This post is part of a series on resolving conflict. It is of course recommended that you read all parts of the series. Here are the posts you might want to catch up on if you have not already:
- Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 1 – The Importance of Good Communication Habits.
- Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 2 – TIME OUT’s Are Not Just for Kids.
- Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 3 – Feelings are not just for sissy’s!
Learning a new way to resolve conflict in your marriage is not an easy thing, but with commitment and a trust in the Lord all things are possible (Phil 4:13). Parts 1, 2, and 3 have now prepared us for the second step in P.R.A.Y. which is R – Reconnect with Your Spouse.
Remember what the 4-step process of P.R.A.Y. is?
P – Part Ways – TIME OUT.
R – Reconnect with your spouse.
A – Apologize for hurt feelings or wrong doings.
Y – Yes Me – Yes, it is me that needs to make an effort.
After taking a time out (P – Part Ways – TIME OUT) it is time for R – Reconnect with Your Spouse. Hopefully when you called the TIME OUT you also scheduled the time you would return back to each other. Now that this time has arrived and you have calmed yourself and identified how you feel about the issue, it is time to R – Reconnect with Your Spouse. This is the time to understand your spouse’s feelings and concerns. It is also an opportunity for your spouse to do the same for you. This is a time to listen!! This is NOT a time to solve the problem (that will be later).
When we reconnect we need some ground rules; the purpose of the ground rules is to keep us calm and willing to listen to our spouse.
Rules for Reconnecting. Remember…
- Make sure it is SAFE for your spouse to share.
- Your spouse is not your enemy.
- Feelings are not wrong.
- Listen respectfully and carefully.
- Work to understand your spouse’s point of view.
- No Problem Solving. You will have time for this later.
- Don’t interrupt your spouse – Take notes if it helps to listen.
What do I mean by making sure it is SAFE for your spouse to share? It means we need to create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their side of things. Interacting with your spouse should be SAFE at all times both physically and emotionally.
- Physically SAFE – neither spouse should be made to feel in fear of his or her own personal safety. If you are not physically safe in your marriage, please seek professional assistance to help you find safety. Do not believe the lie that you deserve to be physically threatened. It can be obvious or subtle. Either way, it is abuse.
- Emotionally SAFE – both spouses should be comfortable to speak their feelings or point of view without emotional retaliation. Emotional retaliation might look like:
- Rolling of the eyes.
- Crossing of arms.
- Using your spouses’ words against them.
- Twisting of words.
- Calling them a liar.
- Dismissing their words/feelings as unimportant.
- Getting to close in your spouse’s personal space.
If you do not feel safe, tell your spouse. “I DO NOT FEEL SAFE!” You need to communicate what you need from your spouse to feel safe.
The power to make our spouse feel safe or unsafe should not be taken for granted. Even when we are angry or upset we should always want our spouse to feel safe. If our spouse says they do not feel safe, we should never respond with arrogance or sarcasm, we should respond with patience and love. Ask “How can I help you feel safe?” or “What am I doing that makes you feel unsafe?” When they respond, we must be very careful not to belittle or dismiss their request; listen and make the necessary changes even if you disagree or don’t understand why the change is needed. This is not the time to try to convince them that they are wrong or that they should feel safe with you without the requested changes. We must make the necessary changes to help them feel safe.
Both my husband and I have been guilty in the past of fostering an unsafe emotional environment. This is probably pretty common among marriages, especially struggling marriages. We might role our eyes because we are tired of the same request or action from our spouse. We cross our arms, often subconsciously, because we wish we were someplace else or talking about anything else. Even more underhanded, we might take our spouse’s words (from anther fight) and use them against them in this fight. We might not have called our spouse a liar directly, but choosing not to believe something they said, indirectly, is calling them a liar. All of the emotional retaliations listed above, my husband and I used to be very guilty of. The list was our toolbox of fighting. It is very sad to think of how poorly we treated each other, partly because we were mad, but mostly because we did not know any better. We did not know how to work through disagreements without forcing our will upon the other. Both being strong willed, first-born children we fought and fought until we tired each other out, never really resolving anything. The good news is that we rarely behave this way any more. We now resolve conflict in a loving and effect manner. It is this process of P.R.A.Y. that helps us keep our cool and communicate in a safe and loving environment. We hope and pray that you will find the Holy Spirit guiding you to use all or part of this process to improve your conflict resolution and your communication.
Our Spouse as our Enemy?
