Circuit Breaker didn't break them
Since Covid-19 and circuit breaker started, I have been hearing so many stories about couples breaking up or families getting into fights. Some couples struggle with being apart for too long, while some families struggle with being together too much.
I’ve even come across news articles about the predicted surge of divorce cases after the quarantine is over. The reason cited was that the increased interactions led to increased friction and hence, increased conflicts.
The Bible says a lot about conflict management. Ephesians 4:26 says, ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ Matthew 5:24 says, ‘Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’
The way we manage conflict is so crucial in building and maintaining healthy relationships. Hence, I spoke to Shawn and Promise about how they manage conflicts in their relationship.
Hello Shawn and Promise! Can you share with us when and how the both of you met?
Promise: We met in 2011 during a 2-week foundation course in Uni. We didn’t talk in class and only got to know each other better after the course was over. Long story short, we had a small class gathering where everyone did not turn up except Shawn and myself - that was our unofficial first date. It was pretty… awkward. Haha!
Shawn: It wasn’t awkward at all. I was very chill and enjoyed the entire evening :D
What do you both usually disagree on?
Promise: Haha, Shawn can answer this.
Shawn: Lots and lots of things. But mainly they have to do with me not understanding what she’s trying to convey, and then her resultant exasperation comes across to me as unnecessarily disrespectful, which then gets on my nerves and I respond in the same way. From what I understand, the way I think is quite different from most normal humans (everyone close to me tells me that), so I’m slowly getting to know the human race and how they… I mean, WE… process information. Maybe I’m actually from the planet Krypton?
Can you share an incident when a conflict arose and how you resolved it?
Shawn: Ok, first some context. Promise had previously injured herself while using a kitchen knife. This had already created a grave concern in me. This incident began with her using a knife, and, given my already heightened concern, I was watching very closely to how she was cutting stuff. It turned out her technique was perhaps ‘less than safe’ and so I made some comments about that. It turned into an argument about trust, where I was not able to trust that she knew what she was doing. After a few back-and-forths, our emotions escalated to an undesirable level and I decided to cut the conversation short, until we regained our composure. Upon revisiting it a while later, and after many apologies, we concluded that my comments were not birthed primarily from lack of trust, but simply love and concern. Granted, the trust issues are present in me (and I’m working on them!), but upon realising the main factor was just a genuine concern on my part, it settled things pretty quickly.
The lesson here for me is twofold.
First, it’s helpful to take a short time-out with the express intention to sort out our emotions while apart (a time-out just because it’s a sucky situation is never a good reason). Emotions can cause us to say very wicked things.
Second, clarity and honest communication (this also means opening up and lowering your defences) is always helpful, but only at the right time (more on this later below).
Has conflict management changed after both of you got married?
Shawn: Hahaha yes. My approach to conflict management had always been: get it settled asap or before the day is over, confront the issues, tackle things head-on, no waiting allowed. That’s definitely no longer the case. I can no longer afford to approach conflicts so ‘conveniently’. Now I have other things to consider - emotions, discernment (of what to say and timing), etc. I think all that has made me a better partner and person! And if not, it has at least taught me that the world around me doesn’t have to adapt itself to my presence. … right?
Promise: Not really for me. ◡̈
What are some biblical values that are even more poignant and crucial in managing conflicts in relationships?
Shawn: Top of the list for me: humility. Not being too proud to be corrected, back down, or give in even when you’re not in the wrong. Humility says, “I’m sorry” even though there’s nothing you should be sorry about. As someone with a fierce heart for justice, this was something I really struggled with. But after a while, I realised that sometimes, the first step is to gently invite the other party to lower their defences, and apologising first is a great way to do that. You gotta mean it, though! Humans are perceptive; they can tell when you’re faking. And faking an apology is about as helpful as surgical gloves to a durian-seller.
It’s not about getting your point across or feeling heard (oftentimes, pride and insecurity are what compels us to fulfil this ‘need’). Sometimes, it’s not even about resolving an issue. Yes, we should try to offer value into a situation, or resolve the issue at some point. But even before all that, we need to think about how we can restore the CONNECTION (on a heart level) that was somehow broken or compromised. When this connection is restored, and both parties understand each other’s hearts - know that they both care and have the other party’s best interests at heart - we can start to work towards a resolution. Trying to resolve an issue while remaining disconnected will result in an unsustainable resolution, an outcome that looks like a resolution but really isn’t, or no resolution at all.
Promise: I will share from 2 passages of scripture that has been particularly helpful for me as I navigate through our relationship:
‘Be quick to listen.
Be slow to speak.
Slow to become angry.’
- James 1:19-20
- Always be quick to listen. Listen to understand the other person - not listen to judge, not listen to counter, not listen to talk back. Listen to understand.
- Take time to process what the other party is saying - ask questions if needed, to clarify. Ask questions to gain understanding before speaking.
