By Jim Mitchell

Do you ever argue about your arguments?  We do.  Well, I should say I do… my wife just listens.

Here’s the issue.  I usually try to handle conflict openly and head on, even if it means things get heated.  It feels more courageous to me, more honest, and it saves time.  I also think a large part of it lies in my orneriness.  Sparring over words and ideas exhilarates me.  Honestly, sometimes it’s just fun to grab an angry dog by the ears.

My wife’s not like me.  She avoids conflict.  It scares her, makes her feel insecure, and zaps her energy.  She’s also not one to spar over words.  Words mean less to her than feelings and tone.  That drives me crazy and makes me want to argue even more.  So sometimes we argue about how we argue more than about the argument itself.  Tim and Joy Downs address this in their book The Seven Conflicts:

“Conflicts can begin about any topic at all, but they quickly shift from the content of the discussion to its style.  The argument is no longer about what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.”

Both of our approaches to conflict have consequences.  My way gets things out in the open but also makes the home volatile.  It robs us of grace and forbearance.  Quarreling over words just has a way of causing needless friction.

Her way fosters patience but doesn’t really resolve the conflict.  It just postpones it or even makes it worse.  It can also push us toward passive control, where one spouse withdraws or where we argue without saying the actual words.

These differences between us also take their toll on the kids, as songwriter David Wilcox describes in his song “Covert War”:

I used to stand between you
Trying to smooth over what got said
Trying to get a medal
Trying to get some shrapnel in my head

Thought it was my duty
To plead and to implore
But I caught too much crossfire
In your covert war

For now I guess we’re trying to find a balance or a compromise between both approaches.  We attempt to deal with disagreements directly but lovingly.  We’ve done this in front of the kids so they can see godly conflict resolution modeled.  We’ve also had closed-door meetings if emotions were running unusually strong.

Mainly we’re just working hard at not working so hard at conflict.