Tag Archive for conflict resolution

How an Argument Can Lead to Longer Life & Deeper Intimacy

It’s true. Stress is a killer. Research has found that chronic stress increases depression and anxiety, impacting our mental health. It also impacts physical health, contributing to heart disease, higher cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and gastrointestinal issues.

You know what creates a lot of stress for many people (including me)? Arguments. An Oregon State University study published in 2021 examined the impact of arguments and avoided arguments on a person’s negative emotions. Utilizing data obtained through an in-depth survey of over 2,000 people, they found that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their argumentative encounter resolved reported about half as much negative emotion as those who felt the encounter unresolved. Even more, on the day after the argument, those who felt the incident was resolved felt no prolonged negative emotion related to the disagreement.

In other words, resolve the argument and the stress goes away. Resolve the argument before the sun goes down and have no stress related to it the next day.

I don’t know about you, but I have arguments with my spouse now and again. I can also experience disagreements with my daughters. Left unresolved, I ruminate. Stress continues to push cortisol (stress hormones) through my veins. I don’t sleep well. I’m restless. And the next day I’m tired, still feeling the stress of yesterday’s disagreement, and even feeling a little grumpy.

Better to avoid all that and do the work of resolving the argument and any residual anger that accompanies it. This doesn’t mean you have to reach an agreement. It means you have to resolve your anger. How? Start by taking a break and during that break…

  1. Take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you look around the room. Intentionally recognize where you are, what you see, what you hear, what positive memories you have in this place.
  2. Think of the good times you have had with the family member with whom you are having an argument. They are much more than this point of disagreement or moment of anger. Remember what you admire and appreciate about them. Recall times of joy and celebration together.
  3. Agree to meet together to understand one another better after everyone has calmed down. Notice, you are not going to meet to resolve the disagreement, although this is often a byproduct of meeting. Instead, you are going to meet to understand one another better. But first you want all the parties to become calm. When we are upset, we often don’t think rationally. Our fight or flight system gets activated and we only think of survival. Wait until you are calm and your rational, loving brain is back on board. Then you can discuss the disagreement. And, with a calm, clear mind, you can approach the discussion with the intent of understanding your family member’s perspective. The goal is not to prove your point or make them understand you, but for you to intentionally seek to understand their perspective.
  4. Share affection. A hug, a kiss, an “I respect you” or an “I love you” will go a long way in resolving anger among loved ones. Even if you still feel a little agitated…or even a lot agitated…give your family member a genuine hug. After all, deep down you love them in spite of any disagreement. As you share affection, feel the anger dissipate.

These 4 steps take effort. But the effort pays great dividends. Stress is reduced. Anger is resolved. You’ll likely find that the disagreement is even resolved or becomes less significant. Your physical health is nurtured. But best of all, intimacy with your family member deepens. Like I said, it takes effort, but the reward is fabulous.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Remember the commercials that encouraged us to “reach out and touch someone” with a phone call? Their motto bounced around in our heads long before cell phones and texting. Now it’s even easier to “reach out and touch someone,” right? Just send a quick text or message them on Facebook. So much easier… or is it? Is texting enough to “reach out and touch someone”? Is it enough to keep a relationship strong and healthy? A study published in 2020 sought to answer that question.

In this study, participants predicted how awkward or enjoyable it would be to contact a friend with whom they had not interacted for two years. They also predicted how close they would feel after the contact. They made these predictions for both phone contact and email contact. Then they were randomly assigned to contact their friend by phone or email.

Most participants thought phone contact would make them more uncomfortable than email contact. However, this did not prove true. Those who made phone contact felt no more discomfort than those who made email contact, even if they had said they preferred to email. On the other hand, those who called were happier with the interaction and felt closer to the person they called than those who simply emailed.

In a second part of this study (following the same procedures as the first part), participants were randomly assigned to a voice chat, a video chat, or a text chat. Similarly, the voice chat and video chat resulted in feeling significantly closer to the other person than those who engaged in a text chat. Video chat and voice chat, on the other hand, revealed similar outcomes in satisfaction and sense of closeness. These results suggest that our voices are particularly powerful for increasing intimacy.