- ‘A gentle whisper turns away wrath.’ - Proverbs 15:1
Emotions are not necessarily the best thing to have during times of conflict - it adds fuel to an already raging fire. ◡̈
Ask yourself if this is worth expending your emotions on? Take a deep breath and be slow to become angry.
‘[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.’
- 1 Cor 13:5
- Does not dishonour others.
Am I dishonouring him in the way I speak? Am I rude and disrespectful?
One thing I’ve learned from the start was not to take things too personally. Separate the issue from the person - talk about values and how to grow instead of ‘attacking’ the person’s behaviour. Tackle the issue, not the person. The issue might be punctuality - instead of blaming the person for always being late and not honouring time, how about tackling the root issue and finding a solution together?
Then the question changes from ‘Why are you always late?!’ to ‘How can I help you with time management?’
Bonus tip: don’t start your question with the word ‘why’; it sounds accusatory and doesn’t leave room for understanding before making a conclusion. i.e. Why do you always not turn off the fan? VS Is there a reason that you left the fan on? Is it okay if you turn off the fan next time?
- Don’t be self-seeking.
Am I all about winning the argument and seeking to prove myself right? Remember it’s not him VS me. We are in this together, we are on the same side.
- Don’t be easily angered.
Anger is false power. Being angry does not solve anything - in fact - it fuels the raging fire and causes unnecessary tension to the matter at hand. 90% of the conflicts won’t even happen if we have the right tone. Again, a gentle whisper turns away wrath.
- Don’t keep a record of wrongs.
Don’t bring up the past as ammo in the current disagreement. Leave the past in the past and focus on the current issue. Don’t bear grudges, forgive quickly, and commit to grow and be better next time.
Forgive quickly, keep our eyes on the bigger scheme of things - and not be petty over small things.
What do you think is the hardest aspect of managing conflict in relationships?
Shawn: The hardest aspect for me is discerning how the other person feels. I’m not what one would describe as empathetic, though I am trying and getting better (c’mon, it’s been years; I’d better improve, right?). This is so crucial because if you don’t know the recipient’s heart or state of mind, then that may undermine the value of everything you say/do (I say ‘do’ because nonverbal communication is worth like, more than half of what you’re communicating!).
Promise: For me, it’s about controlling my emotions. I can get agitated quite quickly - which is why I hold onto James 1:19-20 a lot. I tell myself to ‘be slow to become angry’ very often. Shawn’s more of the saint in the relationship, to be honest. Hahaha!
How do you overcome that?
Shawn: Placing myself in the other person’s shoes. A cliche that’s easier said than done, of course. But that’s why it’s a cliche - because it’s a classic principle that works. Upon being able to empathise with the other person, and knowing where they’re at on their growth journey, you would be able to express your words and tone in a manner that would be best received (IF it’s the right time to express anything at all).
Promise: Practically, I pause before speaking. I tell myself to keep quiet, calm down, and process the situation before I give a response. I also constantly remind myself of how, though it's uncomfortable, conflicts help us grow to be better people. Lastly, it’s also great to remind myself that we are on the same side - we are not against one another and we are working towards growth and deeper connections.
Do you have any concluding words to say to our readers?
Shawn: Outdo one another in love, as the Bible teaches us. Make it a point to always be the first to apologise and ask for forgiveness, or initiate that hug (even before things are fully resolved). Promise and I sometimes treat it as a friendly rivalry, where the first one who apologises ‘wins’. We usually have a good laugh after that about how silly the conflict was. ‘Games’ like these add an extra joy/fun element into an otherwise tense and unpleasant situation. But we’re all different, so this is by no means a formula - be creative!
Promise: You know the saying ‘no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care’? The same kinda applies here too. You might have a lot of good and logical points to make but it isn’t about who’s right or wrong - those things are important but right and wrong can be easily worked out when there’s a deeper connection. Thus, a greater willingness to listen and be vulnerable. Are you willing to put aside your ‘rights’ and make peace first? Let it not be about winning the argument but about building deeper and meaningful connections.
Have an eternal perspective. ◡̈ Is what you’re upset and angry about something of eternal value? Will it matter one month from now, one year from now, or 10 years from now? Majoring on minor things such as food choices might feel right at that moment, but what about issues pertaining to faith, character, and values? Things that are of eternal value and have eternal implications.
I would love for Shawn to let me eat desserts before lunch or dinner, but is that something worth fighting over as compared to my growth towards becoming a more patient person? ◡̈
Thank you Shawn and Promise for your insightful words!
Managing conflicts in relationships is truly not an easy task. It can be difficult and awkward. But perhaps, being intentional is a good reminder and a good first step. Being intentional about reflecting Biblical principles, being intentional about holding your tongue, being intentional about loving someone even when it is hard.
May this article bless you and be a fond reminder for when conflict arises between you and your loved ones!