There’s nothing better than a couple “in love” – especially an engaged one. Walking on air. Head in the clouds. Living in a state of bliss and happiness and certain that they will live happily ever after.
I’ll often meet an engaged couple like this and they’ll say to me “We are so blessed because we haven’t had any conflict in our relationship.” They assume that I’ll be so happy for them. But I’m not. In fact, my response usually comes as a shock to them: “You really aren’t ready to get married then. You don't need to learn how to AVOID conflict; you need to learn how to RESOLVE it.”
That isn’t what they were hoping to hear.
But that’s what I believe. Conflict is inevitable in life – put any two people in a room together for long enough and conflict is bound to happen. Just a quick scan through the pages of the Bible and you’ll see that.
- Abel was killed by his brother Cain because he was jealous. (see Genesis 4)
- Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and then sold him as a slave because they thought he was arrogant. (see Genesis 37)
- David had to run for his life from his best friend’s father. (see 1 Samuel 19)
- Even godly men like Paul and Barnabas once had a contention so sharp, that they parted ways and never spoke to one another again. (see Acts 15).
The goal of life isn’t to avoid conflict, but rather to learn to resolve conflict in a healthy manner. Believe me, this one life skill – learning to resolve conflict in a healthy way – will go a long way in determining whether or not your relationships will last, or whether they’ll fizzle out at the first sign of conflict.
Long term relationships are not built on lack of conflict; they are built on healthy conflict resolution.
That’s why I preach against such things as “compromise” and “avoidance.” Those sound like good ideas in theory, but they don’t really restore the relationship. Those strategies only yield short term results and in the long term will lead to resentment and relational distance.
Instead, what I do preach is LOVING CONFRONTATION (aka, speaking the truth in love).
There are two parts to that – “love” and “confront”. Please don’t do one without the other. Confronting without love is judgmental, critical and mean; and loving without confronting is enabling, short-sighted and cowardly. We need both – loving confrontation.
Loving confrontation – I’ll bet that as soon as you read those words, one of them resonated with you more than the other. I refer to them as pillows and swords. Some of us are naturally better at the “loving” part (congratulations, you're a "pillow"); while others are naturally better at the “confrontation” part (look out, here comes a "sword").
Regardless of your natural inclination, if you want to improve the quality of your relationships, you must learn to do both. That is your only hope of achieving true long term success in any relationship.
Two points to consider when preparing for loving confrontation:
STEP ONE: EXAMINE BEFORE YOU CONFRONT
Swords, I am talking mainly to you here. Before you run off and start chopping people’s heads off, take time first to sit alone with God and examine a few things.
a) Examine the offense. Is it worthy of confrontation? Not everything needs to be confronted. Does a rude waiter really need to be confronted? How about when your appointment is running 5 minutes late? Some things are better to let go of. A wise man knows the distinction. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11
But isn’t that contradictory to what I said before about avoiding issues? No. You cannot avoid an issue that is troubling you inside when it deals with someone that you care about. It will come back to haunt you and will most probably lead to distance in the relationship. However, you can learn to let some things go.
If you’re a perfectionist, for example, you most likely hold your friends to extremely high standards – standards which are not Biblical nor are they godly. This will no doubt cause undue stress on your friendships as you are setting your friends up for failure. Instead, learn to overlook some of the things that you might be inclined to classify as “transgressions.”
b) Examine your contribution to it. What role did you play and where do you need to make a change yourself. Be honest. Is it really all your spouse’s fault? Where do you need to take responsibility? “But let each one examine his own work” Galatians 6:4
c) Examine your motivation. Why are you so eager to confront? Are you trying to retaliate? To punish? To get even? Is your desire to confront coming from a desire to restore the relationship and pursue peace? Or is it coming from jealousy or pride or selfishness or personal frustration? If you’re too eager to confront, you probably aren’t doing it for the right reasons.
Here’s a tip for you who struggle to know your motivation – check your tone of voice. Your tone of voice is often a window to what’s in your heart. Is it to seek peace and resolve the situation? Or is it to cause hurt and get even? “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
STEP TWO: CONFRONT IN LOVE
Pillows, this section is mainly for you now. Once you’ve examined yourself and the offense prayerfully, then it is time to confront in love. Remember, keeping the issue inside you won’t resolve anything. That feeling of bitterness will only grow and grow. And eventually it will eat away at the fabric of love and trust in your relationships.
So even though it isn’t easy for you, you must learn to be assertive and express what’s inside you. It might not be easy at first, but in the long run, you’ll be better off because of it.
Some tips to help you figure out what to say and how to say it:
- Focus on one issue, not many issues
- Focus on the problem, not the person
- Focus on behavior, not character
- Focus on specifics, not generalizations
- Focus on “I” statements, not “you” statements
- Focus on facts, not on judgment of motive
- Focus on understanding, not who’s winning or losing
Approach the confrontation prayerfully and with humility. Your goal is not to “win”, but rather your goal is that closeness be restored. That is a “win” for both parties.
For discussion: Do you have any suggestions or strategies that have been helpful in your relationships? If so, share them and we can all learn from each other.