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 Chapter 5: Five Steps to Overcoming Conflict   

We All Battle with the Same "Trouble Makers"

Several years ago I was meeting with a couple that had fallen into difficult times in their marriage, and to protect their identity, we will call them “John & Mary”. John and Mary had been married for over 20 years, and had reached a point in their relationship where they felt like they were running out of options, and by the time we met they let me know that they had just filed for a divorce. My heart sank as I realized that even though I could see a glimpse of hope left in their eyes (which is the only reason they were meeting with me), that this was their last attempt to turn things around, and save their marriage.


In our discussion together, I noticed that they had something in common, with me and with all the other couples, I had met with over the years for relationship counseling. I realized that we all had the same “Trouble Makers” that were causing us great heart ache, and this trouble maker was nothing more than a "Small Hurt" that had been swept under the carpet of their hearts years ago. And over the years that "Small Hurt" had grown and grown, until finally John and Mary were dealing with ... "A Category 10 Land Mine of the Heart"!  

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A Review of Chapter 3 and 4

In the last few chapters of this book, we looked at …

(1) How our “Little Hurts” tend to build up inside, creating “Land Mines of destruction” in our hearts.

(2) After the Land Mine becomes more than we can handle, they get triggered, usually by someone “close to us, that we feel safe with”, and then Kaboom, the hurtful emotions pour out like a Massive Flood, causing destruction to our lives.


We also talked about what happens when those hurtful emotions begin to rise ... we go through ... 


The Four R’s of Hurt

  • Re-living the Incident in our mind

  • Ruminating with Self Talk (going over key details again and again)

  • Rushing with adrenaline, as our heart races

  • Raging with anger as we get to “The Boiling Point”


 Now we will look at a better way of dealing with our HURT …

The Vowels of Conflict Resolution

(Click the Vowels below to access a Worksheet) ...

Step #1: A = Ask Permission to share the thing that is hurting you (no ambushes).


One of the roadblocks that we encounter in our mind, as we process the feelings of our “little hurts”, is “The Fear of the fight”. We look back on experiences in the past where we brought up a little hurt to someone, and it lead to nothing more than “Excuses and a Counter Attack”, from the other person. And the reason this happens is because we end up “Ambushing them”, instead of giving "the offender", a heads up (A Warning).


An ambush is what happens when someone does something to hurt someone’s feelings, and the hurt person reacts by blowing up on the offender (Kaboom!). I believe it’s true that most people have good intentions when they do things. People don’t usually do mean things deliberately to hurt the people they love. But it’s our own mind that quickly processes the situation when we feel hurt, and in no time at all we have reviewed the evidence, questioned the witnesses (memories of things done in the past), and then we pronounce judgement on the guilty (the offender).


Our goal in these situations is to communicate our hurt feelings and frustration, and yet all we end up doing is “Ambushing” the other person with all of our toxic and unfiltered emotions (we vomit on them, blah!). This is why my recommendation as Step #1 in the conflict resolution process, is to come to the person that has offended you, and politely ask them (in a respectful tone of voice), “can I share something with you that hurt my feelings”? You would then pause, giving them a moment to think ... and then let them respond without feeling pressured. At this point in time, the offender would know that something they said or did (which is usually not intentional), has offended you.


Their response would be one of two options (see below) ...

1) Yes, now is a good time for you to share your hurt feelings with me, bring it on.

2) No, I am too upset right now. I am afraid that I might say something, or do something in response that would make things worse. Can you give me more time?


If your answer is no, you must both agree on the timing of “when” you will talk about it. Is it 10 minutes from now, is an hour from now? Just knowing that you have a healthy way of processing your hurt feelings, instead of ambushing (which just starts a fight), will make your “Yes, I’m ready” responses, come quicker and quicker. If your answer is yes, then you are ready to move on to Step #2.


Step #2: E = Express Your Feelings using “I felt”, instead of using “Blame words”.


The second step in our conflict resolution process is to express you hurt feelings in a non-blaming way, using the “I felt” phrase (I felt hurt, or I felt frustrated, when you said ________, or when you did _______). What this does is it communicates to other person, that you are taking “Ownership” of your own feelings and emotions, and not blaming them for how you feel. The truth of the matter is that no one can “make you” feel the way you do. Circumstances might cause us to “want to get frustrated or upset", but no one can “make you get upset", no one can “Make You Mad”. We choose to get upset, it’s entirely up to us. Saying “I felt” communicates that “You have chosen" to “feel upset” when _________ happened.


Ambushing is just the first part of starting a fight with a person, while blaming a person for how you feel (using Blame Words), is the second part, it’s a “One-Two” Punch (Ambush + Blame = Excuse + Counter Attack).


Step #3: I = Inquire WHY, they did what they did (get the big picture).


One of our greatest’s assets in life is our imagination, and yet our imagination can also become one of our greatest trouble makers. If we choose to only look at one side of any given situation we will inevitably be “placing the noose around our own necks”. It is crucial that we “Look at other person’s side of the story”, so that we can get “The Big Picture”, and yet our imagination is going to try and “Fill in all the blanks”, with information that should only come from, the person that hurt us.


So in step #3, we would ask the person who offended us “Why did you do what you did”? We would then listen to their side of the story, and give them “The benefit of the doubt”. Remember, most people say and do things because they feel in their hearts, like what they are doing, is the right thing to do (they have good intentions). Once you have genuinely listened to their reasoning, for doing what they did, and have looked at both sides of the situation (The Big Picture), you can then move to Step #4.


Step #4: O = Own up to your own wrong, in the matter.


