Conflict Avoidance

Last week I had a client’s wife say something very profound.

“The absence of conflict is not connection.”

Dang! I hate that that saying is right. Sometimes I want so badly to just let sleeping dogs lie and not rock the boat. We’re okay if she’s not mad at me, right? Do we have to engage intense fellowship or can we just leave well enough alone?

You know the answer. I do too. Conflict is inevitable. I’ll even go a step farther and say, Conflict is vital.

Conflict is intimacy too, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. If we always agreed, all the time, not only would it be scary, but it would mean there is no diversity, no alternative view. We would remain stuck inside the same patterns of thinking that blew up our lives in the first place!

I love that Shelley challenges my thinking. I highly dislike the conflict, but when it’s there I know we have the opportunity to go deeper in our relationship. Now that’s different for me. I used to think every fight was just the next iteration of a setback; but it doesn’t have to be. We can go through it and grow through it. Here are 3 keys that help me navigate our conflicts for growth, both within myself and our relationship.

  1. Reminding myself that I’m not a monster. Silly as it sounds, when Shelley is mad at me it taps into my shame and within seconds I can feel like a big, dumb, idiot that has no business being in any type of relationship, much less a marriage. She can be mad at me for something innocuous, like not putting my shoes away, and I’ll tie it back to my infidelity and jerkiness (I just made that up) from early on in our marriage. Once that train has left the station, every stop it makes is onboarding more negative self talk. So I cannot allow it to depart. I have to fight the earliest inklings of shame with the truth.
    1. I am not that man anymore. I am a new man.
    2. God is redeeming me and us.
    3. I am dearly loved and infinitely valuable. I am not a monster.
  2. Reminding myself that she’s not a monster. It’s so tempting to make her out to be the villain. Truly, she didn’t wake up this morning to make me feel like an incompetent man or husband; as much as I’d like to assume she did. She didn’t. She isn’t trying to push my buttons (most of the time).
  3. Reminding myself to listen and try to understand. I want to be heard. I want to be understood. I want to feel respected and like my opinion matters. I want to know she actually cares what I have to say and think. I should get a little grace even if I raise my voice and act like a petulant child. I deserve the dignity of having a voice. Newsflash – so does she.  And in my Biblical understanding, I’m called to extend to her what I want and expect. I have to go first. So practically that means not interrupting, correcting, excusing, manipulating, downplaying, blameshifting or going into 50/50 mode. It’s 100/0 at that point. I am 100% responsible for modeling the love of Christ to her by giving her grace, listening and trying to understand. Then I can hope she’ll extend the same in return. Sometimes that happens in a back-and-forth, give and take sort of way. Sometimes that happens in a she-just-has-to-vent-and-I-need-to-zip-it sort of way. No what I mean? Oh and by the way, rarely does she tie something like my misplaced shoes to my infidelity. I do it way more than she does.

Remember, conflict is intimacy too. It doesn’t have to be a setback, in fact it can be a growth moment. I can tell you there have been so many fights that have later resulted in one or both of us saying Thank You to other one, because we saw and experienced such character in the other person, right in the middle of the conflict.

Angerization

I wanted to take a minute to talk about angerizing emotions. For men who struggle with sexual integrity issues, there are usually 2 ways emotions get dealt with – Sexualizing or Angerizing.

When the integrity issues or addiction are/is active, emotions that should get appropriately felt and expressed are stuffed and stunted. Instead, they end up getting turned into sexual energy. This happens in the form of fantasy, masturbation, the pornography viewed, the women flirted with, or the escort ads perused. It is especially true of what we would typically categorize as negative feelings – hurt, fear, failure, shame, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, boredom, injustice (feeling falsely accused) or feeling misunderstood. It can also happen with positive emotions too- some guys act out as a reward mechanism, in effect not knowing the experience of healthy celebration and recognition.

During active addiction or struggle, the sexualization provides a relief; a temporary reroute of the emotions, diminishing their intensity and thus the perceived negative impact. For some guys the acting out doesn’t take enough of the edge off, so the residual emotional churn becomes irritability, frustration and general rudeness.

Often though, when the addiction ends and someone stops acting out, the release valve is removed and the emotion gets turned into serious anger. Sometimes it is intense – rageful, out of control, scary. It can even scare him! When that low level anger is present, the angry feelings are familiar. But when that’s not the case, the newfound rageful experience can feel like a monster trying to escape. The chemical, endorphin release of acting out provides a soothing or calming effect, but without it the anger can be raw.

Don’t let the anger be your lead, let it be your guide. When you feel angry, it is telling you there is more to the story. Your heart is trying to feel and express something, and likely longing to connect with God and others.

Lustful Looking – Woman at the Well

In the Book of John, Chapter 4 we read a story of Jesus hanging out with a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Jesus, being Jesus, knows more about her than she realizes upon initial interaction. Whether by divorce or adultery, which are debated, this woman is no stranger to men. And likely also no stranger to reeling men in.

So here is Jesus, solo with this woman, in a potentially precarious situation. Let’s get down to brass tacks here – he could have flirted with her. He could have fantasized about her naked. He may have been tempted to look down her shirt when she leaned over to grab her bucket of water!

But Jesus wasn’t a lustful looker.

He was more concerned about her soul; her present life and her eternal destiny. He wasn’t interested in the flesh she wore – he was living with the perspective that his life was short, his purpose was redemption, and his call was proclaiming the love of God.

Here’s a tip to stop lustful looking – be more concerned with the soul of a female human than the flesh that soul is covered in. Focus on our greater call of reflecting God’s glory rather than being so simple and shallow as to be lulled into the temporal temptation of flesh.

The next time you’re at Starbucks waiting on your super soy, light whip mochanilla frappawhatever, I encourage you to take a bird’s eye view and see the many souls in line around you in need of a Savior, rather than the people waiting to pick up their orders. Be mindful of the brokenness on the inside, and fight the urge to objectify the body on the outside.