4 Steps to Repairing Conflict

January 6, 2021

Conflict — it’s inevitable even in the healthiest of marriages.

While there is a type of healthy conflict that can help guide couples toward decisions and a greater understanding of each other, unhealthy conflict can result in just the opposite. When you bring two sinful people together into a relationship, at some point there will be disagreements, misalignments, and arguments that can temporarily strain a marriage.

The good news? God has not only given us grace to navigate these moments; He has also given us guidance on how to do it.

Maybe you and your spouse are working to break through “stuckness,” or maybe you want a better way to manage conflict the next time it pops up.

Wherever you stand, here are four steps to repairing conflict that can actually bring your marriage closer – not farther apart. As you practice these, remember that wherever you can find personal responsibility in the situation, you will find opportunity for change.

1. Recognize the dance.

What dance? We call it the Fear Dance. It is the continuous cycle that couples create when their “fear buttons” are pushed, which then leads to a coping reaction in the other person. It is this dance that couples often step into with conflict, where they avoid approaching things head on and skirt around a situation — let’s call it “beating around the bush” — in a way that often causes assumption, misunderstanding and frustration that the other person doesn’t seem to value finding a resolution over making a point or being right.

It’s only when we can call out the problem by name that we can resolve it. You can’t put a band-aid on a wound that you haven’t found.

2. Create safety for yourself.

If you have started to approach conflict in a way that wasn’t healthy or didn’t help move toward resolve, call a timeout on yourself.

We said it — toddlers aren’t the only ones who need to pause and think about how they’ve handled something.

This move is on you. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do in a conflict with your spouse is step away, communicate when you’re coming back, and then come back with a clear head and fresh perspective.

When you do come back ready to work through the situation, you could say something like, “That didn’t go well. Can we try that again?”

It sounds simple, but the weight of it can do wonders for the other person’s heart.

3. Take responsibility for your heart.

It’s not necessarily our first instinct to take the responsibility when we’re engaging in a conflict, but there is always something that God can reveal to us about the state of our heart when we ask Him to.

Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart…”

It’s truly as simple as that. In following step 2, take that time away to redirect your heart toward God and allow Him to reveal the areas where you may need to take a different posture.

Do a self-audit on your emotional pain. Maybe there is bitterness, anger or pride that has driven your actions or words. Rather than digging in your heels, uproot those feelings and let God do His work in you.

4. Choose to repair and reconnect.

Just as loving someone is a daily — often hourly! — decision, so is repairing conflict.

This conversation could play itself out in a number of ways, depending on what you’re feeling and why the conflict escalated in the first place. These are a few ways to navigate the final step toward repair:

  • Step 1: “My fear button of _______________________ got pushed.”

    What is the fear that was triggered by the conflict? Was it the fear of feeling worthless, devalued, rejected or judged? Maybe you felt out of control or alone in that moment. Calling this out can help your spouse better understand why you reacted the way you did. 

  • Step 2: “I’m sorry I reacted by doing _____________________.”

    Yes, sometimes we have to back to age-old tactics that we have been taught to use our whole lives. Saying you’re sorry and explaining what you’re sorry for are key steps toward forgiveness and repair in any relationship, including marriages. In this step, try to be specific. Maybe you reacted by withdrawing, blaming, belittling your spouse or avoiding them. By calling out exactly what we’re sorry for doing, we let the other person know that specific reaction is one we want to avoid in the future.

  • Step 3: “I can see now that by reacting that way I made you feel __________________________.”

    You took an opportunity to share about how you felt and why it made you react in a certain way, but it’s also important to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and affirm that you can understand how your actions prompted them. Making your spouse feel seen and safe is always important, but especially in moments of vulnerability.

  • Step 4: “I’m really sorry. How can I make it right?”

    Did we mention that saying “I’m sorry” can take you further than you probably think? It’s one of the greatest gestures of humility you can offer in a moment of reconciliation with your spouse. This comment takes it one step further by asking what can be done to make things right and repair any feelings or layers of trust that may have been damaged along the way. This may be as simple as handling the same topic differently the next time, or it may require more time and intentionality to bring true healing. Each conflict is different and will need its own special attention to be repaired.

4 Steps To Repairing Conflict:

  1. Recognize the dance.

  2. Create safety for yourself.

  3. Take responsibility for your heart.

  4. Choose to repair and reconnect.

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