Holidays are stressful! Are you feeling it yet? Add the complexities of a stepfamily and it can quickly get out of control.
How we manage conflict dictates how healthy our relationships are and oftentimes, whether we head to divorce court or not. However, when done correctly, conflict—with healthy, fair disagreements—can actually encourage stronger relationships.
In their book, The Remarriage Checkup, stepfamily authority Ron Deal and researcher David Olson discuss the differences in how couples handle conflict. “Research has suggested that happy and unhappy couples alike share the same number of conflicts. Unhappy couples just can’t get through the differences – they get stuck in them. Healthy couples, by comparison, are much more likely to find creative solutions to their differences and work them out (80 percent versus only 28 percent of unsatisfied couples).”
Conflict doesn’t have to be bad. It’s simply a sign that something needs to change in the relationship. It turns bad when we attack the person, in the midst of conflict, instead of attacking the problem.
Stepfamily conflict often centers around the kids. One of the most frustrating areas for stepmoms includes a passive husband who doesn’t properly discipline his kids and so she steps in, becoming the bad guy. This situation creates conflict in the marriage that’s ongoing if it’s not addressed and managed properly.
So how do you address conflict properly? How do you fight fair? Here are twelve tips to help:
- For starters, both parties must agree to remain in control. When emotions are escalated and nasty words start flying, resolve never occurs. If the situation proves to be too volatile at the moment, take a time out and come back when both of you can discuss the matter calmly.
- Commit to be fair and flexible with solutions as you work through the issue. Come to the discussion with both ears open to hear your partner’s take on the disagreement. Don’t insist your way is the only way, even if you think it’s the right way.
- State the problem clearly—be specific. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I statements” take ownership of our feelings and needs and communicate them to others without placing blame. It’s easier to hear, “I feel insecure when you ignore me,” rather than “you make me angry when you don’t listen to me.”
- Address conflict as it occurs. Don’t let issues pile up until you’re ready to explode. If your partner neglects to address your stepson’s lack of respect, don’t let it go on ten times before discussing it.
- Keep conflict away from the ears of your stepchildren, especially if it’s about them. If you’re seeking to bond with your stepchildren and they hear you fighting about them, you take huge strides backward.
- Be a team player. Your partner is your ally. If you insist you must win for a successful outcome, that means your partner has to lose. It’s not a competition, it’s a partnership.
- Don’t try to resolve conflict through e-mail or texting. Give your relationship the respect it deserves and take time to confront conflict face-to-face. If you begin a disagreement while texting, stop. Resolve to finish the discussion in person.
- Don’t bring up old issues that have nothing to do with the current conflict. Put boundaries around the subject at hand to find resolve with one thing at a time, preventing explosive arguments.
- Pick your battles. Particularly if you’re raising teen-age stepchildren, mine blasts can occur at any moment; however, you don’t have to engage at the slightest misbehavior. If your stepdaughter had a bad day and rolls her eyes at you, remember, it’s probably not about you.
- Steer clear of name calling or character assassination. Hurtful words create deep wounds that don’t heal easily. Stick to the issue instead of diverting to the person.
- Listen more than you talk. I’ve heard that women speak about 20,000 words per day, close to 13,000 more than the average man. I’m convinced God gave us one mouth and two ears so we would listen more and talk less.
- Offer grace freely. Be quick to apologize and slow to hold grudges. When we don’t forgive, we suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. Forgive and let it go.
It’s also important to recognize our part of conflict. It takes courage and humility to take a personal inventory and consider how we contribute to conflict. But it’s important!
When conflict comes knocking at your door, don’t despair. If you commit to practice healthy conflict management, you’ll find your relationships deepen through resolve. You don’t have to get stuck arguing about the same ‘ole thing.
Are you up for a challenge? Pick your weakest link when it comes to conflict. Where could you improve? Then determine to do conflict differently and watch what a difference it makes in your relationships!
For more holiday tips, check out our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace. It’s a great tool to help you find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.
Pic by by imagerymajestic
*Originally published in Stepmom Magazine October 2013