It can be common to feel like our spouse is our enemy when we disagree or are having conflict. This feeling of our spouse being our enemy can be created by us as a defense mechanism. Maybe we are defending or protecting ourselves from previous patterns of behavior or maybe the devil has planted doubt in us to make it difficult to reconcile. Planting doubt in our heads is a very easy and subtle way for the devil to chip away at his goal. The doubt fosters distrust and distrust breeds all kinds of cancer in our marriage to the point that marriages fall apart without much help. Every time a marriage fails the devil does his happy dance; destroying marriages is the easiest way for the devil to concur the world.
We need to remember to give our spouse the benefit of the doubt. Assume they are on our side even when we disagree. When we start to hear that voice in our head saying “They are against me” or “They do not want me to be happy” or some version like that, we need to recognize that those thoughts are the perfect invitation for the devil to mess with our head. We need to choose not to believe those thoughts and give our spouse the benefit of the doubt by replacing those words with more positive thoughts like “They do want me to be happy” or “They are not against me, They are not my enemy.” THIS IS NOT EASY but it is necessary. Listen to our spouse for what they are actually saying, not the thoughts in our head about their motivations.
Scripture to guide us when we are Reconnecting:
James 1: 19-20 “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Both of these scripture verses remind us to take a deep breath and listen; neither of which are easy to do when we are in the middle of a disagreement. Keep these scriptures close when you are practicing P.R.A.Y. Both suggestions: 1) to create a SAFE environment and 2) to not see our Spouse as the ENEMY can challenge us to our very core. When we are angry or hurt or we feel we have done everything and our spouse is the problem, the last thing we want to do is to make accommodations for them. It feels unfair. These scripture verses help us remember that to be a Servant Spouse means to put ourselves aside and do the best thing even when we do not feel like it. Even when we have given our 110% and they have given very little, we need to keep doing the best thing.
Part 3 of this series addressed feelings, so if you need a refresher about feelings not being wrong you might return to that post:
Now that you know the ground rules during Reconnect, it is time to actually Reconnect!!
Your assignment during R – Reconnect with Your Spouse is to really “nail” your spouse’s point of view. Really get it. Your effort will be rated its highest when you truly understand your spouse’s feelings. When you can communicate your spouse’s feelings back to them fully and completely, you really reconnect.
We have 2 ears and just one mouth because listening is more important than speaking. You will have a chance for your side to be heard but first we need to understand our spouse’s point of view, not argue with it but understand it.
- No problem solving.
- No interrupting – Take notes instead of interrupting. You will have a chance to refer back to your notes when it is your turn.
Who goes first?
You will both have an opportunity to share your thoughts on the issue, but someone must go first. You will take turns being the Sharing Spouse and the Listening Spouse. We recommend the person who brought up the issue or appears to have the strongest feelings take their turn as the Sharing Spouse first. If you cannot decide, then we suggest the wife goes first.
Sharing Spouse – Share using the 3 F’s
When you are the Sharing Spouse use the 3 F’s as a guideline to expressing your thoughts.
The 3 F’s are:
- FACTS – What are the facts of the issue?
- FEELINGS – What are your feelings about the facts of the issue? Express your feelings about a situation using Descriptive Feelings. Focus on the severity and magnitude of the feelings. Refer back to post: Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 3 – Feelings are not just for sissy’s! to help you describe your feelings about the issue.
- FEARS – Do you have any Fears that come from these feelings?
Using the 3 F’s to communicate your thoughts to your spouse helps you stay focused and aids your spouse in listening effectively.
When our spouse is sharing as the Sharing Spouse, our job is to listen as the Listening Spouse. One of the most difficult tasks during R – Reconnect with Your Spouse is to listen instead of interrupt. We desire so desperately to state our opinion that we struggle to be patient. This can be so very hard for me. Remember I am always right, so hearing someone else’s thoughts can seem like a waste of time or unnecessary. I have to remind myself that our marriage is a relationship between two people and God, it is not just me. It is God that will grant us the patience to hear our spouse, and it is God that will reveal to us how to respond to our spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and requests. If we are so focused on our opinion instead of hearing our spouse it will be difficult to hear God help provide the solution.
When you are the Listening Spouse…..use ALERT to help you be a better listener.
A – Acknowledge that a problem exists and that you have the power to help improve the situation. It is important that this acknowledgment does not include blaming or finger pointing.
L – Listen to your spouse when they speak. Seek to understand, not to be heard.
E – Empathize with your spouse and how they feel. Try to understand the problem from their point of view rather than just your own.
