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Rules for fighting

In youth group the past two Sundays we’ve have fun talking about how to deal with conflict at home (improv drama is so much fun with this). Conflict is something no one likes but we all experience. Despite our wicked depravity, conflict doesn’t necessarily have to tear family members apart. With some ground rules established and mutual agreements set beforehand, conflicts can be civil, orderly, and handled with maturity.

For my lesson last Sunday I dug out some notes from one of my seminary marriage classes and tweaked them a little to be more youth oriented. However, the principles apply to anyone, so I decided to post ’em here for you guys (click the “more” link below). Hopefully it will be helpful in making some of your relationships a success at home. As always, comments are welcome.

Seven Unfair Fighting Tactics

1. Universalizing – Making an unwarranted leap from a specific situation to a vast generalization (using words like “always” and “never”). Instead of saying, “You never let me hang out with my friends!” say, “I feel that you don’t let me hang out with my friends as much as I would like.” The difference between those two statements is clear: the former attacks the other individual and immediately puts up walls whereas the latter communicates the issue and opens ground for further communication.

2. Character Killing – Switching from the issues of the conflict to making a personal attack. (May include sarcasm for a more devastating effect.) For example, “Fine! You can hang out with your friends because all your friends are so perfect.”

3. Cloud Covering – Making a vague foggy accusation instead of being detailed and specific about a complaint. Parent example: “You don’t care about me” versus “I don’ feel like you care about spending time with me when all you do is hang out with your friends.”

4. Upping the Ante – Instead of responding to the hurt or anger, you just play “tit for tat” by citing a worse case that’s been done to you. “Well, me hanging out with my friends isn’t as bad as you cheating on Dad!”

5. Scatter Bombing – Overwhelming the other person with a barrage of faults and misdeeds that land all over the map. Dropping into the conversation a huge list of sins (usually unrelated). “You don’t let me hang out with friends, you don’t let me watch TV but you watch it for 12 hours a day and never make meals for us.”

6. Moth Balling – Putting an old grievance in storage “for years or decades” and bringing it out at just the right time to hurt the other person.

7. Spitting in your Soup – Using passive aggressive comments to lay the guilt on the other party. Often includes sarcasm. “Your annoying friend is spending the week with us. I’m looking forward to giving up our house and hearing her loud voice when she’s here. I’m so happy she’s coming.”

Rules for Fighting Fair

1. Keep it Honest – Ephesians 4:15, “but speak the truth in love.” You have to communicate truthfully.

2. Keep it Under Control – Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” Do not use words that trigger anger and pain in the other person.

3. Keep it Timed Right – Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.” Deal with it enough to take the sting out and agree to deal with the issues in a timely manner.

4. Keep it Positive – Colossians 3:12-13, “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

5. Keep it Tactful – Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

6. Keep it Private – Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” These are each potential public attacks. Out of respect for each other, take your arguments someplace private and then do not gossip about it with other people.

7. Keep it Cleaned Up – Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” You cannot finish a fight without forgiveness and apology. Forgiveness is asked for and received without a “but” attached.

8. Find out what you’re fighting about – Proverbs 18:15, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

9. Stick to the Subject – Don’t get off track and transfer the argument to other issues. Deal with one at a time.

10. Avoid Categorizing or Name Calling – Matthew 5:22, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

11. Leave out Past Histories – 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Stick with the issue at hand. The past is behind and you’ve forgiven them for it. Agree to never bring it up again.

Ways to maintain commitment

1. Develop or maintain a strong commitment to God. People will disappoint us, but God never will. If we’re not committed to God we won’t be committed to each other. How can you be committed to someone who will fail you when you’re not committed to someone who will never fail.
2. Improved attitudes.
3. Practice acts of kindness. Intentionally love someone. Go out of your way to build positive experiences with the individual. Respect is not a right that is automatically assigned to you — it is earned with time and hard work, so work hard to EARN their respect and trust.
4. Acknowledge frequently you have a life-long commitment to each other. Other friends will continually come and go, but your family members are with you for life whether you like it or not.
5. Don’t allow competitors to interfere with your commitment (i.e. long work hours, church, friends)
6. Practice common courtesy. Open doors, walk together, offer the last scoop of ice-cream to the other person.
7. Be one another’s most faithful cheerleader, especially when you face the world’s greatest defeat. Support and encourage each other at all times.
8. Develop and demonstrate empathy. (Empathy and sympathy are two different things — develop empathy.)

Miscellaneous Notes

— Remember, it’s the one you love you’re fighting with (1 Corinthians 13)!
— There are no winners or losers in a fight — everyone loses. Even if you prove the other person wrong and the argument ends, no one has won. The relationship is broken making both of you losers.

Structured Time-Out

A practical suggestion:
The person feeling emotionally overwhelmed says, “I need a time out. Can we continue this conversation at _____?” and sets a specific time to continue the discussion. The other person MUST respect the request and agree. It is then the responsibility of the person on the time out to go back to the other person at the designated time and continue the discussion with a calmer more mature attitude. Time-outs must not last longer than 24-hours.


Posted on October 28, 2005

  • Dad

    Great stuff! I’ll use this with the teens in my teen class at the home schoolers meeting Tuesday.
    Thanks a lot!

    Love, Dad

  • Hi Tim,
    I’ve never really looked around on your website before (and I should be now, I’ve got a test in two days!!!) but I need a break. I am going to show this stuff to my friend who is having boyfriend issues. thanks! hey, what’s up with you? haven’t talked to you in forever. hopefully i’ll see you next weekend when i’m up there… i don’t know what my mom said, but i think she keeps forgetting that I am going to be at the AMA conference some of time that weekend. It’s from Thursday – Sunday. Anyway, I will stop here before i write my own entry and not just a comment on your blog!!!

  • Kym Mister

    Timmy,
    This is what Daniel needs for his youth group/church. I have to run by Plaza and get some things from him, so I’ll get him online and show this to him. Thanks for shareing.
    See ya soon, Kym

  • Tim

    Glad this can help some of you guys. Kym, tell Daniel I said HI and that he should feel free to contact me any time he wants.

  • Kym Mister

    I just gave him you phone number and websites and email. Hopefully he’ll contact you soon. He needs encouragment.

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