PODCAST EPISODE 11: Contention in the Home
For sure one of the biggest blockers to feeling love in our homes is having contention in our homes. Contention and fighting, bickering, and yelling and all that comes with those heated moments. Whether that heat is between siblings, parents and teens, you and even someone outside of the home but the residue of that seems to stick to you and now it’s effecting your relationship with others in your family. Contention is one sure fire way to extinguish any love, joy, or positivity that was once in the home.
In D&C we read, Cease to contend with one another, (D&C 136:23)
This is a huge topic that comes up for so many of my clients because it’s a very uncomfortable feeling. It’s an intensely negative feeling and consumes a lot of our thoughts, time, and energy. So let’s talk about this today. Let’s talk about contention,
what it is,
why you’re feeling it,
what you can do to feel better,
and how cease contending with one another. Sounds good, right?
So what is it? What is contention?
If you go to good ol’ Google it defines this as, “A heated disagreement”, a dispute, discord, conflict, friction, strife, and/or disharmony. All of this is on the opposite spectrum of love, harmony, with one accord, unity, and all the feel goods that we want to have.
So why do we dabble with contention in the first place? What causes this discord?
Pride causes contention, Prov. 13:10.
When I ask my clients to tell me what’s going on they start to tell me a story that someone should or shouldn’t have done something, said something, thought something. They shouldn’t have said that. They’re being rude and disrespectful. They should have already finished that. They’re not listening to me. They don’t understand and they should understand. It’s not fair. Why are they like this? Why won’t they…?
They go to great lengths and into great detail about this other person and all the reasons why THEY are the ones causing the discord in the first place. But here’s the deal, if contention is a heated disagreement, disharmony, conflict, or friction notice that it takes at least two for sure. There are two sides that both think they’re right. Two sides that both believe that the other side should or shouldn’t have done something and now there’s discord.
A lot of my clients will try and convince me that they’re right. They’ll go on and tell me details of what this person is doing and why they shouldn’t be doing it. They feel justified in their anger and they continue on with their story wanting me to understand and what I understand is that what they’re telling me is a story. It’s a story told from their perspective, filtered through their thoughts, their manual (if you go back and listen to that episode). They’re upset because they believe that the other person should or shouldn’t have said/done/thought something.
*So we first separate what’s fact from fiction. Facts are all circumstances. Facts are things that can be provable and agreed on by everyone. For example, “He said words” You can even write down exactly what those specific words were. Once they were said they become a circumstance. But too often we interpret their actions or elaborate on their words and we turn it into a whole new thing that is now distorted and skewed and fiction.
So it’s important to separate what’s true, what’s factual, and what’s your opinion, your thoughts about what they should or shouldn’t do.
The contention comes because there’s two stories happening here. You have your story of what the other person should or shouldn’t be doing and they have their story that you should of shouldn’t be doing something. Both parties think they’re right and that the other is wrong.
But here’s the thing, when you think this way notice how do you’re feeling. Notice you’re feeling frustrated, angry, upset, negatively because of a sentence in your mind. What? No, I’m upset because THEY… and to that I say, no, sorry. You’re upset because YOU’RE thinking a thought that creating this feeling for you. You have to first take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.
Remember, THEY can’t hurt you. They can’t make you feel anything. If you’re feeling angry or frustrated then own that YOU are choosing that. I know this is hard to stomach. I remember a time when I was so upset by this one person. I felt that they were way out of line and just flat out mean. I thought that they were deliberately going out of their way to be mean and say hurtful things. I also remember my husband telling my to choose not to be upset. I can’t control what they chose to do. I could only control myself and I think at that moment I never wanted to strangle the man as much as I did then. I was like, wait, did you not just hear what I said? THEY’RE the mean ones. THEY’RE picking on ME! Why should I have to change? I was so annoyed by that.
But really, he was right. We cannot control the other person and feeling terrible until they decide to change is a really bad idea because they might not ever change. When I take responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings, and actions then the ball is back in my court. I’m in control and get to decide how I’m going to feel. I’m not at the whim of this person.
So notice what your thoughts are about this other person. Separate what’s fact and what’s fiction in your story about them. What’s factual is a circumstance which we know by now that circumstances are neutral. Circumstances don’t have a side. They’re meaningless until you add meaning to them and it doesn’t matter if everyone agrees with you or not it’s still neutral until YOU personally place a thought and a meaning to it.
And you might want to choose to believe that they’re wrong. You might want to choose to hang onto your story for a while. That’s your right to do so as a human being. You get to decide what thoughts to hang onto or not. But notice how you’re feeling when you think those thoughts.
When you’re arguing with your parents or you’re arguing with your teen, how do you feel? How does it feel to be around this person? How do you feel when you’re in your room and thinking of this person? How does it feel when you’re talking to others about this person to “vent”?
Is this how you want to feel?
When you feel that way how do you show up? What do you do?
Do you yell? Shout? Talk about them to someone else – venting? Do you argue? Are you snippy? Stomp? Slam doors?
What do you do when you’re feeling mad? upset? Angry? frustrated?
