- Do you remember what initially started the conflict?
- Ask yourself, “What are my real motives in this conflict?”
- Do your words encourage others to be more or less honest with you?
- Are you attempting to control this other person? How do you think they would answer that question about you?
- Are you willing to let go of the importance of being “right” in this?
- What desire are you preoccupied with to the point of being unhealthy (e.g. it’s the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing on your mind at night)?
- Are you willing to do the right thing in this conflict even if it means sacrificing something important to you personally?
- When a certain desire is not being met, do you exhibit frustration, bitterness, anger, or depression? Have you examined before God what is causing that to rise up within you? (James 4:1-2)
- What is it that you desire so much that you’re willing to justify hurting or disappointing others in order to have it?
- Do your words reflect a teachable attitude, or defensiveness? How would your spouse answer that about you?
- What is one step you can take in the right direction and how can I help you do that?
by Jim Mitchell
So I was thinking again about conflict resolution and about how my wife and I often have conflict about our conflicts. As I’ve confessed, our approach has been to find balance between us and to try to manage the conflicts better.
What I’m learning is that this is really a surface approach and that the real issue is something altogether different. Let me explain.
After watching my own kids fight, I’ve come to realize that as a parent I don’t really care to resolve childish disputes—who turned the TV channel or ate the last potato chip or interrupted the other person’s joke. Those details are tiresome, though my kids see them as critically important. What interests me is whether my daughter (eleven) is being compassionate and whether my son (six) is learning self-control.
Sure, I’d love for them to learn to be peacemakers. But in the end, if their hearts are right, I’m pretty sure most of their conflicts will be resolved accordingly. In other words, the actual conflicts look to me like kid stuff compared to the heart issues lying underneath.
And it dawns on me that the same is true of my heavenly Father. He asks of me, “Why is your heart toward her hard and not soft like Jesus?” But God, you don’t understand. I’ve told her a thousand times that I hate it when she… “Why are you angry and not self-controlled like Jesus?” Well, that’s tough because I’ve tried and tried but she just won’t quit… “Why are you being selfish and not selfless like Jesus?”
The conflicts, and the conflicts about the conflicts, look like kid stuff compared to the heart issues lying underneath. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-2)
So I’m resolving to focus more on God perfecting me and less on me perfecting my approach to conflict resolution. Who knows? Maybe the conflicts will be resolved accordingly.
Taking it One-to-One:
- In what ways can you and your spouse relate to this article? Discuss together.
- Where would you say your attention focuses during conflicts: on the other person’s faults, on the conflict itself, or on your own heart motives?
- How do you see James 4:1-2 playing out in your own life? Talk to God about that.
By Glenda Lesher
Waking up before dawn is difficult for me, but thankfully I have a reliable alarm clock–my husband. He’s an early riser and makes sure the coffee is brewed and that I know what time it is.
About ten minutes after his initial wake-up call, my foggy brain hears, “Are your eyes open?”—“Is your head off the pillow?”—“Do you have both feet on the floor yet?” I must admit that sometimes his bright-eyed enthusiasm irritates me. “It’s easy for you to be cheerful,” I moan to no one, “you are retired.” Once I down some hot coffee and take a shower, I’m coherent enough to mutter “good morning.” That’s his cue, it seems, to become a motor mouth, but I don’t comprehend half of what he is saying. If you’ve ever watched a Peanuts television special, you may remember how the parents and teachers sounded. You don’t hear words, just “wah, wah, wah,” like a horn blowing. I try to pay attention, but I’m afraid I’m not too convincing at times.
The evenings are a different story. I’ve had an interesting day and I want to tell my beloved about it as well as hear about his. Though retired, he stays busy in various ministry projects. We talk a little at the dinner table and then go to the living room to relax. He gets in his favorite recliner and before I realize it, I have lost him. His eyelids are closing and his mouth is drooping. I can’t imagine why he would want to miss this exciting conversation with me… what is wrong with him?
Communication is hard enough between men and women, but what do you do if your internal clocks are different? Here are some tips we’ve learned over the years that have served us well in our morning person/evening person conflicts.
