Resolving Conflict in Marriage and Other Relationships
July 7, 2005 - by Rick Warren
Sometimes the biggest conflicts in marriage are over the most trivial issues. One of the silliest fights Kay and I ever had was over bath soap. For me, a hot steamy shower is a spiritual experience. Right up there with eating fresh cinnamon rolls. I also happen to be a person who gets bored very quickly with the same thing. So I like variety. I don't want to use the same kind of soap for 42 years.
One day I said to Kay I'd like some different kind of soap. But I said it in a way that sounded like our marriage was a failure because we used the same kind of soap all the time. Three or four months later at Christmas time, she personally wrapped and placed under the tree - 27 different bars of soap!
Every relationship, even good ones have conflict. If you don't know how to deal with it, how to resolve it, how to manage it, you can kill your relationship.
The Bible is very clear about it. Mark 3 says, "A home filled with strife and division destroys itself." We're going to look at some practical steps right out of God's Word that will help us Pull Together When We're Pulled Apart. If you're not married, you can use these principles in your business, with your best friend, with children, whatever. We all have conflict any time we're involved in relationship.
What causes conflict?
The Bible says conflict is caused by selfishness. James 4:1, "Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from selfish desires that war within you." I am basically a selfish person. I think of me before I think of anybody else. And you do too. I want what I want and you want what you want, and when these competing desires collide that's called conflict.
The night before I got married, my father in law sat down with us and said, "There are five areas where marriages usually have conflict: money, sex, in-laws, children, and communication." My father-in-law was a prophet. In our marriage we went five for five! We hit every single one of them.
Some of you are in major pain right now. You are frustrated to no end. You feel stuck in your relationship because you have argued about certain issues over and over in your relationship and there has been no resolution, much less reconciliation. You don't know what to do.
God says, "Here are some steps." I've seen these steps work in dozens, if not hundreds of couples.
If you're going to pull together, when you're pulled apart, you have to...
1. Call on God for help
Pray about it. Before you go to the other person and talk to them about the problem, discuss it with God. This may solve the problem right there. Before you start dealing with the issue, before you talk to anybody about the problem, talk to God about it, and ask Him for help.
I challenge you to practice what I call ventilating vertically. Many of you are very good at ventilating horizontally, but ventilating vertically is when you come to God. You come and say, "Here's how I feel." And you just lay it out.
James 4:2, "You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God." This is so foundational; you have to get this point. Conflict often occurs when we expect other people to meet needs that only God Himself can meet in our lives.
One day you stood in front of a bunch of people and you said, "I do." What you were really saying was, "I expect." You weren't thinking about what you intended to do and the promises you were going to keep. You were thinking, "Good! All my needs are going to be met now! This person is the answer to my dreams and is going to fulfill me in every way." There is no person alive who could possibly meet all your needs. Only God can do that.
God says, "You quarrel and fight. You have unmet needs because you don't ask God." How do I know when I'm looking to other people instead of God to meet my needs' It's called anger. Anger is a warning light, which says, "I'm expecting somebody to meet my needs." When I have a need for you to be on time and you're late, or when I have a need for you to notice me and you don't, I get angry. God says, "Why don't you try talking to Me about it first." Instead of expecting your mate to meet all your needs, God wants you to look to Him. "You have not because you do not ask God."
2. Confess my part of the conflict
Before I start attacking and blaming, I need to do a frank evaluation and ask, "How much of this conflict is my fault? I need to do an honest checkup and admit my part. When you're wrong, admit it. And when you're right, shut up!
Be honest. Matthew 7:3, Jesus speaking, "Why do you look at the speck in another's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye' Take the log out of your own eye first and you'll be able to see clearly."
Everybody has blind spots. When Jesus says, "Before you start getting the sawdust speck out of your partner's eye, why don't you get the telephone pole out of yours?'' He is by exaggeration saying, check yourself out first.
I need to ask, "Am I being unrealistic? Am I being insensitive? Am I being over-sensitive? Am I being too demanding? Am I being ungrateful? Before I get involved in dealing with you, I first need to talk to God, and then look at myself and admit what problems I'm bringing in."
The number one excuse for divorce is, "We're just incompatible." That has an innocent, no fault air to it. Leading experts on marriage have this to say about the issue of compatibility.
'Dr. Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist who wrote in To Understand Each Other: "So called incompatibility is a myth invented by jurists in order to plead for divorce. It is likewise a common excuse for people to hide their own weaknesses and failings. Misunderstandings and mistakes can be corrected when there is a willingness to do so. The problem is the lack of complete frankness." And I'd add inflexibility.
