How To Respond Instead of React During Relationship Conflict

by | Relationship Burnout

How do I respond instead of react? For the longest time, that was my earnest prayer. You see, I come from a long line of reactors. To tell you the truth, I was in my forties before I even learned there was an option to choose over just reacting. All I had ever known was that if someone hurts your feelings – react. Someone criticizes you – react. Someone offends you, blames you, shames you, rejects you – react. And react, I would. But then, when I discovered there was another way – to respond – my prayer became, But how?!  

Here’s the Story From the Day Things Changed

It was the last Saturday of June 2018. Larry Dale and I had left our lakehouse early that morning to explore our amazing city…one of our favorite things to do! We drove down into the heart of Dallas and discovered…

A new literary wonderland at Interabang Books and one door down, a pet store so fun it was like Disneyland for puppies.

Then we met Farmers Market farmers who taught us how to look for the sugar belly when picking out a melon.

Next, downtown condos with rooftop decks and dazzling skyline views. A reclaimed wood furniture store with the most gorgeous pillows, and across the street, a farmhouse restaurant with locally sourced food. Delish!

A couple of hours before midnight, we rolled back to the lake, laughing and carrying on like two teenagers away at camp. Unloading our farmer’s bounty and walking across the front deck, we chatted away about what a great day it had been. That is, until we unlocked the door…

Respond Instead of Reacting Lesson

Somewhere between unlocking the front door and the kitchen, I said something about the peaches we’d bought. And then Larry Dale disagreed. And one-two-three, we’re tangoing over peaches! Peaches people! For the love, we are actually furious with one another over some stinkin’ peaches.

In a matter of minutes, all the in-sync bliss from our day completely vanished. We’ve now disappeared into separate corners, lacing up our boxing gloves. You know what I’m talking about, right?! He walks off. You stay in the kitchen. Both of you preparing for the next round. Trying to find the knock-out sentence sure to prove you right, them wrong, and end the fight.

Moments later, I step into our master bath. Our eyes meet, causing us both to pause. Looking into Larry Dale’s eyes, I suddenly think, What the heck happened? How did we get here? Next thing you know, we’re moving toward one another. And one-two-three, we’re back in sync. But how?! What shifted our normal pattern and caused us to respond instead of react?

Now here’s the thing…what’s most important: the pause was the Spirit’s invitation to collaborate with Him to respond instead of react. And in pausing, the Spirit shifted us from anger to wondering, What the heck happened? How did we get here? Let me unpack this a bit.

The Power of the Spirit

There’s a force of darkness, the Accuser, who hates the oneness you and your spouse enjoy. His tactics of temptation, accusation, and deception are daunting, for sure.

But! Because of Christ, the Accuser is an impotent defeated foe. At any given moment, we can either choose to stand in agreement with the Accuser and battle our loved one or sidestep the Accuser altogether by choosing to trust Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is passionately protective of marital oneness. And the Spirit is always at work.

You are our hiding place; you will protect us from trouble and surround us with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:7

There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.” Psalm 76:3

So when your feelings get hurt, or your spouse criticizes you, offends you, blames you, shames you, or you feel rejected – the Spirit is there inviting you to pause and collaborate with Him. And choosing to pause, He will renew your thoughts with things like, We’re fighting over peaches, for crying out loud! Stop!

That’s the Spirit friend. You’ll also hear His song of deliverance reminding you of the goodness in your loved one’s heart. Precisely what happened when I looked into Larry Dale’s eyes. You’ll sense a pull towards harmony. A desire to forgive or seek forgiveness. Your conversation will start to shift toward reconciliation…restoration. In other words, you’ll respond instead of react.

Respond vs. React

How many of our arguments are no more than a snare of the enemy?

I love this Andrew Farley quote from The Art of Spiritual War, which perfectly describes the scheme of the Accuser to entice us to react instead of respond…

Induce each marriage partner to distrust the other’s motives. Pit one against the other. Bring them to the act of blaming each other. Let each regard the other as an opponent. Do not let them discover the goodness of the other’s heart or realize that they each instintively desire to forgive one another and live in harmony. If they do, the result will be a bond not easily broken.”

I don’t want to miss the Holy Spirit’s invitation to pause. Or miss the Spirit’s songs of deliverance. Always seeing them in the rearview mirror after a clash.

No. I want to be awake, aware, and responsive. Like a little lamb tethered to the Good Shepherd’s voice. In a moment of conflict, I want to pause and collaborate with the Spirit.

How about you? Are you with me?! If you’ve read this far, then of course you are!

Okay, so in a moment of conflict, when the Spirit leads you to pause…inviting you to respond instead of react…what could you do next?! Here’s a little prayer the Spirit taught me years ago. Jesus, rescue us.

When caught in a relationship whirlwind, first pause. And then, Jesus, rescue us.

Awake, Aware & Responsive

Right now, as you’re reading this, ask the Spirit to make you awake, aware, and responsive.

Ask the Spirit to quicken you to pause in moments of conflict. And to wire this powerful little prayer into your heart. Jesus, rescue us. 

Jesus, thank you that when tempted to react, you always have an escape hatch. Thank you for relationships. Thank you that you can make a way when there seems to be no way. Cause me to become awake, aware, and responsive. In moments of conflict cause me to pause. Cause me to lean in and collaborate with you. And bring to mind this simple prayer. Jesus, rescue us. For you are our hiding place. You will protect us from trouble and surround us with songs of deliverance. Your mighty power breaks the flashing arrows. The swords and weapons of war. This is who you are. Forever and ever. Amen.

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Thanks for stopping by! Until we meet again, remember – Trusting in Jesus, you’ll have more treasure than pockets. From my heart to yours,

Sandra Adcock Signature