05 Aug Episode 7: Conflict: How do I manage conflict in relationships?
August 5, 2020 | Michelle Reed
How do I manage conflict in relationships? Conflict is a part of our existence, unfortunately. Some hope that it will go away, but we know it never will. At least, not on this earth. I know that doesn’t sound very hopeful, but the reason we will always have conflict is because we have a sin nature that wants its way. We have all experienced conflict, but let’s define what it is. From Webster’s Dictionary:
- “a competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action.”
- “mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.”
So, conflict can be from without and within. We’re battling that on a daily basis a lot of times, so do you wonder why you feel emotionally and mentally exhausted some days? Every human being has daily choices to make. What I choose day in and day out over time forges the path that I’m going to take. If I start making good choices now in how I’m handling conflict, that is going to determine what the result is going to be. Now, if you want a useful five-step process for handling conflict, you can just look it up on the internet and you can find some steps to help you in a tense situation. However, as believers in Jesus Christ, we know that we are made up not just of the physical and the emotional, but also the spiritual. We need to take into account the whole man: the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual. If we do not address that, then that’s an extremely important part of us that we’re leaving out. So, we can follow the steps and check the boxes and calm things down a bit on the surface, but without the Holy Spirit changing us from inside, it’ll just be a band-aid solution.
God in His word gives us a whole other dimension to this process. It makes sense that because He’s the One who created us, He is the one who can heal us. He heals our hurt, calms our anger, and gives us peace in times of fear and stress by His transforming love and power in our lives. That goes down deep; that’s not just a temporary fix. It doesn’t mean that conflict will go away and never raise its ugly head again, but there is something that happens when we begin to look into God’s word and see what He has to say about handling conflict. Remember He is Creator and He gets us; He knows us. We can’t hide anything from Him; we can’t pull the wool over His eyes. He knows us, and He helps us to handle the trials that come our way. The Bible is filled with examples both good and bad of dealing with conflict but goes further and tells us the origin of conflict. If we’re familiar with Scripture, we know it all goes back to Genesis 3: the fall of man and sin entering the world. There have been quarrels and conflicts ever since.
God gives us the Holy Spirit to illuminate our sin, but He doesn’t leave us without help and hope. He gives us the tools we need to handle it. The Holy Spirit convicts us, but sometimes we can think of that conviction as a bad thing. It’s not. A healthy conviction directs us to God. The unhealthy guilt and shame makes us feel bad about ourselves and pulls us away from God, but when it’s healthy it directs us to God because He gives us hope. When He convicts us, He also guides us and counsels us. Time spent in His word, praying and worshiping in His presence, and also through godly people who can see objectively what’s going on in our lives. It’s good to have other people praying for us. Sometimes we want to isolate, but that’s not healthy. When there’s conflict going on in our homes, or a problem at work or within our church community, we need to address it. Sweeping it under the carpet doesn’t help. When we take the problem to God, He forges the way. He shows us how to handle it and gives us the tools to know what to do.
When I’m seeking to apply biblical wisdom to my life, I quickly find out that humility is something that pleases God and will help me to learn to act in obedience and to listen to Him. Humility is extremely important. That’s the first step in just being able to lay it all down and know that I need to have help to handle this conflict, this situation. We need to leave our pride at the door; it will not help us. In fact, pride does the opposite: it deceives us. A good verse to memorize and have ready in our toolbox is Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath. I think we all know what happens when we use harsh words and actions in response to an offense. It generally escalates and it does not resolve the situation. Being humble does not equate never speaking up, never giving your opinion, never talking. That’s not what it means. But humility will help us with the attitude in which it’s delivered. We’ll be able to deliver words that are more gentle and helpful in the situation rather than throwing gasoline on a fire. For example, if there is a clash of either personality or ideas, whether it’s at home, the workplace, or ministry, and each party feels strongly one way over another based on perceived results, how should we respond? Think of your words before you speak. Sometimes that’s hard to do when the emotions are going rampant, but we need to learn how to do that. We need to learn how to think about our words. Proverbs 25:11 says, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. It’s a beautiful description of how our words spoken in the right way and at the right time can be like a treasure, an incredible gift that you can give someone. How do you want your words to affect others? Especially in times of stress and conflict, do you want them to be a harsh wound or a precious gift?