Is this how you want to act? Is this how you want to show up? Are you happy with how you’re showing up?
I know you think it’s not fair and this is the last thing you want to hear. I know, I really do. It’s how I felt when my husband tried offering me some advice. It’s not fun, it’s not fair – it’s not supposed to be fair. That’s a toxic thought and one that I encourage my clients to drop because thinking things should be fair is a set up for disappointment because life isn’t fair. When we think things should be fair we also feel entitled to certain things and we start forming expectations so when those expectations aren’t met we’re disappointed, let down, angry.
You might want to drop it too.
You have to take responsibility for you. You are the only one that controls how you’re feeling and if you’re not feeling how you want to feel. If you’re not showing up as the person you want to be, as the person you’d be proud of, then only you can change that. Only you have access to your bucket and can decide just how full it is or not. When you’re stuck thinking that they should be different that’s the thing, you’re stuck.
You take on the role of a victim. You’re then powerless to change anything until they do something different and we have no control over them, if we did, there’d be no contention in the first place, right? They’d always agree with you and it’d be this blissful place. But no, they have their own agency just like you do and you get to decide what you’re going to make that mean. You get to decide how you want to feel about their behavior. It’s important to own it. Own that you’re feeling the way you’re feeling because of a thought in your mind.
Own that you’re doing what you’re doing not because they made you. They took my things so I yelled at them. They didn’t do their chores so I got mad and was snippy. They didn’t do anything that made you act a certain way. You had a thought about them, about the circumstance and because of that thought in your mind you felt something. Because of how YOU felt, you did something. Notice it’s always because you thought, felt, did something that got you to where you’re at now.
I’m not telling you that you have to be happy all the time. I’m not telling you to feel good about the circumstance. I’m only telling you to own that you’re creating this experience for yourself. You may still choose to be upset. You may still choose to yell. But taking responsibility for you means that you control you, no one has power over you. They didn’t make you anything. You’re not a victim.
Here’s the thing with contention. It takes two people. It takes two people, two sides to be at odds with each other. Two different points of view. Two different belief systems. Byron Katie says,
“Defense is the first act of war”
If someone does something or says something and you get defensive, YOU not them, YOU have started the war.
You have to deliberately decide ahead of time who you want to be. Think about that particular relationship, whether it’s between siblings or parents- whoever it’s with think about you and who you want to be in the relationship. How do you want to feel about them? How do you want to show up? What do you want to think about them?
This is incredibly powerful when you can do this. When you can decide that you just want to feel love. You want to feel loving, to behave from a loving manner, you want to create love instead of contention. It’s amazing what happens because war can’t exist without two people. If you’re not playing the game there’s no game.
But when you start blaming them for how you’re feeling and why you’re upset then you’ve started the war. You, not them. Once you became defensive over your side, your story then you created the first act of war. You’re also handing over your emotional bucket and trusting them with your feelings, which is a terrible idea. They did something and now you feel…
Why would you want to intrust them with your feelings? That makes you powerless to feeling better. It also infringes on the truth that we all have our agency and can choose how to think, what to feel, and how we’re going to act at all times – despite whatever the circumstances may be.
So how can you feel better? How can you avoid contention?
Decide ahead of time that you’re not going to react. You’re not going to play the game. Decide ahead of time who you want to be. If it’s loving then you decide ahead of time that no matter what you’re going to figure out a way to always get to love. You’re going to choose to think loving thoughts no matter what they do or say. When this is your focus you’re looking for love and not for evidence of why this is wrong, of why they should be different, of why this is such a huge injustice.
When you decide ahead of time who you want to be you have a plan and a goal to steer towards. It’s easier to get there because you already made up your mind which direction you’re going to take.
Contention takes two sides. Both parties have to believe they’re right. But what if you just decided that it doesn’t matter? They can think they’re right. They can think whatever they want to think. It doesn’t automatically mean you have to react. Once you start in, once you defend your position then you’ve created the first act of war.
This isn’t to say that you don’t voice your requests. You can ask others to do or not do something. But know that when you make these requests they have the agency to abide by them or not. So decide ahead of time who you’re going to be no matter what. Don’t wait until the moment of to decide because if you’re not ready or prepared then you’re going to react and become defensive.
Okay, I have one more word about contention. Contention when it’s between parents and teens. Parents feel that their teens are being rude and inconsiderate. The parents believe they’re not respecting them and this kind of behavior isn’t okay or acceptable. Here’s the thing, teens just like any other person on the planet has their own agency. They can react defensively. They can yell. They can throw tantrums. They get to choose that.
Their actions however are just a circumstance. Their behavior doesn’t mean anything until you think about it and decide what you’re going to make that mean. Be careful what you decide to interpret this as. Why make it mean they’re being disrespectful?
When you believe they’re being rude and disrespectful how does that make you feel? Are you showing up as the parent you want to be?
I remember once a long time ago feeling so mad and frustrated with my kids and telling them, “You’re not letting me be the parent I always thought I’d be!” I was full on in victim mode and delegating my emotional bucket to these little people. Not a good idea.
