As our discussion regarding the rules to follow during conflict in close relationships progresses, the importance of not using weapons to attack our loved ones can’t be overemphasized. Remember from Part One: Hurtful Comments that we discussed how our use of “weapons” to attack another may cause them to be defensive and perhaps even to counterattack. Well, another weapon commonly used in conflict besides hurtful comments is bringing up past hurts or events that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.
Following our battle illustration, if hurtful words are used as a sword, bringing up unrelated past events is often used as a club. This weapon is used only when our hurtful words are unsuccessful at causing retreat and is designed to either disorient our loved one or convince them that surrender is necessary. This strategy always fails, however, and often times even backfires. When we bring up unrelated past hurts done to us by our loved one or past sacrifices we’ve made for them in order to convince them to surrender, it gives evidence of our score keeping and our willingness to wield the score as a club. “Look at the pile of bad things you’ve done to me and the pile of good things I’ve done to you. How could you possibly think you have a chance of winning this?” becomes our thought process. As a result, our loved one withdraws themselves from the relationship even in the absence of conflict because they understand that their contributions are not going towards the relationship, but instead are contributing to your score. You convince them that you are not for them, but yourself.
Another way this behavior backfires is that it is yet another way that the point of the conflict can be missed. One of the functions of the club is to disorient, but from our discussion in Part Two regarding Stay On the Topic at Hand we learned that if we do not focus our communication on the core issue, the unmet emotional need, it will be virtually impossible to ever successfully resolve an issue or reach understanding with our loved one. If your tendency is to bring up unrelated past events, you should stop and consider whether there was ever even resolution of those past issues. Maybe the past events deserve their own discussion because you’ve not yet let them go. If you have let them go and you’re instead pretending that they’re still an issue to contribute to your score keeping, recognize the damage this does to your relationship and instead stick to issue at hand.
None of this means that bringing up any event from the past is negative. There is certainly a place for providing RELATED examples of similar instances that corroborate or validate your concern or need to your loved one. But before bringing the past into the discussion, consider this question: “Am I mentioning this to contribute to my loved one’s understanding or to contribute to my score?”
The way we are able to have the freedom to always respond to the needs of others is to get to know the concept of GRACE.
The legalistic way keeps score and says “I’ll accept you because you’ve done enough good things for me.” The trouble is that we all fall short of this in our human relationships and in relation to our Heavenly Father. But His grace answers legalism by saying “I’ll accept you because I love you.” Now, when we try the way of grace on our own in our relationships with people, our fear and insecurity takes over and we begin to keep score instead. It is only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that perfect grace can be experienced in our earthly relationships.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of [God’s] grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help [others] in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16