Start There

My kids got into an argument and I’m still not really sure what about. Maybe he was the one being mean, maybe it was her, who knows. Regardless, they weren’t treating each other well and it led to some yelling and crying and making a small problem into a big problem.

Brian, who was fed up with their seemingly constant bickering, told them they needed to sit down face to face and work it out. And then he added that they were not welcome to come back inside until they did.

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They weren’t happy about it and they needed a fair amount of coaching (I “lightly supervised” from the deck.) But I think it was a really important 20 minutes. He started with his back turned to her, saying over and over that she should just admit she was the one being mean. And she was crying, not making a ton of sense, trying to tell him that he wasn’t listening to her. They were pretty terrible at it, but they are 9 and (almost) 7 years old. At least they are practicing.

The majority of adults suck at these things. Avoiders, yellers, non-listeners, back turners, blamers, pretenders; we all have our tendencies. I know very few people who say that their parents modeled healthy reconciliation. More would say they didn’t learn these things until one of their important relationships was in jeopardy and they sought counseling. The rest are wishing they had learned before things fell apart- or just hoping their broken relationship will magically heal itself one day.

If you have an argument, get your feelings hurt or feel misunderstood- don’t pretend it will go away. Avoidance causes erosion; the general wearing down of what you’ve built until it’s unstable. Lack of trust, distance, resentment. Confronting the situation with anger and pride will do the same, just faster.

Brian and I do a lot of counseling with couples and it’s eye-opening to see the patterns people bring to the table. In addition to the tendencies I mentioned above, there are so many hard-wired reasons people refuse to face conflict and pursue reconciliation. Learned behaviors from dysfunctional families, fear of upsetting the (perceived) harmony, fear of rejection, selfishness, or most often- they have no idea how to do it well.

Own your garbage, apologize, be honest, ask for things to be different next time- whatever you need to do. Revisit that hard interaction you had and keep talking until both of you have understanding. I can remember plenty of nights when Brian and I were dating when some issue was between us and we’d talk forever about it. I’d eventually get tired and say, “ok let’s just be done talking about it.” He would always point out when he knew I wasn’t really ok but rather just giving up. Sometimes we’d agree to take a break, as long as we committed to come back to it. Other times he pushed me to keep talking until genuine reconciliation happened. I am grateful for that.

It takes a lot of practice to create healthy patterns. I’ve had to learn to listen without interrupting or criticizing or defending myself when the other person is sharing how they feel. I’ve had to identify when I’m angry and hurt because of some old wound that I am unfairly placing. I am still learning how to choose the right setting and time and language for these conversations.

But I believe that as far as it depends on me, I am to live in peace with others (Romans 12:8). It can feel awkward to start hard conversations or to admit that you are not satisfied with how things are between you. Maybe you think your relationship has too many bad habits or is too weak for new ways. But it’s possible to change the culture of a relationship. It takes chiseling up old cement and pouring it again. It takes creating an expectation that when something is hard, you will face it. It takes time and a willing partner, but it’s most definitely possible. If Jesus is in the center, anything is possible.

And I’m sure you’re already good at parts. Just like all of our bad tendencies, we have good ones too. Maybe you’re teachable, gracious, forgiving, gentle, a truth-teller, a problem solver, an encourager. Start with what you know how to do and what you’re good at and ask God to begin building the other parts in you.

After we let the kids back in the house, we told them something we’ve learned in our marriage that has served us well- “There is almost always something you can apologize for.” How you reacted, how you spoke, how you hurt the other person, how you acted selfishly.

And don’t make it up. I’m pretty sure it won’t take long to recognize how you imperfectly handled the situation. Start there. Offering humility and grace is disarming and is a good first step toward reconciliation. That’s hard to do when you feel angry or hurt, but you can do it. I believe in you. I believe in our kids too.

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