When I think about that, it makes sense. From the time we were babies, and even in utero, we have responded to and discriminated between voices. When we are stressed or upset, the voice of loved one, a spouse, or a parent can calm and soothe us. And how many of us would love to hear the voice of a loved one “just one more time” after they pass away?

What does this have to do with family? If you want to increase intimacy with your family, text a little less and call a little more. If you want to maintain closeness with your spouse and children even when you disagree, give them a call because it promotes greater understanding when we hear one another’s voice than when we read their text. In fact, hearing the voice of a family member may be the the medicine to cure what ails you. So, increase the intimacy in your family. Close the texting or messaging app. Dial the number and reach out to touch your family with a phone call or video chat. You’ll both be glad you did.

In Marital Conflict, “What” Is In Charge

When it comes to conflict with your spouse, “what” is in charge. Not who, “what.” If left to its own devices, the “what” in charge of your marital conflict will leave no “who” in charge. Let me explain.

In many marital arguments, anger and fear represent the “what” that takes charge. Anger and fear shape our reactions and our words. When anger takes charge, it may lead us to blame our spouse or our parents or our boss…anybody but ourselves. Anger may also direct us to belittle our spouse, maybe even call our spouse a few names. When anger is the “what” in charge of conflict, the result in disaster.

Fear is “what” takes charge of marital conflict even more often than anger. Fear, in fact, is often the true commanding officer of the conflict and anger merely fear’s emissary. Fear, if it does not turn to its emissary anger, will lead us to become defensive, distant, or avoidant during the marital conflict.

When anger or fear take charge of a conflict, there is no “who” in charge. Anger and fear have formed a coup and taken charge…and the results are disastrous: blaming, defending, belittling, feeling rejected, emotional distance, more anger, and more fear. The hurt caused by anger and fear puts us on guard, ever vigilant for the next slight, the next provocation. There is no security and no winner when anger and fear are the “what” in charge of your marital disagreement.

None of us want fear and anger to run our martial conflict. So, “what” do we want to take charge of our marital conflicts? Empathy. Empathy commands us to listen and intentionally work to understand. Empathy directs us to seek connection and intimacy above “winning” or “being right.” Empathy calms the fear and resolves the anger. “What”—anger, fear, or empathy—may take charge of your marital conflict, but “WHO” determines which “what” will take charge. “Who” will make that decision? You. Only you can choose how you will engage in the conflict. Only you can choose which “what” will take charge of the marital conflict—anger, fear, or empathy. You, only you, can choose your response. Be the “who” that takes charge of the “what” that shapes your response during marital conflict.

Step back. Take a breath. Choose “empathy” as the “what” to direct your conflict. You will be so glad you did. And do you know “who” else will be glad? Your spouse.

That Glorious Fight with Your Teen

If you have a teen, you will likely have some conflict with them. You may even get into an argument or two…and that’s great news! Why? Because the way in which you repair the relationship with your teen is an opportunity for everyone to grow “strong in the force” of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and actions combined with an awareness of other people’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Your efforts to reconnect and repair the relationship with your teen following a conflict provides them with a “master class” in emotional intelligence. (For more on emotional intelligence read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar.)

Only you can teach this class because only you meet the required qualifications—someone with whom your teen feels secure, someone with whom your teen has a loving relationship, someone who is motivated to maintain a relationship with your teen through thick and thin. Who else but you, their parent, meets these criteria? So, prepare yourself to lead your teen in a “master class” in emotional intelligence.

As the teacher of your teen’s “master class” in emotional intelligence, what is the lesson plan? Here is a brief outline.

