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Healthy Conflict Resolution in Adult Relationships

Applying the Connected Families Framework to marriage
Heatlhy conflict resolution

Parenting is consistently on the list of top marriage conflicts. Also, included on this list are money and sex. While those issues are mostly static, parenting is dynamic. Our children and parenting struggles are always changing and this can make each challenge unique. These challenges can make healthy conflict resolution seem like a BIG reach. 

But it is possible. Even if you feel like you’re always fighting about the kids.  

While beautiful gifts from God, children can test our resolve and patience. 

They talk back. 

They pit you against each other. 

They become increasingly resistant (and often resentful) of new efforts. 

They have wills of their own and are themselves seeking to meet selfish needs – and getting better at it all the time! 

New kinds of challenges show up every day, so this week’s solution is out the window next week. Consistency proves hard to come by, especially when two parents are quite different from each other in both their view of the challenge and what they do to address it.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a parenting conflict like this:

Parenting Conflict Take 1

Parent A – (Frustrated) “Why did you say yes to her?” 

(Child watches wide-eyed from across the room.)

Parent B – (Defensive) “What do you mean? You were being so hard on her it made no sense!”

Parent A – (MORE defensive) “You’re blaming me for this? You’ve got to be kidding! I’ve told her a hundred times this is not OK! And you know it!”

(Afraid and confused, the child slips out, unnoticed, while the parents continue.)

Parent B – (Condescending) “I know it, but I never agreed. It’s almost like you’re being hard on her to get back at your mom or something!”

Parent A – (Explosive) “You leave her out of this!”

I’ll stop here. That conversation could go a thousand different difficult or even destructive directions. We’ve talked with hundreds of couples over the years who describe conflicts like this over parenting. They’ve been advised to “get on the same page” and “be consistent” but their efforts to do so seem to complicate, not simplify, things. 

In situations like this we’ve seen the Connected Families Framework and “four powerful messages” bring new levels of understanding, peace, and unity to parenting, while strengthening the unique gifts and approaches each parent brings to the task. You can function in your unique personality and skills, but have strong commonality about what you are trying to accomplish together in your parenting. It’s a framework of principles that help parents learn a new way of grace for themselves, each other, and their kids.

“You are SAFE with me”

Becoming a parent and spouse that can communicate the powerful message, “You are SAFE with me” doesn’t start with new tips and techniques for better relationships, but by building a foundation of faith and identity in Christ

When parents do the hard work of securing their identity in Christ, they can grasp the belief, “I am a beloved child of God even if family life is tough right now and I’m struggling!” Because these parents know they don’t need to get everything right in parenting in order to be okay, they can engage during conflict and difficulty in emotionally safe and graceful ways. Even if not perfect.

It might look something like this (another one of the thousand ways this could go): 

Parenting Conflict Take 2

Parent A – (Frustrated) “Why did you say yes to her?” 

(The child watches wide-eyed from across the room.)

Parent B – (Defensive) “What do you mean? (big pause, wanting to remember God’s presence) Uh, I’m sorry…..(working hard to settle and see this from a more graceful and constructive perspective)…I guess it would have been good to talk with you about it. 

Parent A – (Disarmed, feeling a bit caught off guard by your partner’s new way of responding.) “Um…I…uh, just think she should know by now that this is not OK. (returning to the familiar conflict mode) And I thought maybe just once you’d back me up.

Parent B – (Deep breath. Tempted to take the combative bait.) You know what….(pause)…I think you’re right about me. I have not worked very well to get on the same page with you. I’d like to do better. Will you forgive me?

Parent A – (Finding this all a little hard to swallow, but wanting to give it a chance.) Well…I’d like to forgive you but you can’t blame me for wondering what’s up with you? 

Parent B – (Another deep breath. Praying a silent prayer for humility and wisdom.) No…(hopeful pause) I can’t blame you. What could I do to earn a little trust back?

(The child, worried that the answer might change, slips out of the room to quickly put her “yes” in action.)

