Everyone knows how to have conflict, but very few know how to resolve it.
Not knowing how to resolve conflict had almost destroyed my marriage, and now it was affecting my parenting!
When my son CJ was 13, he and I got into a huge fight. I got so mad that I grounded him. But when my emotions settled, I felt remorse.
As I drove him to school, I said, “CJ, I’m really sorry. I totally blew up on you, and it was uncalled for. Let’s try this again. Can you try to tell me what’s going on inside your head right now?”
Angry and sullen, he looked at me, but said nothing. It was a move I was all too familiar with – it reminded me of his father.
“Don’t do that,” I said calmly. “Let’s really talk about it.”
But the silent treatment continued until we arrived at school. “Don’t get out of the car until we have at least a bit of resolution,” I said.
He looked at me, got out, and walked into school.
Now I was mad! I considered chasing him into the school, but instead, I drove away thinking, This is awful! I don’t know what to do.
I wanted to give up. How many of us have done just that in those moments when it feels impossible for us to resolve conflict? I felt hopeless but knew I needed to do something to reach him.
I went home and drew a crude sketch of a man facing a woman. Between them at their feet stood a brick. I put the picture on CJ’s desk.
After school, he came to me with the picture in his hand, looking puzzled. “Mom, what is this?”
“That is a picture of what happened in our relationship this morning,” I said. “That woman is me, and the man is you. That thing between us is a brick – it represents the fight we had this morning. It’s between us because our fight is unresolved.”
“I’m not mad anymore about our fight this morning, Mom,” he muttered.
“I’m not mad about it either, but just because our anger is gone doesn’t mean our fight is resolved. Your dad and I have seen hundreds of relationships where there’s a big fight, but they don’t talk about it.”
CJ was listening now.
“Do you know what happens to them?”
“They have one fight and form a brick. Then they have another fight, and they form another brick.”
I picked up a pencil and drew one brick after another, stacking them. Now there was a high wall of bricks standing between the two stick figures.
“After a while there are so many bricks of unresolved issues that a huge wall has formed. They become isolated, hurt, and angry – and it’s difficult for them to have a good conversation, let alone a good relationship.”
I paused. “I don’t want that between us. Do you?”
“No, I don’t,” he said solemnly.
“So let’s talk about how to get rid of the brick we formed today.”
He agreed, and I explained what I was thinking when we were fighting, and why I became angry and hurt. “What were you thinking?” I asked.
He told me his thoughts. I asked what I had said that made him shut down. I apologized for hurting him. He apologized, too. Then we prayed together.
Afterward, I took my pencil and erased all the bricks in the picture.
“Let’s never have any bricks – let alone a wall – in our relationship.”
Conflict resolution is a high priority for my husband, Dave, and me. Maybe it’s because we’ve been speaking on the topic of marriage for so many years. Or maybe it’s because conflict almost killed our own marriage.
We have learned the hard way that during a conflict, we must both pursue resolution. Instead of throwing verbal bricks at each other or using bricks of resentment to build a wall, we need to pick up the brick of conflict and resolve it.
When it comes to conflict, nothing is worse than doing nothing.
One night, 10 years later, I walked into the living room to find CJ sitting on the couch. On the opposite end was his fiancée, Robin. I apologized for interrupting and left the room.
The next morning, I asked CJ why they were sitting – but not talking.
He said, “Oh, we were in a fight and working it out.”
Confused, I said, “But I didn’t hear you talking or yelling!”
He said they were taking turns communicating their thoughts and feelings. However, before the other person responded, they took time to think about what and how they wanted to communicate so they would be understood and accepted.
I honestly don’t remember if I even responded to CJ. Instead, I ran upstairs to find Dave.
“Honey,” I yelled, “a miracle has happened. Our children are way better at resolving conflict than we are!”
The fruit of our marital labors – to keep reaching out, to talk, to listen, to forgive, and especially to pray – had never tasted so sweet.