“Healthy Relationships: Conflict”

“Healthy Relationships: Conflict”

In week 2 Healthy Relationships series, last week we talked about Communication, this week we’re talking about Healthy Conflict.

Conflict is inevitable.

Healthy Conflict is a choice.

There are 3 general unhealthy ways to deal with conflict.

I want to quickly touch on these, so you can identify which pattern you may fall into, then I’ll spend the majority on how to Fight Right—with Love and Truth.

Some of us learned other ways of resolving Conflict—Unhealthy ways like…

“I Win You lose”

This is all Truth no Love.

  • When you assume that you are 100% right (know all truth) and the other party is 100% wrong.
  • When we only care about proving we’re right, or winning the argument, and refuse to try to understand (with love and grace) what circumstances might have led to the actions that hurt or offended us.
  • We win the argument and lose the relationship.

Those of us who tend to be very black and white or perfectionistic might fall into this way of relating in conflict.

We can only see our side, and fortunately, we’re right…as usual! 

And unfortunately for the other side…they’re wrong…always! 

Some of us just grew up in this Win-Lose way of dealing with people.

Maybe you grew up in a family that communicated if you’re wrong—you’re bad.

So you got the message, “you must be right always.”

So it’s natural to immediately come out swinging for the KO in every conflict trying to prove you’re not bad—you may win the argument, but this way kills relationship.

“We both lose”

This is often the approach that people take when they believe conflict is bad.

Better to just bury the relationship than confront the conflict.

Someone does something that hurts you or something that has wronged you, and you just back away, or you try to “let it go”—but in time, it usually comes out sideways.

The Bible warns us of this dangerous way to handle conflict.

Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor…Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 2:26-27

It’s not sin to be hurt or angry or have conflict—it’s normal in a fallen, broken world.  But don’t bury that hurt or anger—resolve it daily—that’s the principle. When you ignore conflict—evil’s divisive ways win. You will tend to avoid the person or harbor resentment or even bitterness—you both lose!  They lose the chance to learn and grow, and the relationship loses the chance to grow closer in unity. Conflict dealt with in healthy ways makes a relationship stronger, not weaker.

“I lose you win”

The 3rd way of dealing with conflict is by just giving in. 

  • We are afraid of saying what we feel or what we desire.
  • We fear that it will end the friendship or things will just get worse, so I just give in.
  • If asked, just say “Everything’s fine—nothing’s wrong.” 
  • Because to admit you are hurt or have needs or wants—that could destroy the friendship. 

But you know what you’re really doing?  Lying!

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator… Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:9-10, 13-14  

This literally could be translated “Don’t continue to live a lie (being false) toward each other.” 

You may think it’s love, but without truth when you’ve been hurt, it’s a falsehood—it’s not loving at all in reality, because we need both truth and love for a mature relationship that brings unity.  The way to Fight Right is…

“We both win”

Fight for Truth and Love. This is what God wants to lead us to do more and more.

We live in a broken world where conflict is a part of learning how to love God and each other. In fact, God wants to climb into the Ring with us, to teach us how to Fight not to win the argument, but fight to win the Relationship—with Love and Truth.

That’s worth fighting for—Relationships full of Love and Truth.

That’s Who Jesus is “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Jesus was full of grace—acceptance, love, forgiveness…and truth—not holding back speaking honestly about reality. 

And the Bible says we should live this way with one another: “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.

So Love/ (or Grace) and Truth is what leads to Healthy Conflict resolution.

But how really do you do that?

There’s nothing more difficult in life than to Love the way God wants to teach us to love when there is conflict.

We all think we know what love is, but we don’t—me included.

Just in case you think you know what it means to love, think about a recent conflict and listen to what Jesus said:

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you…35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  Luke 6:27-28, 35 

Wow! Do I love like that?

That’s a question worth asking—do I know how to love like that?

This is what God wants to teach you if you’re willing to listen to Him.

Are you willing to learn?

Let’s talk about how God wants to lead in conflict!

Four things it requires of you to bring Love and Truth.

Humble Yourself Before God

See, this kind of love, even for those who feel like enemies, this is not humanly possible—if it were, 100% of marriages would survive, friendships would flourish, partnerships would always patch things up.

No—the first thing we need, is Help from Above.

I have to confess, in conflict if I don’t humble myself before God, I almost always get defensive, or inevitably say something I later regret.