1 Samuel 25 talks about the story of David and Abigail, and it describes what a humble heart before the Lord can accomplish in the midst of intense anger. David, before he was king, asked a man named Nabal to give him and his men supplies, as they had previously taken care of all of Nabal’s flocks and protected his people during a time of conflict. Nabal was a foolish man, and he harshly rejected David’s message. David had his men draw their swords and advance to Nabal and his household, planning to wipe out him and all the men of his household. However, Nabal’s wife Abigail was a wise woman who served the Lord, and when she heard of what was about to happen, she quickly prepared food for David and his men and went out to meet them. So don’t forget: David was a man of war and he had 400 men with him. This was no small feat for Abigail. So if you want to see an example of a strong brave woman, look at Abigail. Look at what she did. She didn’t shy away from the conflict; she addressed it, and in humility went out to meet David and his men and asked for forgiveness on behalf of her husband. She bowed before David, and in her positioning, her request, her apology, and bringing food to them, David’s anger was diffused. He was calmed down, he was humbled before the Lord, he understood the wisdom of her words, and so he kept from taking matters into his own hands. David was later vindicated when the Lord took Nabal’s life, and then David took Abigail as his wife. The lessons to be taken from this story are extensive, but the bottom line is this: if Abigail had not acted in humility, the story would have ended very differently. Humility leads us to gain something else that is very important in managing conflict: perspective.
I cannot stress how important perspective is over a situation doused in conflict. Talk about choices: either I can go the mature route, pray and look to God for direction, and try to figure out biblically how I am to respond to this, or I can react: I can give the silent treatment, or I can gossip to others and tell them how outraged I am. We know what that does to the situation. Going to God and allowing Him to humble us first will help move us to a place of wisdom and discernment. Next, we need to take time to discover all the facts involved so we can understand what the true story is. We know that there are different sides to every story. Sometimes we think that ours is the right way, but sometimes it’s a combination. But when I first hear somebody speaking of offense, it’s best if I get all the facts straight, because when we’re mediating a conflict, or if we’re the ones embroiled in it, it’s really good to become a good fact checker and listener. Taking the mature road is not always easy. In fact, it’s really not easy most of the time. Depending on the level of conflict, and many times, who we are in conflict with- for example, I found it sometimes easier to stay calm during difficult situations outside of my family. For some reason, the closer the relationship is, and the more we spend time with people- whether different group settings or home life- maybe there’s a different comfort level that we attain and then we tend to react or speak more quickly. But we really need to stop and pray before speaking when we start to feel the anger or the hurt rising. You might want to consider Proverbs 16:24. It’s a great verse to memorize: Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Do you and I want our words to actually bring health to someone’s soul rather than tear them down? To actually get to the point where we can walk this out may seem like it’s very difficult, but we can put into practice praying silently, maybe taking a break for a few minutes and leaving the room, or if you have a hard time expressing yourself verbally, write some things down. Maybe even write a note to the person to express how you feel. These are just different ways that can help us to express our feelings, but keep things calmed down. What’s really needed is mutual respect and understanding for each other, knowing that we’re all different, and we’re going to come at a problem in different ways. We operate differently. We have a tendency to want to be right. That’s a huge thing and we see that all around us today, don’t we? Everybody that says something, they’re the ones who are right. Sometimes we think we’re always right. But we have to get over that and think more about what we’re dealing with, how we practice this, and what the end result will be. We don’t always have to be right. There are many times that you likely are right, but it’s not a helpful perspective when you’re trying to calm everything down. So, remember the goal to resolve the conflict is to try to calm everything down and bring about a reasonable solution. The bonus for a believer means peace as a result of pleasing God. Trying to do this in a godly way will please Him.
We need to turn to our ultimate example of humility, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:3-11 gives us insight on how to be a Christ follower, how to walk it out, and when we read this, it really does put it in perspective. It says, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. May we continue to look to our Saviour for wisdom and guidance in how we navigate through this world of conflict and ask the Lord to use us to draw others to Himself in a lost and confused world. At the end of the day, that eternal perspective is more important than any temporal conflict.
Describe what conflict really is and where it comes from.
What, based on our discussion, is a “game-changer” in dealing with relational conflict? How can I best gain this attitude in spite of my emotions?
Do you ever have difficulty apologizing for your part in an issue? If so, why do you think that is the case?
What is helpful to do before I draw a conclusion about the conflict at hand? What does this give me?
Share an example of how the Lord is working in your life in this area.
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