A Safe Place

Written by:  Mandi Greene
 
Like most people, I’m not particularly fond of conflict. Unlike most people, I have been known to break out in blotchy red hives when faced with unwanted confrontation. While commiserating over our mutual meekness with one of my beloved sisters in Christ, she described an odd habit to me that permeated well into her adult life in which she would shove a blanket along the crack at the bottom of her bedroom door when she went to bed each night. It was a ritual she executed for years without over analyzing why. It wasn’t until a tumultuous season of life when she began meeting regularly with a counselor that she was able to connect her strange habit to the fact that her father had been an angry yeller and that during her childhood, his method of discipline often involved coming to her room in the evening after work and launching into a tirade.
 
These are the kinds of scars that decorate and define us, the baggage that weighs heavy on our bodies as we travel through life. It’s no wonder we enter into our relationships with a skewed view of conflict and detrimental methods of problem solving. I mean, aren’t we all that girl, shoving a flimsy blanket against the bedroom door to emulate a sense of control and safety in a volatile and unpredictable situation?
 
This friend and I were both raised in Christian homes by parents who had loving hearts and the best of intentions, and yet both of us have become young women, wives, and mothers who struggle with developing a healthy view of conflict – because conflict is not an evil thing. Jesus Himself stirred up quite a bit of it during His time on earth, and it was all in pursuit of furthering the Kingdom of God.
 
The problem is that we don’t always see things in the perfect, appropriate way that God created them, but instead with our very human eyes and imperfect execution. As children, the bulk of what we know about conflict is what we learn from our parents and family within our own home. I had one parent who exploded at the slightest nudge, and another who was long simmering, long suffering, and then devastating when they finally hit their limit. One liked to enforce the silent treatment to punish the other for days on end while the other tried to shove everything under a rug and go back about daily business without really resolving anything. They were not people who apologized to one another. This was not a space where people felt they could be heard, validated, or even right. It was a culture that used fear and strong-arming to advocate for self-interest.
 
It made for a tough learning curve when I entered into my own marriage. There is nothing quite like joining two people from different walks of life, with different temperaments and coping mechanisms, and some well-earned emotional baggage to bring out the inner crazy. I knew what I didn’t want my arguments to look like, but I had no idea how to fight productively and was frustrated that the methods I used (namely the silent treatment that I had seen work so poorly all my life), even if gratifying at the time, never seemed to get me the outcome that I wanted. I didn’t know how to be strong and stand up for myself without being a screaming bully, so instead I tried to pacify every situation. Avoid conflict at all costs. Apologize even when I’m not in the wrong.
 
Luckily, God knew what he was doing when he created the man that would be my husband. The man who has been my backbone and my voice and has slowly infused some of that strength into me, even as I have tamed some of the wild aggression out of him. And while I think there are some good, basic ground rules that everyone should stick to when in conflict so that it remains productive and not destructive, at the root of everything, what we all really need is a safe place. Not a room in the house or an escape to sit and think, but safety in your loved one. Safety in knowing that at the end of the day, that person has your best interest at heart and will not resort to abuse, manipulation, or outright aggression at your expense to get what they want. Safety in the trust that even in the midst of heightened emotions and hurt feelings they will remember their God of loving grace and extend that same grace and the most basic human respect over you. Safety in the ability to speak your mind and heart without fear of what the backlash will look like.
 
Productive conflict is not an opportunity to punish. It is not to extend authority over your spouse the way a parent does over a child; you are in a partnership with equal voices, a friendship with mutual value and respect. There should never be fear of being physically or forcibly removed from your home, separated from your children against your will, held at the gunpoint of an ultimatum or manipulated with outlandish threats. If your spouse can’t trust you in the heat of conflict, then your spouse can’t trust you, period. Emotions are fickle and can turn at any moment from outside influences, and it’s each of our jobs to master those emotions, not let them master us. (Proverbs 19:11)
 
That girl pushing a blanket into the seam under her bedroom door was not made to be isolated and afraid overnight. Her safe place was taken from her again and again. She was cornered and made small until that relationship with her father became defined by those feelings, even into adulthood. Repetitively stranding your loved one without that basic sense of safety and emotional well-being in your care is a sure way to lose them. They might not walk out the door and leave you, but you will lose them anyway. You will lose their admiration and their flirtatious smiles. You will lose their excitement to come home and see you, their tenderness and the purity of those little moments in life that bring you joy.
 
So don’t fight to win the argument, fight to make a better relationship. Fight to show your spouse the things that hurt you so that they can do better next time. Fight to build the confidence so that conflict does not have to mean separation, abuse, or dissolution of relationships when in fact the final product can be a strengthened union and fortified trust. Fight so that your kids can hear you apologize to one another and snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie an hour later. Fight for a better understanding of each other, and then use that knowledge as a gift, not a weapon.
 
In the nearly ten years that I have been with my husband, he has never yelled at me. He is the kind of man who has a commanding presence, and yelling could be a really easy and effective way to force his point. But he has also seen the way I cower at raised voices, even amongst strangers that have nothing to do with me. He has always known that yelling is the quickest way to shut me down with insecurity and hurt, and because of that he has never touched that line.
 
It is my prayer that we all take the harder route – the one that requires more effort, more thoughtfulness, and more God-given patience – to show the important people in our lives that they are indeed important. And there is no better opportunity than in the midst of conflict.
 
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Mandi
 
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The most honest thing I can tell you about myself is that I am a total mess.  On any given day it’s likely that I have eaten breakfast, washed my hair, or put on clean clothes, but certainly not all three.  After six years of marriage to a man who can never be called boring, I’ve recently entered into the most challenging and inspirational season of life yet – becoming a new mom.  Having grown up as a part of the Oakwood family myself, I am overjoyed to begin raising my little one in the same loving arms.  It has been through this new beginning that God has continued working on me in completely new ways, and I am so thrilled to share this journey with you, and humbled that our Savior finds value in someone as ordinary and unremarkable as me and my middle class, suburban American life. – Mandi
 

3 Responses to “A Safe Place”

  1. Aunt Janna says:

    Mandi – this is so beautiful and real! Excellent!

  2. Robin Radclif says:

    Mandi, I was crying (for so many reasons) while reading your blog. There is so much wisdom in what you’ve shared. If I didn’t know what you majored in, I would assume you held an advanced degree in psychology or counseling. It’s an honor and tremendous blessing to serve God alongside you. You’re a beautiful soul!

  3. Debbie Millner says:

    Great blog Mandi! Keep using your voice! You have a way with words. Although we all encounter different dysfunction…. recognizing and not repeating it is within our power with God’s help. Grateful you found your “Adam”

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