Oct 162013 4 Responses

6 Common Mistakes When Fighting

Conflict is natural in any relationship. It can’t be, and probably shouldn’t be, avoided. While we shouldn’t pick fights, we also shouldn’t duck them when they come our way. One of the best ways to grow in a relationship is to properly navigate through a conflict.

Yet there is a way in which we should not fight. It does more harm than good.

Recently, I was preaching through Job 11 when I realized it provides a perfect example of how not to argue.

It’s not the main point of the text so it wasn’t sermon material, but it does provide a glimpse into how humanity often fights in the wrong manner.

Chapters 3 though 32 record a give and take between Job and his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The conversation revolves around why Job is suffering as he is. The reader has more information than the four friends. In chapter 1, we have been told why Job is suffering. In chapter 42 we hear God rebuke Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. This knowledge allows us to read the conversation already knowing who is right and who is wrong.

In Job 11, Zophar responds to Job and in so doing he makes 6 common mistakes when fighting:

1. He starts harshly. John Gottman has written at length on this topic. Couples in an unhealthy relationship start a conversation in a much more personal, attacking, and defensive posture than couples who are in a healthy relationship. They are more intent on trying to win an argument than better the relationship. A harsh start-up kills healthy communication. The more tense the topic, the more care a person should take when starting a conversation on the topic. By recounting the value you place on the relationship, putting the issue in the context of the bigger picture, and by focusing on the issue at hand instead of the other person, couples can begin conversations in peaceful manner. Remember, use hard words but not harsh words.

2. His goal is to shame. Chances are that most start-ups are harsh because one or both people desire to shame the other. They are so focused on winning that they are willing to use any tool necessary. Shame is a great fear of any person so inflicting shame on another is a great temptation when conversations are tense. Shaming others might feel effective, but it never changes hearts and it never improves a relationship.

3. He misrepresents the words of Job. He lies. When quoting Job, he actually misquotes him. We see this in political campaigns, Facebook discussions, and minor family squabbles. How many times have someone said, “Well you said ______” and then they fill in the blank with something you never intended. 

Part of fighting fairly is to represent the words of others properly.

4. He wrongly assumes he knows everything that is going on. Probably Zophar’s biggest mistake and clearly our biggest mistake is believing that we know the whole story. We never know the whole story. We don’t know all of our story much less the whole story of someone else’s heart, mind, and actions. This should create tremendous humility in our hearts and should turn most of our dogmatic statements into questions. We should spend far more time discovering what others think than trying to tell them what to think. (For more, read Crucial Conversations)

5. He name calls. It’s childish, but we all do it. Zophar calls Job worthless. Husbands and wives will say, “Well, you always _____.” It’s a judgment of another’s heart and not their actions. It’s an overstatement which now seeks to define who they are. Name calling is never productive.

6. He is guilty of the very thing he accuses Job of doing. One of the great ironies of fighting is that we are often doing the very thing we are accusing another of doing. Zophar mocks Job by saying “Can you know the deep things of God?” In Zophar’s mind, it was obvious that Job had no right speaking about God. Ironically, it was Zophar was who speaking wrongly about God. We must be careful when confronting another person about any activity lest we become guilty of the very thing we are accusing another of doing.

Job 11 reveals a conversation between two friends which does not end well. It mimics what happens between many married couples. While fighting is a natural part of marriage, a couple which can avoid these 6 common mistakes has a chance for a healthier relationship.

4 Responses to 6 Common Mistakes When Fighting
  1. dennyneff Reply

    As always, your advise transcends married couples. these types of conversations go on every day between superiors and subordinates, between friends. Even between other people. I always try to remember that what I said, may not be what you heard and what I heard may not have been what you said. In a conversation, it’s always my perceptions that can get in the way. Using the Golden Rule is always the best policy.

    Thanks Kevin, for sharing what’s on your heart.

  2. […] 2. Start slowly. Don’t pull a bait and switch by acting like the conversation is going to be a... kevinathompson.com/say-hard-things-husband
  3. […] This doesn’t mean they avoid a topic. If anything, meekness actually causes a couple to have m... kevinathompson.com/small-fight-small
  4. […] Without a proper perspective of marriage, we lose the right context through which we can understand ... kevinathompson.com/marriage-must-bigger

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.