Your Marriage Can be Saved #19: 5 Communication Options When in Conflict

(Munson Park) 

Dr. David Augsburger, in his excellent and readable book Caring Enought to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others, shows us how to effectively communicate when we are in conflict with someone. Linda and I were, years ago, mentored by David and his wife Nancy in this, and we will always be grateful for what we learned and how it has helped us in marriage.

David is a follower of Jesus and bases his communication theory on Ephesians which says: “therefore speak ther truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ.” Truth without love is destructive; love without truth is avoidant. Combining truth + love in communication-in-conflict and the results can be positive. 

The way David puts this is: be both confronting and caring at the same time. Practice “care-fronting” with others. Or, care enough to confront when you’re angry with one another. If not this, what would the other options be? Augsburger gives us 4 other options when in conflict that mostly are ineffective, even causing more damage.

Option #1 – “I’ll get him!” This is the I-win-you-lose-because-I’m-right-you’re wrong” position in conflict. Augsburger writes: “This “win-lose” stance uses all power and little or no love. Goal is valued above relationship. ‘My way is the only way,’ the person feels.”

Option #2 – “I’ll get out.” If #1 1 is “fight,” #2 is “flight.” This is the I’m-uncomfortable-so-I’ll-withdraw stance toward conflict/ Augsburger writes: “The viewpoint here is that conflicts are hopeless, people cannot be changed; we either overlook them or withdraw. Conflicts are to be avoided at all costs. When they threaten, get out of their way.” This is a lose-lose option in which everyone loses, including the relationship.

Option #3 -“I’ll give in.” This is the Christian doormat position, the “I’ll-yield-to-be-nice-because-I-need-your-friendship approach. Augsburger writes: “As a rule, [this approach] falls short. You become a doormat. A nice guy or gal. Frustrated. Yet smiling. The more tense and tight on the inside, the more generous and submissive on the outside.”

Option #4 – “I’ll meet you halfway.” This is the I-have-only-half-the-truth-and-I-need-your-half approach in conflict. This is working toward compromise. Sometimes this is good, but Augsburger cautions: “When we begin with a decision to compromise, we run the risk that my half of the truth added to your half may not give us the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We may have two half-truths. or the combination may produce a whole untruth. Only when we care enough to tussle with truth can we test, retest, erfine and perhaps find more of it through our working it out seriously.”

Augsburger then gives us the stance that usually works best when in conflict. This is:

Option #5 – “I care enough to confront.” This is the I-want-relationship-and-I-also-want-integrity position. I’ll spell out exactly what this means in my next marriage-saving post.