'Dr. Arch Hart, who's spoken here at Saddleback, says, "If people can be divorced for incompatibility, I cannot conceive why all of us are not divorced."
Marriage is a life long process of overcoming your differences. The Bible says, "If we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. I can blame you for all my problems. But the fact is, it's not incompatibility. It's selfishness and an unwillingness to change. Let's call it what it is.
3. Convene a peace conference
Conflict does not resolve itself. It must be dealt with intentionally ' deliberately. Conflict gets worse when you leave it alone. Hearts grow hardened and positions get solidified, and bridges get broken beyond repair. So you have to intentionally deal with the conflict.
The Bible is very specific about this. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, "If you remember that someone has something against you leave your gift at the altar and go at once to make peace. Then come back and offer your gift to God." It is impossible to worship with bitterness in your heart and unresolved conflict with others.
Jesus says don't ignore it. Deal with the issue while you can deal with it. If you've got something wrong with somebody or they've got something wrong with you, God says you go to them.
When? At once. Postponed conflict only gets worse. Another verse in the Bible says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." I think that means 24 hours would be a maximum amount of time you should let something go unresolved. You need to do it as soon as possible, before it festers and turns into bitterness.
4. Consider my mate's perspective
I can't just look at my own viewpoint, my own situation; I have to look at your viewpoint too. This is very difficult because it's not natural. It is not natural for me to look at life from Kay's viewpoint. It is not natural for me to look at life from your viewpoint. This requires an intentional shift where I have to change my focus from looking at my needs to looking at your needs. It takes God to do that. It is a mental shift that we do not do naturally. But it's the secret of resolving conflict.
The secret of resolving conflict is understanding where people are coming from. When you understand where people are coming from, it's so much easier. The better you understand somebody, the less conflict you're going to have with him or her, because you know how to deal with him or her.
How do you learn to understand someone' Listen. Listen more than you talk. This again, is not easy for many of us. It's not easy for me. Some of us get so anxious to make our point, to tell our side, to defend ourselves; we don't even stop to listen to what the other person is saying or their point of view. We must seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
The Bible says in Philippians 2:4, "Look to each other's interest and not merely your own." The word "look' in Greek is scopos. It's like a scope on a rifle or a microscope. It means pay attention. You are most like Christ when you ask, "What are her/his needs and how can I meet them'" When you're angry, you're preoccupied with yourself. But when you're like Christ, you look to each other's interest and not merely your own. One of the most powerful peace making statements is when you say to your husband/wife, "I'm sorry. I was only thinking of myself."
5. Concentrate on reconciliation, not resolution
There's a very important difference. Reconciliation means to re-establish the relationship. Resolution means to resolve every issue by coming to agreement on everything. That's not going to happen.
You'll discover there are some things you're never going to agree on. I don't care if you both love the Lord and are both dramatically in love with each other. There are some things you're never going to agree on simply because God has wired us differently.
You're not going to agree with everything your mate believes or thinks. But you can disagree without being disagreeable. That's called wisdom. The Bible says in James 3, "Wisdom is peace loving and courteous. It allows discussion and it is willing to yield to others." The Bible says it's wise to compromise. You can have unity without uniformity. You can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye. You can have reconciliation without resolution of every issue.
Some of you are worn out from the conflict in your marriage. You want to throw in the towel. Don't do it! It is more rewarding to resolve a conflict than to dissolve a relationship.
So your homework is to schedule a peace conference.
Let me close with a couple of suggestions:
1. Some of you may need to get professional help. Many marriages are miserable, and they go year after year with the same old problems, because they're just too proud to go get help. Don't go to just anybody. Get a godly counselor who bases his/her practice on God's Word.
2. The other thing you need to do is get help from God. You can't do this on your own. I've seen these steps work. But you need Christ's power to work them.
Many marriage conflicts would be solved overnight if both the husband and wife would kneel before Jesus Christ and say, "We humble ourselves and humbly ask You to make this thing work. We submit our egos to You and our hurts to You. Jesus Christ, do what only You can do."
Got this article in my subscription to " a better life" from purpose driven life website. Hope this will help couples resolve conflicts in their marriage. Hubs is off for a three day youth camp this week so I'm having all the time to search, read and post good articles sitting in my file folder. I also have time to search for Comfort Inn New York City hotel and the scary swine flu.