Anyone else? Is this just me? I don’t think so—? 

Why is it so common?

Because Pride is our biggest enemy in every conflict.

Fighting comes only from pride, but wisdom is with those who listen….” Proverbs 13:10 

That other person is not your enemy—your Pride is your enemy!

Your Pride says:

  • “I’m right.”
  • “No, you listen to me!”
  • “I always do what you want”
  • “You’re so stubborn.”

Pride defends, pride puts up walls, pride is easily offended, pride sees only one point of view. Pride will be your biggest enemy in a conflict. AND Pride says, “I don’t need God’s help, I AM a loving person—you idiot!”

So first step to fight right is fight your Pride.

That’s why scripture says: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6

Personally, there’s no other place where I’ve seen greater relevance to Christian faith than in conflict. Jesus made a way for us to overcome our defensive Pride and learn to love His way. But to do this, we have to let God lead us when it’s the hardest.

A spiritual practice I often use is to set my watch beeper to go off every 60 minutes to remind me God is always present, and if I’m willing to listen and respond to God’s will moment by moment, He guides me in His Loving Ways. So the beeper is a reminder—Do life with God, listening for God’s whisper in your conscience, willing to do his will. 

When you’re in the middle of a conflict—God is there—through his Grace offered in Christ he doesn’t condemn you, he wants to help you, even as you’re screwing up.

But he will oppose you if you hang onto your pride—humble yourself before Him.

God loves that and honors that. That’s the first step. Then…

Listen to Understand

We started talking about listening last week, but it’s the secret to Healthy Conflict Resolution. Did you notice that Proverb contrasted Pride with Listening.

Fighting comes only from pride, but wisdom is with those who listen….” Proverbs 13:10

Truly listening communicates that you care, but it’s a very hard thing to do well. I’m convinced most of our conflicts would resolve well, and help us find unity, if we would just Humble ourselves and Listen.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19 

Yes we should, but as we noted last week, Pride usually makes us quick to speak, easily hurt, offended or angered, slow to listen.

If you don’t think you so—next conflict ask the other person, “Do you feel heard?”

Most people do not feel heard or understood.

Marriage counselors tell us that 90% of the problems in marriages – and it extends into all of our close relationships – boil down to one thing: 

An inability to communicate until both parties feel understood.

There’s actually a good reason why this is so difficult.

Do you know the average person thinks at 400 wpm, but we speak at 100 wpm (maybe you can think of some people who speak at 400 wpm and think at 100 wpm—(maybe you’re in conflict with them).

But the average person thinks 4 times faster then she speaks.

So while they’re speaking, you’re naturally going to think at least 300 words of ideas more than they’re saying.

So even as I’m speaking right now—I’m telling you the 100 most interesting, important words this minute could hold…you’re thinking about 300 other things.

Now, here’s the problem = You and I are in a conflict, all 400 of my words I’m thinking make perfect sense in my head—they have Meaningto me, but I can only get 100 wpms out to help you understand what I mean, and you hear my 100 wpms, but you’ve got 4 times more thoughts putting together a mental picture of what I mean.

Including objections that make perfect sense to you—but you can only tell me 100wpm back—or 25% of what you Mean—to which I’ll add 75% of my interpretive thoughts. Back and forth it goes.

So neither one of us really understand fully what the other person is meaning by words alone. That leads to…

Listening Principle #1- Meaning does not reside in Words, but in People.

This is why Humble LISTENING is the key to resolving most conflicts.

This is one of our biggest conflict blunders—we all assume what a person SAID is what she meant.

But even he perfectly conveyed the 25% of what he was thinking, you can still mis-interpret what he meant—you’re reading cues off emotion, expression—non-verbal communication.

You can choose to react to what you think he meant in a way he never meant it! Ever seen this frustrating thing happen.

You say, “That’s not what I meant,” and they keep saying “That’s what you said.”

So if we really want to understand the person and what he or she meant, we must be slow to react until we listen to more than the first words we hear. 

How do you do this?

Listening Principle #2- Ask: “Is this what you mean?”

See, we all think we know what the other person means, but humility requires us to admit, I may be mishearing, misinterpreting, misunderstanding.

Lots of things get in the way of me understanding you—only hearing 25% of your thoughts, our past history that colors my interpretation, the 75% of additional thoughts I tell myself about what you mean, my past relational history.