Parent A – (Sees the child leave but wants to resolve well with Parent B so continues respectfully.) I guess…I just wish you’d talk to me if you see things differently. Then maybe we could work it out without leaving the kids wanting to pick sides all the time.

Parent B – (Reflecting more deeply on the importance of this.) …I think that’s right…. 

Again, it could go a thousand different directions. Can you see in this particular example the hope and grace needed to create relational safety? It’s not perfect. But these are steps of progress toward a “rhythm of grace” for even this kind of challenge. 

What does it take to get from Take 1 to Take 2? 

It takes hard work. Not to try harder to be graceful, but to try harder to remember the identity that is already yours because of Jesus! 

When you remember that you are…

…you will be renewed to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:23-24).  

As you work through conflict in parenting and marriage, trust the “fruit of God’s spirit” to come to life in your struggle.

Listen as Jim and Lynne talk more about this topic on this podcast, “Thinking About How to Fix Your Marriage? Try This.”.

“You are LOVED no matter what!”

When you’re well grounded in God’s love for you no matter the circumstance, the love and grace you receive flows freely. And when your partner is safe, and knows you are safe, it’s easier to be together well. It’s more natural to cherish each other and to frequently and affectionately communicate the message, “You are LOVED no matter what!” This is the essence of connection: bonding by loving, knowing, and enjoying your spouse. 

It’s often said that a key to staying connected in marriage is to make a commitment to date nights and carving out special time for each other. That’s good. If you do it, keep it up. If not, discuss whether putting some dates on the calendar would be helpful, or if you connect better in other ways.

True connection is about presence. It’s about attention. It’s about expression. It’s about consistently and frequently making sure you’re hearing, seeing, and expressing love in meaningful ways. You can’t schedule it. It’s an overflow of the heart. Consider connecting as you head to work. As you prepare a meal. When you’re out and about and just make a quick phone call to chat about something fun in your day or say “I love you!” Connection can even occur in a conflict. Perhaps like this: 

Parenting Conflict Take 3

(Note: The following depiction is feasible only if both parents have had some practice with this more graceful way of interacting.) 

Parent A – (Frustrated) “Why did you say yes to her?” 

(The child watches wide-eyed from across the room.)

Parent B – (Off guard and a bit defensive) “What do you mean? (big pause and quickly softens, wanting to remember God’s presence) Uh, I mean, I feel pretty confident about the plan, but maybe you see something different? 

Parent A – (working hard to settle and see this from a more graceful and constructive perspective)…I guess it just seems like one of those things that would be good to talk about together before making a decision.

(The child, worried that the answer might change, slips out of the room to quickly put her “yes” in action.)

Parent B – (sees the child leave but wants to resolve well with Parent A so lets her go, remembering that there might be an opportunity for connection even in conflict) “Um…I…uh, think you’re onto something. (cautious, but feeling an impulse to be close to your spouse, with a light and inviting tone) Can you come a little closer so we can solve this well? 

This way of responding, even in potential conflict, can only happen when we make a priority of remembering to receive and then pass on God’s love. Then it becomes natural in the ebb and flow of everyday life to watch and listen for connection opportunities. 

You are CAPABLE!” 

We often hear that spouses who see things differently question their own or their spouse’s capability when it comes to parenting, “My spouse just doesn’t seem to get it.” or, “I just never seem to measure up.”

Each of us has a unique way of engaging with our children. And when my way works for me and the kids it is quite natural to think that my way is best, and that my spouse should begin doing things my way

Unfortunately, whenever I parent from that mindset, even if I say nothing to my spouse, I unwittingly set up a complicated minefield for my family. Of course if I do say something it can activate that minefield. Like the argument described above in Take 1, when we view our way as superior it leads to comparison, judgment, condescension and, well, difficult arguments.

But when I do the work to believe and remember that my spouse is wonderfully made in God’s image, and built to walk in step with God’s purposes, it helps me to come from a different place. A place of believing that he or she is unique and has God-given abilities for parenting. My spouse is capable!    

