family fights

I Wanted to Get in His Face

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I was driving to work one morning when I stopped at a traffic light. As the light turned green, the driver in front of me hit the gas and smacked her car into the car in front of hers. The driver quickly put her hands on top of her head like she couldn’t believe what she had just done. I felt bad for both involved— until the guy she hit got out of his car. He screamed and cursed her out. As I watched him go on and on, I became enraged. I wanted to get out of the car and intervene. However, I was so angry that all I had the capacity to do at that moment was get in his face. I would have made a tense situation worse. So I didn’t do it. I maintained enough restraint to remain in my car, waiting until I knew she was OK before driving away.

What kills me is that if this had been a fight in my family, I would have not exercised the same restraint. I would have gotten in someone’s face. Family fights break out all the time. As they escalate, they get closer and closer to causing long term relational damage. We have the power to defuse it. Here are 5 tools to defuse family fights.

1. Master your body language.

Nonverbal communication sets an important tone in whether walls are built up or knocked down. Concentrating on the appropriate body language may even shape your own attitude into the right one.

  • Eyes: Maintain eye contact to connect and show respect (no eye-rolling).
  • Arms: Leave them open and avoid folding your arms (which communicates that you are closed off) or putting your hands on your hips (which communicates dominance, like you’re trying to intimidate).
  • Hands: Keep your palms open, preferably up and extended toward others like an invitation to come together.
  • Sit down: Invite the others to do the same. Sitting down is like putting a gun back in its holster.

2. Stop and think.

Don’t react quickly. When you are on the brink of a family fight, pause and settle yourself. This is not a tennis match and your loved ones aren’t opponents. Slow things down. Thinking about your loved ones’ words before responding communicates that what they say is important to you.

3. Truly listen.

This can be really hard—especially when family fights get heated. However, try to understand how other people in your family see the situation. Go beyond hearing their words. Hear what they aren’t saying, in their tones and the feelings they express with body language. Discern what is driving their positions. Show them you are working to see their sides.

4. Promote emotional control.

Emotions are good. Feeling things deeply enhances the human experience. However, past experiences, old wounds, and insecurities can create emotions that lead to a loss of perspective on the current situation. Try to understand emotions as best you can and keep them in check.

5. Always be ready.

The next relational landmine could be right around the corner. Train yourself on these techniques now so you are able to move quickly in disarming the bomb.

Sound off: What techniques do you use in disarming a fight?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “When we are angry with one another, what can we do to calm down?”