The only way past this conundrum is to Listen until the Other Person says you Understand.

Counselors mediating conflict will ask two people to set up Listening Rules.

This is a way to train us to listen until the other feels heard. 

In a conflict, you call a time out and say: 

“We’re not listening to each other—we’ll never get anywhere unless we really understand what the other means. So you go first—you get 5 minutes to talk and I’ll just listen until you feel like I understand. I can’t interrupt or defend or ‘Yeah But’ you .

I can only ask questions and try to explain back what I think you mean.

When I say ‘So do you mean…’ and you say, ‘Yes—that’s what I mean.’ Then I’ve Listened.

Then I get 5 minutes to explain my thoughts, and you Listen until I say you understand.”

It make take 10 minutes each way at first. But It’s only when the other person feels heard that we’ve Listened to Understand.

So in conflict, you express love to God by humbling yourself and asking God to help you. You express love to others by Listening to Understand. Then…

Speak Truth Personally

You also need to be heard so you can be known and understood.

Being understood is how we feel loved.

So you need to speak your Truth for conflict to resolve with greater unity.

The problem is, none of us have 100% accurate view of what’s True except God.

So when we communicate our Truth, we need to do it in a way that Humbly acknowledges this is only my perspective.

You communicate as calmly as you can, with “I statements” not “You statements.”

Speaking Principle #1:  “I statements” not “You statements”

Not: “You’re always late.”

This is a broadsweeping, untrue Judgement—no one is always anything, we’re never that consistent.

Instead “I feel like I’m not important to you when you come late.” 

Not “You make me feel stupid” “you think you’re always right”

First, Only God knows what another person thinks, and no one can make you feel anything—that person is not responsible for your feelings, you are.

When we accuse, we put ourselves in the place of God—pronouncing judgments based on our limited knowledge of Truth.

It causes more conflict.

So instead, speak your Truth Personally with I statements:

  • “I feel hurt when you interrupt and don’t let me finish.”
  • “I think I have something to offer, but I feel like you’re not interested in my ideas.” 

“I” statements humbly acknowledge: “I know what I feel and think (kind of), but I’m not God, I can’t say what you think, feel, or intended.”

So speak with “I” statements.

Speaking Principle #2:  Affirm the person and positive outcome

So you Listen more than you speak, but when you speak—start with affirming things about the person, your friendship, and the positive outcome you desire from resolving this conflict.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.

See, this is how you Fight for the Relationship.

You humble yourself before God to be other centered in a conflict.

Pride will say “don’t give in” or “He doesn’t deserve anything positive right now—make her hurt.” 

Humble yourself before God and Fight FOR the relationship.

Affirm the person and potential outcome.

“I need to tell you, I feel disrespected when you interrupt me–like you don’t want to hear my ideas.” (how I perceive truth) “I know that’s probably not true” (benefit of the doubt). “But I’m starting to resent it, and I don’t want it to drive a wedge in our partnership. I value our friendship, and I think you have great ideas (affirm the person). But I also think I have good ideas to add.”

“I don’t want it to drive a wedge, I want to strengthen our friendship.”

Then ask for clarity and Listen.

Story about being honest in the midst of conflict and finding healing.

It was a God thing—it unified us, but it could easily have driven a wedge. So Listen for Understanding, Speak Personal Truth kindly…finaly…

Be Willing To Compromise

Even when you humbly listen and speak in ways that allow for true Understanding, you still may not agree.

She may think you should parent one way, and you think another.

Or he thinks you should risk the company on big BHAG goal, and you think slow growth no debt is the right path—you disagree.

Every relationship requires compromise. Being willing to find a middle ground is important.

Unless compromise means compromising your morals, or integrity—which would compromise following God, be willing to compromise to win the Relationship.

Humble Yourself, Listen to Understand, Speak Personal Truth kindly, Compromise. That’s Healthy Conflict.

More Posts

About John and Kathy Burke

After ministry in Santa Barbara, the former Soviet Union, and Chicago, in one of the […]


Wisdom That Outlives You

“Con los años la viña da mejor vino.” (With years, the vine yields better wine) – Latin American Proverb 

We are wise when we learn from our elders and invest in our youth.


Timeless – Wisdom In Karma

“What goes around comes around.” – Indian Proverb. We are wise when we have the end in mind.