Conflict is inevitable. Jesus said that offences are sure to happen, but the Psalmist wrote that those who love God’s Word are protected from offences and “nothing shall offend them.” Every marriage and every family is made up of people with a sin nature. Because of that, we struggle with skirmishes, disagreements, and conflicts with our spouses, our children, and our relatives. But God made a way for us to deal with conflict by giving us the Holy Spirit to lead us, change us, and guide us in following the teachings of scripture. Here are a few things the Bible teaches about resolving conflict.
1. Seek to understand before you speak.
In his powerful letter, the Apostle Peter directs us to learn to understand our spouse. (1 Peter 3:7) Understanding means to come to know, to experience, to perceive, and to know about. Clearly he is telling us to make the effort to get to know and understand the other person’s perspective. Many conflicts arise from not knowing about our family, especially our spouse’s family.
An example of how understanding helps can be found in something as simple as washing the dishes. Let’s say your wife grew up in a home where her mother worked outside the home. As a way of participating in family responsibility and expressing love to his wife, her father always washed the dishes after supper. His wife worked full-time and it was fair and reasonable that he shared in family responsibilities at home too. Let’s say that you grew up in a home where your mom did not work outside the home and as an expression of love and responsibility she always cooked supper and cleaned up afterwards. To her, this was a loving expression to her husband who was the primary earner.
Because of your experience, you think it is reasonable and loving for your wife to cook and clean up because that is what your mom did. But your wife works a full-time job and her experience growing up was that a loving husband helps and shows love by washing the dishes. This simple, everyday task can be a potential for conflict if you do not take the time to understand each other’s background. You feel like your wife is not expressing love to you because of your background and she feels like you are not acting reasonably and loving because of her background. Understanding before speaking helps resolve conflict.
2. Communicate clearly with love.
In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul wrote about communicating clearly with each other. He stated that we are to communicate in love and to use our words to build up each other for the sake of Christ. Conflict often ensues because we do not communicate clearly with love. As a result we resort to sarcasm and hurtful words. This damages our relationship and builds unnecessary barriers.
Committing to clear and specific communication helps resolve family clashes. “Honey, would you please take out the trash?” is clear but not specific. He plans to take it out after he finishes watching the game. “Honey, would you take out the trash right now, at 6:07 PM EST, because it is falling in the floor and the dog is spreading it throughout the house?” is clear and specific. “Babe, you might need to put gas in the car” is clear but not specific. “Babe, I ran the car until there was nothing but fumes left, so good luck getting to the gas station” is clear and specific.
3. Always be kind.
Ephesians 4:32 teaches us that we are to be kind and forgiving at all times because of Christ’s love and forgiveness to us. I would dare to say that the majority of family arguments and divisions could be avoided if we simply followed God’s admonition to be kind to each other.
4. Don’t delay dealing with conflict.
Conflict that is not dealt with begins to boil and seethe. Before long it boils over and explodes. The longer you wait to deal with it the worse it gets. I have counseled with couples that were extremely bitter with each other. When they explained what they were so upset about it seemed ridiculous to an impartial observer that they could be so angry over things that seemed so insignificant. Their root problem, however, was not the silly things they argued about, but rather the conflict that remained unresolved for so long. Unresolved conflict over minor things turned into a root of bitterness. It was like the grandpa that was taking a nap. His grandkids played a prank on him by rubbing stinky cheese on his mustache. He woke up and said, “Wow, this room stinks.” He walked into the kitchen and said, “Whew, this room stinks too.” He walked outside and said, “Well, I guess the whole world stinks.” Unresolved conflict will make the best relationship stink. The Bible admonishes us, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Deal with conflict now.
5. Establish your own barriers and traditions.
Bringing two families together in marriage often provides opportunity for deep conflict over family traditions. I heard one mom say to her newly married daughter, “You spent Christmas Day at my house for 24 years. I’ll be (insert expletive here) if you are going to miss Christmas just because you married that fool.” Holidays, birthdays, and special occasions often turn into a nightmare for young families because of manipulative family members. While you should make every effort to stay connected to your family, the Bible clearly teaches that you have a greater responsibility to your immediate family. In Genesis God said that a man must “leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.” This is a clear directive to each husband and wife that they are to be independent and committed to each other more than anyone else. Of course, this does not mean that you are to break ties with your extended family, but that you are to prioritize your marriage and children. Establishing your own barriers and traditions is important. It takes a strong commitment and clear, loving communication to make this happens. But it is worth the effort and will pay dividends for a long time.
For a greater understanding of how to resolve family conflict, don’t miss my message called “The Freak Show” this Sunday at Avalon Church. This message will teach you how living in God’s grace is the key to resolving all family and personal conflict. Invite someone!