  • Following the conflict, allow at least twenty minutes for all parties (you and your teen) to calm down.
  • Approach your teen calmly and acknowledge your teen’s emotions. Offer understanding of their emotions and a label for them. Doing this informs them that emotions are beneficial. You understand and accept their emotion. In doing so you model one aspect of emotional intelligence—the ability to be aware of and understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  You also encourage them to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions, another aspect of emotional intelligence.
  • Apologize for any inappropriate actions or statements on your part. As part of the apology, explain your own emotions. Do not blame your teen for your emotions. Take responsibility for those emotions but voice an awareness of your own emotions. In doing so you model the aspect of emotional intelligence involved in reflecting on your own thoughts and emotions. You also teach your teen to be aware of other people’s thoughts and emotions, in this case yours.
  • Allow time to calmly discuss each of these two bullets. Then you can discuss solutions to avoid future conflict. Those solutions may involve limits and boundaries for both of you. Fortunately, the “master class” in emotional intelligence will help you both respect the boundaries and limits that make up the solution.

Next time you find yourself in conflict with your teen, do not beat yourself up. Instead, be glad you for the opportunity to humble yourself, accept responsibility for your part in the conflict, and lead a “master class” in emotional intelligence. Teach it well in your actions and your words.

“Stop Trying to Fix Me!”

“Stop trying to fix me!” Has your partner or child ever said that to you? Have you ever said it yourself? “Stop trying to fix me!” When people in our lives experience struggles or problems, they generally do not want us to fix it for them. They want connection…and connection involves empathy. Unfortunately, empathy does not always come naturally. The desire to “fix it” and “make them feel better” is often what comes naturally to us. We hate to see our loved ones hurt. We want to “make them feel better,” to “fix the problem.” So, rather than show empathy, we unknowingly say things that minimize and invalidate their feelings, things like…

  • “It could be worse….” During their painful situation, your loved one will find it hard to imagine anything worse. Besides, they do not want to think about something worse. They want someone to listen. They want someone to accept their feelings. They want you to hear their pain and validate their emotions.
  • “This could turn out well if you just….” No one really wants to take the moment of pain or sorrow to learn. There will be opportunities to learn after they navigate the current pain. Instead, your family member desires you to “be with them” in the moment, to “sit with them” in their struggle and support them through the pain.
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.” Many people have described the pain of this statement to me. It invalidates their current pain and implies that a person can only have one positive experience in their life at a time, one open door at a time. Instead, your family member simply needs to mourn the door that closed before moving to another door.
  • “It’s not that bad. I remember when….” This statement comes across as a “one-up” statement. It comes across as though you are minimizing the current pain by saying, “You want to know pain. I have felt pain. Your pain is nothing compared to mine.”

Statements like those above (and there are many others) are generally made with good intentions. They represent an effort to “make the other person feel better” and ease their pain. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect. They make the other person feel unheard, devalued, and even more upset. Why? Because at the root of our emotions, we want connection and empathy, not “fixed.” We want to know we are understood and that our emotions are accepted. After we understand our emotions and know another person has accepted our emotions, we can work at resolving those emotions and finding a solution. 

So, instead of “trying to fix” your spouse, your children, or your parent, use these four skills to empathize.

  • Listen without judging. Hear more than just the words. Listen for the emotions underlying the words. Knowing that another person hears us deeply and has the strength to witness our struggle, gives us more strength to manage the struggle effectively. (Remember, the art of listening is more than responding.)
  • Identify and label emotions. Labeling an emotion puts a buffer between our emotion and our actions. It helps us avoid impulsive reactions and empowers us to respond appropriately instead. (Check out these 6 tips to make your children’s emotions your friend.)
  • Sit with them in the emotion. Walk a mile in their shoes. Allow yourself to experience their emotion to some degree. Maybe you have not had the exact experience yourself, but you have endured the human experience. You have experienced the joys, triumphs, pains, and struggles of humanity. Be vulnerable and sit with your family member in their emotion.
  • Summarize and validate their perspective and emotions. This will facilitate organizing their emotions as well as the opportunity to develop a potential response to the emotions.

When we “stop trying to fix” our family we are free to listen deeply and lovingly “be with them” in their struggle, to empathize and validate. By doing so, we open a door to future solutions. Perhaps more importantly, we open the door for deeper intimacy and love.