a great relationship aren’t mutually exclusive. Such conversations help us understand ourselves as well as the other person.

When our heart’s desire is to understand and to be understood, we tear down walls and build intimacy. In the context of unity and maturity, Paul urges Christians to “speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We don’t have to agree or completely understand. However, we need to respect and appreciate each other’s values, hopes, and dreams.

Please let us hear from you if you have the courage to try the pencil technique or have comments or suggestions.