Marriage enrichment: Building peace begins in our families

Important message of Pope Francis should enter our hearts at home, then spread throughout the world

On Easter Sunday, during Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Easter blessing in St. Peter’s Square, he asked that his message of peace enter into people’s hearts and “go out to every house and every family…”

As I write this column, the bombings at the Boston Marathon were being discussed and analyzed on television. After a tragedy like this I can’t help but reflect on the importance of peacemakers in our world and the tremendous importance of their family of origin in helping them develop peacemaking skills.

This sounds like a wonderful concept but how do we go about building peace in our homes and within our families? Research shows that all families argue, but it is how we argue that will determine if our families learn to negotiate peaceful resolutions or learn to escalate those disagreements.

I recently read an article in The New York Times by Bruce Feiler titled “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy.” In his article, Bruce talks about the recurring fights that occurred in his family almost on a daily basis. To help his family deal with this ongoing issue Bruce investigated ways to improve negotiating a peaceful resolution to conflicts. He attended a three-day course on negotiation at the Harvard Negotiation Project.

He invited an environmental psychologist into his home to evaluate his home environment, and he spoke with linguists to identify words that can and will escalate problems. Bruce discovered that you can restore harmony to your house more quickly and leave less resentment festering in the background through the use of some simple negotiation techniques.

The first lesson is to beware of the times of transition. Many arguments occur when we are coming or going. How many times have you fought with your spouse when you were trying to get the children out the door in the morning or when you came home from work to all of the evening chores? Take time to register what is happening and agree to table the discussion until a calmer time of day. Set a specific time to address the issue that has arisen so everyone knows that the subject isn’t being swept under the rug.

The second lesson is watch your posture. Pay attention to your body language. If you are crossing your arms or slumping, you are not ready to have an open discussion. Take five minutes to calm yourself. Sitting at the same level with the person you are talking with also is a technique that helps in highly charged conversations. Sitting next to each other with the same posture on soft cushions has been shown to be a successful technique in reaching a settlement that is agreeable to all concerned. Find a couch for your next discussion.

The last lesson Bruce learned was to take a break physically or mentally when you are at a standstill, or the argument is escalating. Picture the argument on a stage and that you are watching from a balcony. This calming technique helps you begin to identify alternatives. Bruce and his wife modified this approach with their own children. When the children are in an argument they are separated so they have time to calm down. They are asked to think of three alternatives to the problem they are arguing about while they are separated, and then they are brought back together to discuss those alternatives in what is now a calmer environment.

Through the use of these simple techniques, we could all take Pope Francis’ message of peace to heart and work with our spouse to create a family of peacemakers.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.—St. Francis of Assisi


Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.