Do you believe conflicts are normal in relationships? In a marriage? In a family? In a church? If you answered yes to each of these questions, I agree wholeheartedly with you. The next question is how do we handle conflict in these relationships, and is it Biblical?
Before my husband, Doug, and I were married, his grandmother told me in a statement, “You are not going to argue with Doug, are you?” I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t. What I received from that question was that in a marriage we were not to have problems. Doug and I had some arguments during our three years of dating, but my conclusion was that conflict was bad in relationships. So, when we became part of a church and in a small group, I acted like we had the perfect marriage and we did not have problems. Then, I heard a speaker at a workshop say, “Conflict is normal.” The speaker shared that conflict arises when people are interested and involved. Also, that conflict accelerates when there are changes in our circumstances, such as: transitions, moving, changing of jobs or lack of a job, holiday celebrations, sometimes even on vacation. Conflict happens in everyday life. Conflict in relationships are recorded throughout the Old and New Testament. In Philippians 4:2-3 Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord, and Paul encourages his fellow believers to help them work out their differences.
Knowing that conflict is normal began a journey for Doug and me on finding out what contributes to a conflict and what are the ways we can handle conflict in a healthy way. I was unaware that my tendency within conflict was to escalate with the motive to win. In my temperament I am competitive, and I used invalidation to get my point across. I did not listen well. Doug’s tendency was to withdraw or ignore the conflict. Many times, he would yield or give in to the conflict and play the martyr role. We had a lot of our conflicts without a resolve, because we didn’t know how to approach these differences in a healthy and affirming way. For the hard to resolve issues we now use a tool to help us navigate this in our relationship.
In my 40 years of serving the Lord, I have observed, and been a part of, conflict within the church. Many times, conflict occurs when there is a difference in the philosophy of ministry (about the “how” of ministry), but it also can occur over a misunderstanding in our communication with one another. Many times, assumptions are made without clarification. When two people in a church are not able to clarify their differences, a mediator is needed to help them navigate their differences and come to a resolution. Personally, I have been a mediator for at least a dozen peacemaking relationships in our church. Hebrew 12:14 encourages us to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone…” Also, for unity in the body, it is very important to work out our conflicts “one on one.” If you are unable to do so, ask for help for the sake of unity in the body.
This coming weekend, Doug and I have the privilege again to speak at a workshop in Vancouver, Washington. We will be sharing about resolving conflict in a marriage and giving attendees resources and tools on how to best handle conflict in their marriage relationship in a healthy and godly way.
For the past thirty plus years, Doug and I have helped couples communicate honestly and openly with each other. If you need help in this area, check out our mentoring couples’ ministry on our website - www.pdxchurch.org/grow/marriage-and-parenting/.