Every relationship—even a good one—has 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 says conflict is caused by selfishness. James 4:1 says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Aren't they caused by the selfish desires that fight to control you?" (GNT). 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've gone five for five! We've hit every single one of them.
Some of you are in major pain right now. You are frustrated. You feel stuck in your relationship because you have argued about certain issues over and over with no resolution, much less reconciliation. You don't know what to do.
If you're going to pull together when conflict pulls you apart, you need to follow these five instructions.
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.
I challenge you to practice what I call venting vertically. Many people are skilled at venting horizontally, but venting vertically is when you go to God.
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.
Anger is a warning light that 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.
2. Confess your part of the conflict
Before you start attacking and blaming, you need to do a frank evaluation and ask yourself, "How much of this conflict is my fault?"
When you're wrong, admit it. And when you're right, shut up!
Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5: "And why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, 'Let me pull the speck out of your eye,' when a log is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
Everybody has blind spots. 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?" Using exaggeration, he is saying to check yourself out first.
Marriage is a lifelong process of overcoming your differences. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. But the fact is, it's not incompatibility. It's selfishness and an unwillingness to change.
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 5:23-24, Jesus says, "If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go on your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
It is impossible to worship with bitterness in your heart and unresolved conflict with others.
Postponed conflict only gets worse.
4. Consider your mate's perspective
The secret of resolving conflict is understanding where the other person is coming from. The better you understand somebody, the less conflict you're going to have, because you know how to deal with him or her.
How do you learn to understand someone? Listen. Listen more than you talk. Some of us get so anxious to make our point, to tell our side, to defend ourselves, that we don't even stop to listen to what the other person is saying or their point of view. It's like the old cliché: "We must seek to understand before seeking to be understood."
The Bible says in Philippians 2:4, "Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
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.
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.
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. It is more rewarding to resolve a conflict than to dissolve a relationship.
Sometimes you need to seek professional help, and that's okay. In fact, talking to a counselor is a healthy and positive choice to make. And you always need to talk to God and to each other.
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."
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of pastors.com, a global internet community for pastors.
This article originally appeared at pastors.com.
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