You always get to be the parent you want to be. Always. No matter what your kids, your teens do. Here’s the thing though, as the parent you get to decide what is acceptable and appropriate in your home. You’re the authority and as such have the final say.
This doesn’t mean they’ll listen or adhere to your rules. They still have their agency. But as the parent you get to make it abundantly clear that if you do this…then this is what the consequence will be. End of story. No drama included. Just, If you do this, then this is what happens.
So much of the contention happens though when the teen doesn’t agree with the parent and they think they should. The parents try to explain to the teen why they’re doing or saying whatever they are. They try to get to understand the rule, the consequences because they want everyone to agree and be happy about it and they’re most likely not going to and it’s okay.
It’s okay that they don’t understand. They don’t have to. You get to decide the rules, consequences, and how you’re going to parent. They don’t have to get it. Only you do. Learn that they don’t have to get it. You can tell them, I love you, these are the rules, I know that you don’t understand yet, and that’s okay you don’t have to. But I love you and this is what the consequence is going to be if you do this again.
If it were up to my seven year old he’d love to eat candy all day long. He doesn’t get to eat candy all day long because I know that sugar isn’t good for his little body. He doesn’t understand why I won’t give him the green light to eat whatever he wants. He petitions sometimes to eat more sugar and I tell him no. He whines and begs because he doesn’t understand. He’s not happy about it. Sometimes he’s not happy with me because I said no. It’s okay. He doesn’t have to get it. Only I have to get it.
Contention takes two people. Don’t engage! When you engage – you’re fighting. You’ve created the first act of war. Let go of needing them to understand it or wanting to convince them of your why.
My kids like to tell me sometimes that it’s not fair and I say, “no, it isn’t and one day when you’re older you get to make all these decisions and choices and do what you want but until then these are the rules and it’s okay that you don’t like them. It’s okay that you’re not happy about them. You’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Totally okay to feel however you’re feeling. Being a grownup is awesome, you’ll love it.”
Which they don’t like me saying either but really, stop trying to convince them of why you’re doing what you’re doing. They don’t have to get it. Only you have to get it and show up how you want to be. Is this the kind of parent you want to be? Are you showing up in a way that you are happy and proud of?
Decide ahead of time what that is, what that looks like, whether you’re a parent or a teen. Decide what kind of person you want to be. What kind of person you want to be always. No one ever says, I want to be mad. They might say that in the moment. That they’re choosing to be mad but in the morning as you think about your day most people want to be happy. We want to feel good.
So then you take that with you always. Take those goals with you when your siblings come in your room and takes something of yours. Just because they did that doesn’t mean you have to engage. When you engage you’re fighting. There’s contention. You get to stop and think okay wait, how can I feel good right now? What can I think to find happy right now?
Take those intentional goals and feelings with you as a parent when you’re running late for something and your kid comes to the car dirty and disheveled and you know for sure there are clean clothes in their closet. When in that moment you feel friction coming on. Interrupt that with those intentional goals and start asking yourself questions.
Who do you want to be?
I always stick with love. Love includes setting and keeping boundaries, love includes having deep conversations, love includes making room for mistakes and allowing others and myself to fail. Love feels best of all. Love doesn’t mean turning a blind eye and letting others walk all over you. That’s not love. That’s not love towards you nor is it towards them. Love is taking care of you and getting your own back by making requests and setting boundaries. Love is also knowing when to walk away and when to seek help.
Know that people are people. People make mistakes. People will do things that you don’t agree with. Some people are different than you, think differently than you do, act differently than you do and that’s all okay. People are circumstances and as such you get to decide how to interpret those circumstances. Why not be proactive and decide now how you’re going to choose to see others. That no matter what I’m going to think loving things about you.
Elder Holland once said,
“Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.”
Decide ahead of time that you’re BOTH RIGHT. Contention comes from pride. You both fight because you both believe you’re right and what if you are, what if THEY are too. You can both be right. One of the best diffusers of contention is acknowledging the other person and what they’re saying. Try this, say, “You could be right.” It’s magic.
They let down their defensive stance because there’s nothing to defend anymore. “You could be right.” And don’t just say it to say it, question it, think about it. Could they be right too? Try on empathy, try on their point of view, see where they’re coming from. All this separates and distances you from the heat, the friction. It offers you a way out.
“You could be right.” It’s not agreeing. It’s not endorsing. It’s giving them the gift of the benefit of the doubt. Looking to see their side of the story. Letting in a little curiosity instead of contention. Curiosity leads to compassion. Compassion leads to love.
If the goal is, and I hope it is, to create LOVE AT HOME. Then we do need to practice ceasing to contend with one another. We need to banish pride and invite curiosity, compassion, and then love.
There’s no heat, no friction, no contention if you don’t engage. It doesn’t take two people to make amends. It only takes ONE. You can be a peacemaker. You can end contention. Let it be you.
Let me end with this quote by Cheryl A. Esplin. She says,
“Every home is different, but every home where even ONE individual seeks for truth can make a difference.”
Don’t engage. Be the one individual that seeks the truth of our agency. Truth of owning our own responsibility. Owning that it only takes ONE person to create a huge change in your home. Be the one. Choose compassion over contention.