Here’s yet another way the conflict described above may look when I remember that my spouse is capable, created in God’s image: 

Parenting Conflict Take 4

(Note: Again, this possibility is only likely once both parents have practiced graceful approaches to their conflicts.)

Parent A – (Frustrated) “Why did you say yes to her?” 

Parent B – (Defensive) “What do you mean? (big pause, wanting to remember God’s presence and protect against dishonoring words) Hmmm, I’m sorry…..(working to remember that my spouse is uniquely gifted for parenting)…I guess it would have been good to talk with you about it. I just made a quick call because I think she’s learned from past mistakes and I’m wanting to give her a chance to earn back some trust. (working to see the situation through your spouse’s eyes) I’m guessing you’ve got some different perspective.

Parent A – (Deep breath….wanting to both validate and be validated) I get it. And I love that you give her the benefit of the doubt. (wanting to find a way to support and validate your spouse, you ask the next question) So, could we work together to be on the same page about next steps? 

Parent B – (feeling respected and confident) I just told her that if she follows through she can keep the privilege. And if not she’ll lose it. (wanting to involve your spouse in whatever comes next) So maybe we can talk through ideas about how to move forward after we see how she responds to this privilege.

Parent A – (Moving slowly for a hug) I’m in. This is hard sometimes but I’m glad you’re my partner in grace. Coffee or tea? (Cue end credits.)  

Everyone’s approach to parenting is different. Those differences can drive you apart. But remembering and dwelling on the good in each other is a great way to build your connection as a couple, even if your approaches to parenting are different.

“You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions” 

Tension is created when one spouse steps in, usually with good intentions, to assume responsibility for a parenting issue not their own. The Take 1 example above shows this.

The child came to Parent A (probably the one the child knew was most likely to give the desired answer) and Parent A said, “yes”. Parent B didn’t like the answer and jumped in. 

When this happens, with kids in the middle, it significantly increases the complexity of the issue. Now, instead of Parent A simply having an issue to work on with the child, Parent A and Parent B have a conflict. The child is no longer sure if the issue is with Parent A, or B, or both. 

So much to solve! Who is responsible for what?

But when parents believe each other is capable and responsible to parent wisely, even if differently, it takes the pressure off everyone and relays the message, “You are responsible for your relationship.” Here’s what the interaction we’ve been describing might look like when parents recognize the importance of not letting kids play them against each other. 

Parent A – (Relaxed but curious) “Can you help me understand why you said yes to her?”  (Noticing the child watching wide-eyed from across the room – speaking to your child.)” It’s OK honey. Your mom said yes and I support her” (notice it’s not “I agree with her”). “So you can hang with us while we talk more about it or you can go have some fun.” 

(Child leaves, parents gracefully discuss the issue and make a good plan for next time something like this happens.)

Again, this could unfold any number of ways. What if the child doesn’t leave? What if the “yes” given by Parent A is really not reasonable? What if this is an ongoing issue and this approach keeps leading to more conflict or resentment? 

The goal here is not to give examples of all the possibilities but to show how putting the four messages into the way couples treat each other can lead to a more graceful and caring approach when kids try to pit us against each other. 

Parents frequently come to us for coaching about their kids’ behavior. They come wanting answers about how to more effectively grow faith and wisdom in their kids. We teach them these four messages. Once parents learn this profound way of putting constructive action behind their good intentions, they look at each other and say something like, “If we’re going to teach the kids these messages we’d better live them out with each other.” 

And honestly, when parents learn to do this, their need for parent coaching decreases significantly and the things they learn in coaching are much easier to implement. Because now they’re on the same page – a page not of consistent methods, but of unified messages of God’s grace and truth.

Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook 4 Messages Every Child Longs to Hear: A Discipline That Connects Overview.

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Jim and Lynne Jackson
Jim and Lynne Jackson
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