I would venture to say that a lot of the steam that comes from a fight, is not so much fueled from your insistence that the other person is wrong, as it is in your persistence on proving your own innocence in the matter (I'm NOT Wrong). As we continue to fight with someone, all we hear from the other person (in our mind) is “I’m right ... and you’re wrong”. And yet I would like to propose that what they are really saying is “If you are right ... that means that I am wrong … and I’m not wrong ... therefore I must be right and you must be wrong” … does that make sense?


So the quickest way to defuse a conflict, is for one of the two people involved, to “Take ownership of their Own Wrong in the matter”. And once one person does that, hopefully the other person will follow, taking ownership of their own wrong also, and the result will be a “Deflation of the Hurtful Emotions” that brought “Fuel to the Fight”, in the first place.


Personal Story

In our family, my wife and I have seven kids together, and three of our kids are girls that are one year apart. I can remember a day years ago, when all three girls came to me because they were fighting with each other (they were about 11, 12 & 13 years old). Most of the time, they would come to my wife and each of them would tell their side of the story, and my wife would listen to all the details of the conflict, and do her best to make a decision on who is right, and who is wrong in the matter. So on this day, they all came to me with their grievance, and I tried to listen to all the details, but because I’m a male, my brain can only track so many details at one time (females are much better multitaskers). I then realized that if I can just get each girl to “own up to their own wrong in the matter”, that it would “Deflate” the situation, and that forgiveness and healing could follow.


So one at a time, I told the girls to tell me what “they did wrong” in the situation, and I let them know that I didn’t care about any of the details surrounding what “The Other Person”, did wrong. All I wanted to hear was what they did wrong, and if they believed in their hearts that it was okay to hurt the other person.


At first their response was something like this … “I called you a name, and that was wrong … but I did it because YOU did ______ ______ _______ _______”! So I immediately stopped them in their tracks and told them to “rewind, and try again”, and that I did not want to hear their reason for why it was okay to hurt the other person (because it’s never okay, to hurt people). Eventually I was able to get them to look at the other person, own up to their own wrong in the matter, then admit that hurting the other person was not okay (without giving excuses). After each of them took turns doing this, it “Deflated the hurtful emotions”, and they could then forgive each other, and move on.


Note: As mentioned before, most people don’t purposely mean to hurt the other person, and yet people do end up getting hurt. It’s the “Little Hurts” in life that build up and cause all the damage to our life and relationships. Therefore, in taking your turn in “Owning Up to Your Wrong in the Matter”, if you can’t think of anything you did to hurt the other person, what you can do is “Take ownership of Hurting them, in General”. It would go something like this … “I did not mean to hurt you, but I did hurt you, and hurting you is wrong, and I’m sorry for that”.


Step #5: U = Understand how to do things differently, next time.


The fifth step in the Vowels of Conflict Resolution, is where you and significant other would take time to work together to come up with a plan, for what you will do the next time the hurtful thing happens (You make a “WE” Decision together). After all, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


An example of a possible plan for doing things different would be saying … “The next time that I embarrass you in front of your co-workers, can you please pull me aside and let me know that I hurt you, privately, instead of yelling at me in front of everyone”?

… Or … “The next time that you think that I took your last soda out of the refrigerator, can you please ask me, instead of accusing me”?

… Or … “The next time you do something “Little” to hurt me, instead of "letting it go", and sweeping it under "The Carpet of my Heart", I am going to go get the “Vowels of Conflict Resolution”, and then we can work through the Five Steps together”.


Coming up with a plan together will not only help you do things differently (which will save you hours and hours of pain), but it will also help you and your significant other to grow in your relationship together.


Your homework for this chapter is to CLICK HERE ... And it will lead to a “The Vowels of Conflict Worksheet”.


1. When you click on that link, it will take you to a PDF file. In the file you will see two half page work sheets that contain the Five Step Process for “Using Your Vowels”.

2. Print out the Vowels of Conflict Worksheet.

3. Take it somewhere where you can copy it to card stock paper, then laminate it (like an Office Store or Kinko's).

4. Cut the laminated page in half down the middle, then post each Worksheet somewhere that is easily accessible in your home. Two recommended places are ...

(1) On your Refrigerator (adding a piece of stick-able magnets to the back of the worksheet) ... or ...

(2) On your bedroom mirror (using masking tape to hold it up).


Then the next time your significant other does something to hurt your feelings, you can pick up Your Vowels and go through the Five Steps together.  

There Has Got to be a Better Way!

As I looked at this whole “Unhealthy Process” of dealing with our little hurts, a process that we seem to go through again and again (Myself included), I knew there had to be a better way of dealing with the Trouble Maker that I call “The Little Hurt”. There had to be a way to “Nip it in the bud”, so that the end result would not be “Catastrophic Damage to our Life and Relationships”, as the “Land Mines of the Heart”, go off again and again.


In digging into my own personal fights and battles, I learned that it is not “what happens in our relationships”, that causes most of the damage … it’s “how we deal with, what happens”, that leads us to our own demise. "We", are the main reason that our life and relationships get so shipwrecked, it’s all about “Our Choices” on "How" we deal with life. In the words of Charles R. Swindoll, "Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it". 


And as I see it, at this point, we have two choices ...

(1) We can either continue on the path that we are on, and deal with our conflicts in the same way that we always have (definition of insanity = always doing things the same way, and yet expecting to get different and better results) … or ...

(2) We can decide in our hearts, that what we are doing isn’t working, and we can try a different method (This is often a painful choice {To Change}, but can totally improve your life, if you let it do "it's thing").


If you and your significant other are ready to try a new approach to dealing with the conflict in your life and relationships, I would like to introduce to you …

The Vowels of Conflict Resolution (A five step process to help you deal with “The Little Hurts” before they become “Land Mines of Destruction). 


But before we go over the Vowels of Conflict Resolution, let's do a Quick Review.

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