First, minimize the negatives. If you can’t change anything—adjust. My husband and I have our morning devotions immediately after breakfast and our evening devotions at the dinner table. Any earlier than breakfast eliminates my attention and any later than dinner eliminates his. Remember that love covers a multitude of “sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Second, maximize the positives. “I thank my God always concerning you” (1 Corinthians 1:4 NASB). I really am thankful that my husband is strong where I am weak. Not only does he make sure I get up on time, he even cooks breakfast. He also faithfully prays for me before I leave for work. We stay connected through a phone call during the day and we also have the freedom (as empty-nesters) for spontaneous adventures on the weekends to keep us close.
It’s highly unlikely that husbands and wives will be perfectly matched in personality, communication styles, or even mundane things like the time of the day we are most alert. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be boring? Marriage completes and complements.
Oneness isn’t sameness. Thank God!
Contributed by Faith Jackson
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
When I was a young mom, I had a routine I followed when it was nearly the end of the afternoon and I was expecting my husband home from work. This may sound very “June Cleaver” to you, but I would have dinner ready, put on clean clothes (so I wouldn’t smell like baby spit-up), freshen up my makeup and hair, and even clean up the babies. It was a great time for him to come in the door and for all of us to spend the evening together.
So imagine my hurt feelings when he came in one evening and said, “Wow! Could any more toys even fit on the floor in here? What a mess!” I felt like lashing out to let him know that he was ungrateful to sound negative when I had worked so hard all day—dinner was ready, I smelled good, and the kids were well-cared for and smelled good. Why did he have to mention toys on the floor? If he wanted to, he could probably move the toys aside and safely eat off the floor underneath! And the always popular “You don’t appreciate me!”
But, thankfully I didn’t. I chuckled to myself that I briefly had a flare-up of bad thoughts. Whew. I was sure glad that I had kept a guard over my lips! I was absolutely determined that my home would not resemble the home I grew up in. I did not want to repeat the pattern of angry, volatile, and unhealthy relationships. However, I think it’s not enough to just decide not to do something. You have to have a strategy of something to do instead.
The next afternoon when I was expecting my husband to be home, I once again had dinner ready, I put on fresh clothes, freshened up my hair and makeup, but I also gathered all the toys from every corner of every room in the house. I brought them all to the living room and entry area by the front door. I distributed them evenly around the area. Then, I sat back and waited for my husband to arrive. It was worth all my effort, because when he walked in and saw all the toys strewn around, he immediately got the point that yes, indeed, we could get many more toys on the floor in here, and yes, he had been thoughtless the evening before. I made my point without any discussion, and without any toxic, contagious anger! We laughed and laughed together, which is so much better than arguing.
Like Proverbs 15:1 says, a soft answer will turn away wrath—and often, humor will solve problems without any difficulties at all.
By Jim Mitchell
Do you ever argue about your arguments? We do. Well, I should say I do… my wife just listens.
Here’s the issue. I usually try to handle conflict openly and head on, even if it means things get heated. It feels more courageous to me, more honest, and it saves time. I also think a large part of it lies in my orneriness. Sparring over words and ideas exhilarates me. Honestly, sometimes it’s just fun to grab an angry dog by the ears.
My wife’s not like me. She avoids conflict. It scares her, makes her feel insecure, and zaps her energy. She’s also not one to spar over words. Words mean less to her than feelings and tone. That drives me crazy and makes me want to argue even more. So sometimes we argue about how we argue more than about the argument itself. Tim and Joy Downs address this in their book The Seven Conflicts:
“Conflicts can begin about any topic at all, but they quickly shift from the content of the discussion to its style. The argument is no longer about what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.”
Both of our approaches to conflict have consequences. My way gets things out in the open but also makes the home volatile. It robs us of grace and forbearance. Quarreling over words just has a way of causing needless friction.
Her way fosters patience but doesn’t really resolve the conflict. It just postpones it or even makes it worse. It can also push us toward passive control, where one spouse withdraws or where we argue without saying the actual words.
These differences between us also take their toll on the kids, as songwriter David Wilcox describes in his song “Covert War”:
I used to stand between you
Trying to smooth over what got said
Trying to get a medal
Trying to get some shrapnel in my head
Thought it was my duty
To plead and to implore
But I caught too much crossfire
In your covert war
For now I guess we’re trying to find a balance or a compromise between both approaches. We attempt to deal with disagreements directly but lovingly. We’ve done this in front of the kids so they can see godly conflict resolution modeled. We’ve also had closed-door meetings if emotions were running unusually strong.
Mainly we’re just working hard at not working so hard at conflict.