Updated: Mar 24, 2019
Every two years I fantasize about standing on the Olympic podium and collecting my medal. Though I break into a sweat walking to the mailbox, I still form imaginary tears as the Star Spangled Banner plays for me and my new world record. But as I was watching athletes go through the Gymnastics Floor routine, I noticed something.
In the floor routine, the gymnast runs really fast, flips, twists, twirls, flips again, then backwards, and lands on his or her feet. It’s truly amazing. But sometimes the announcer will sigh because at the end of the flip run the gymnast accidentally lands with a foot on the out-of-bounds line. Suddenly—no gold, no silver, no bronze—just a long trip home.
The connection? Research shows this is how adult children of divorce (ACOD’s) treat conflict. One mess-up and we think we’re out. Consequently, we have huge fears and often overreact when we face conflict.
The end is here For example, when my wife and I were dating we had a fight—in my eyes, a big fight. So big, I thought we were done. My close friends (all from intact families) said it was a skirmish and not the end of the world, but in my mind, I had stepped over the line and was out of bounds—no gold, no silver, no, bronze, and no girlfriend anymore.
I even threw away her pictures. You can imagine my surprise when two weeks later she called like nothing had happened. (We were in a long distance relationship and those were the pre-smartphone, PC, and internet days, so two weeks wasn’t like it is today.)
Looking back, I was petrified of conflict. When it occurred, I made the assumption so many ACOD make, the end of the world has come. I’ve even heard of people who, in similar situations, left and never told the girl or boyfriend why. They assumed the worse and never checked to see if it was true. While this sounds extreme, it’s common for ACOD to filter life through a conflict-is-catastrophic grid.
Conflict is good? This is due primarily to parental divorce being an example of conflict gone awry. But conflict shouldn’t be feared. It clears the air, builds intimacy, lowers stress in relationships, and increases your confidence when you share your real feelings without things blowing up. But how do we get to that point? By praying, presenting, and practicing.
Pray to God about your fear.
Pray for wisdom before a situation with potential conflict.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will remind you of key scriptures that deal with fear. My favorite is “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” *
Present your fears to your spouse or friend so they become aware of how you’re thinking. If they are from an intact family, it’s likely they don’t understand your fears, but are very willing to help.
Practice facing conflict. Start with small things. It could be as simple as saying you don’t like going out on Friday nights because you’re tired from work. Small victories will build your confidence and lower the chances of conflict being catastrophic.
I hope this helps. I’d write more, but pole vaulting is on, and I have a medal to accept.
* Proverbs 29:25, NIV.