R – Repeat back to your spouse what you have heard. Make sure you have truly heard them. Use the 3 F’s as a guide to help you repeat. What are the Facts as your spouse sees them? How does your spouse feel about the facts/situation? What fear(s) accompany these feelings? You are not done listening until you can repeat back in a manner satisfactory to the Sharing Spouse.
T – Take Notes if necessary
Example of P.R.A.Y. in action to this point.
Susan (wife) observes Paul (husband) and their two children going downstairs after dinner. Susan’s anxiety increases and immediately she finds herself very agitated. Susan tells Paul, “I am frustrated with always having to clean up the dishes after dinner by herself. This is something that bothers me all the time and I really need to talk with you about it.” Paul starts saying “it is your responsibility and after work I am too tired to do the dishes. The dishes are not something I want to do.”
- Remember from P – Part Ways – TIME OUT – When to use P.R.A.Y. #2 says: One spouse is frustrated, upset, or angry about something. Maybe you are not upset but your spouse is. Maybe your spouse is huffing and puffing or raising their voice or possibly they say: “we need to talk”. Susan and Paul seem to have met this condition and should identify the need for the first step in P.R.A.Y. which is P – Part Ways – TIME OUT
- Either spouse can call the TIME OUT, but a TIME OUT needs to be called at this point.
P – Part Ways – TIME OUT. Susan and Paul agree to reconnect at 9pm after the kids go to bed. Before 9pm arrives, both Susan and Paul need to individually find time to take their TIME OUT. Susan and Paul should refer to the post Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 2 – TIME OUT’s Are Not Just for Kids to help guide them through their personal TIME OUTs.
- Remember…The Goal of your TIME OUT is to do what is necessary to calm yourself so that when you return to your spouse you are in a more caring mood, ready to listen to their side of things. You also want to be able to express your side of things in a calm, rational manner, without yelling or finger pointing.
R – Reconnect with Your Spouse using the 3 F’s. At 9pm Susan and Paul begin the reconnect process by sitting on the couch together. Here is an example of how that might look, assuming both Susan and Paul took their individual TIME OUTs as suggested.
First Susan and Paul should pray together. Something quick and simple is all that is needed. Our suggested prayer: Lord, give us the patience to listen to our spouse and the grace to speak to our spouse in love, even when we disagree. Help us find a solution that serves you and honors each other. Amen!
Susan goes first…Susan to Paul – Susan is the Sharing Spouse and Paul is the Listening Spouse
Fact (When I have to do the dishes after dinner by myself)
Feeling (I feel alone, like I have been left on the top of a mountain with no map to get home. My loneliness is blue with a magnitude of 6 on a scale of 1-10)
Fear (I fear that you do not want to help me and would prefer to leave me to fend for myself)
- Paul needs to repeat back what Susan has said fully and completely to Susan’s satisfaction before Paul shares his thoughts and feelings about the issue. It might take a few tries before Paul has satisfied Susan that he understands her; that is ok and expected.
Paul goes second…Paul to Susan – Paul is the Sharing Spouse and Susan is the Listening Spouse
Fact (When you do the dishes after dinner I am appreciative)
Feeling (I am tired and the last thing I want to do is tackle dishes)
Fear (I fear that helping with the dishes will leave me no time to unwind after work)
- Susan now needs to repeat back what Paul has said fully and completely to Paul’s satisfaction without bringing up her side of things. It might take a few tries before Susan has satisfied Paul that she understands him; that is ok and expected.
Remember…Susan and Paul’s assignment during R – Reconnect with Your Spouse is to really “nail” their spouse’s point of view. Really get it. Even though it is an issue that was brought up by Susan, Susan’s effort will be most effective when she truly understand Paul’s thoughts and feelings about the issue. Also, when Paul can communicate Susan’s thoughts and feelings back to Susan fully and completely, Paul will have accomplished a good reconnect with Susan.
Both Susan and Paul will have a chance for their side to be heard but first they need to understand each other’s point of view, not argue with it but understand it.
Suggested Prayer (by Melissa B): Lord, give us the patience to listen to our spouse and the grace to speak to our spouse in love, even when we disagree. Help us find a solution that serves you and honors each other. Amen!
This week look for opportunities where P.R.A.Y. might be needed. Practice both P – Part Ways – TIME OUT & R – Reconnect with your spouse.
What’s next: Next post we will finish the process of P.R.A.Y. with A – Apologize for hurt feelings or wrong doings & Y – Yes Me – Yes, it is me that needs to make an effort.