Previous article in the series: The right way to communicate during conflict

Once you and your teen have heard and understood each other using drive-thru talking, it’s time to pursue solutions to whatever conflict remains. The goal is for both of you to come away feeling like satisfied, honoured winners.

So how can we resolve conflicts with our teenagers in honour? We start by estab­lishing some ground rules. Rule number one is to act like teammates!

Becoming Teammates with Your Teenager

Why do power struggles cause us such trouble? It’s simple. In every power struggle, parents and teenagers become adversaries; they take up opposing positions. So if that’s true then what kind of strategy can we use to effectively counter such a ploy? Ideally, we all want win/win solutions.

But when a win/win solution looks impossible to achieve, too many of us settle for what we see as a win/lose option. Not the best, maybe, and we’d really rather avoid it; but at least it’s not the worst, either. In other words, we "compromise."

When we opt for the win/lose approach, however, we don’t really get one winner and one loser. In fact, we wind up with two losers. There is no such thing as a win/lose in a family. Everybody wins or everybody loses, period. There is no other option.

This is how families work. The problem is we just don’t know it! Many families set themselves up for failure because, from the outset, the individuals face off as adversaries. This can be as subtle as insisting on "making a point." Even if one member of the pair "wins" the point, it means an automatic loss for the relationship.

We encourage you to make a commitment to a new way of doing things and determine to abandon the failed old model. This begins by establishing what our colleague Dr. Bob Paul calls a "No Losers Policy." In a No Losers Policy, family members agree that it will never be acceptable, from this point on, for any of them to walk away from any interaction feeling as if they have lost. Each family member has to feel good about the solution.

To make the pathway work for you, however, you have to come up with a different definition of winning. If you make win­ning about getting your own way — in any way, shape or form — you’re still locked into the old pattern and still headed for the relationship rocks.

So if winning can’t be about getting your way, what is it about? Remem­ber, you’re part of a team. Therefore you have to redefine winning as finding and implementing a solution that both people can feel good about.

A win/win solution that makes both parties feel good gives positive movement to the relationship and leaves it in a different (and better) place than it was before. You take a trip and end up someplace other than where you started.

You tend to relax when winning becomes finding and implementing a solution that both people can feel good about. Why? Because you don’t have to worry about the other person being willing to accept a solution that makes him or her feel bad.

Creating a No Losers Policy goes a long way toward creating the kind of relationships that yield joy and satisfaction rather than grief and frustration.

Rules for Fair Fighting

Before the next conflict with your teenager arises, we encourage you to do something so valuable that it can save hours of pain: With your family, estab­lish rules for fair fighting. Such specific rules concerning what’s permitted and what’s not will provide structure and safety and keep your discussion from getting out of control and slipping into one of the bad habits we explored earlier in this module (withdrawal, escalation, invalidation, negative beliefs). One rule, for example, could be that whenever you see one of those four things happening, you take a time-out.

Most teens have a heightened sense of fairness, so pointing out that these rules will promote fair play should motivate them to help set up some rules.

The best way to establish these rules is to begin by asking each family member, "What rules are needed when we argue in order to keep us from getting out of control or dishonouring each other?" Then, after everyone has spoken and you’ve reached agreement as a family, write down your rules and post them somewhere visible so you can see them during an argument.

A good rule for every family is that both parents and children agree to treat each other with respect and listen to each other’s point of view.

The 5,000 adults we surveyed gave us these top 10 rules for fair fighting:

  1. Listen for understanding.
  2. Avoid yelling, verbal threats, or abuse.
  3. Maintain an honouring, respectful, and loving atmosphere.
  4. No name-calling.
  5. Use open communication.
  6. Don’t bring in past "garbage."
  7. Keep the focus off the person’s character.
  8. No violence.
  9. Avoid accusatory language (e.g., "You never … You always …").
  10. Make sure only one person talks at a time.

Select just a few key rules to start with, because most parents and teens can’t remember too many in the heat of an argument. And the calmer the argu­ment, the better the chance of an honouring outcome. Make sure you follow the fairness rules from the start, too, as researchers have discovered that the first 30 seconds of a disagreement can determine whether the next two hours of arguing are carried out in honour or in anger.

Dads especially need the safety of rules and calmness to fight fairly. If the rules for fighting are not clear and a man feels overwhelmed by angry words, his tendency is to withdraw. As we have previously discussed, withdrawal does a great deal of damage. Anger flares. But using the drive-thru talking communication method and fair-fighting rules make it much more likely that Dad will remain and work things out.

Once your rules are established, you’ll be ready to jump right into the seven steps for wisely resolving almost any conflict with your teenager.

© 1998, 2005 Gary Smalley and Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Adapted from "Bound by Honor" by Gary and Greg Smalley, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.

Next in this series: Making wise decisions during conflicts

Gary and Greg Smalley

Gary Thomas Smalley was an American family counsellor, president and founder of the Smalley Relationship Centre and author of books on family relationships from a Christian perspective.
His son, Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Centre for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of eleven books including The DNA of Relationships, The DNA of Parent and Teen Relationships and The Wholehearted Marriage.

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