Taking a deep breath and walking away from a rude clerk or someone being obnoxious in public can be easy. But, what about when tensions mount during a disagreement with a family member or spouse? Even the most mature adults can find themselves saying or doing things they later regret when arguing.
So, is walking away from conflict always the best policy? Not necessarily. Most relationship experts, such as author Gary Thomas, agree that stuffing true feelings and “polite pretending” is destructive, especially in marriage.
But, we know from experience that the other extreme is true too. Never walking away, and choosing to fight to the finish in our conflicts, eventually resulted in Joe and I being separated from 1987-1989.
As with everything in life, balance is the solution.
Over the years, through trial and error, and working with couples in crisis, we’ve learned to use this guide in finding a healthy balance with all our relationships, and particulaly in our marriage.
1. Shoot Up An Arrow Prayer
“God, give me wisdom,” is my favorite (James 1:5). When I remember to stop for just a moment and silently pray, it provides a break and supernatural help in choosing whether to continue an uncomfortable conversation or walking away for a cooling off time. Occasionally, right after praying, we get side-tracked by someone at the door or something funny happening. This doesn’t mean that the conflict gets resolved by the distraction, but it does allow us to revisit the conversation with a new attitude.
2. Check The “HIT” Level
When I’m hungry, ill, or tired, it’s not the time to discuss “hot topic” issues. Some issues require a rested state of mind. If you know that you are not physically or mentally alert enough to handle discussing sensitive topics, be clear and firm. “I’m not in a place right now to discuss this, and I’m choosing to walk away until I’m feeling better. I’m not ignoring the issue, I just need some time.” Joe and I have an agreement that when either of us call a time-out for this reason we honor it.
3. Have I Said All I Need To Say?
When I begin to repeat myself (the other party will let you know!) it’s clear that the discussion of a sensitive issue is moving in a negative direction. That’s my cue to walk away and give it some time. This is not about stomping off (which is the easiest thing to do) or grumbling the last word as we leave (also tempting). It’s about walking away in order to avoid nagging.
4. Will Walking Away Help The Other Person?
Sometimes choosing to walk away allows the other person a cooling off time. There have been times when even though I didn’t feel like walking away and wanted to continue talking about the issue at hand, it was obvious the other person was getting frazzled. Paul tells us to be at peace with all people to the best of our ability in Romans. If walking away and leaving the matter for a time helps, then it’s best to do it.
5. Is There Nothing Left To Say?
Sometimes the issue will just have to rest. We’ve said all there is to say, and to continue discussing it may result in emotions getting out of control. With practice, Joe and I have learned to walk away when we know that the facts are on the table. Sometimes we revisit the issue, and other times we both know it’s best for our relationship to agree to disagree and just leave it alone.
We believe that finding balance in the area of walking away during conflict can save important relationships. We hope this guide has helped you too.