Disagreements are inevitable in relationships, so rather than trying to stifle every dispute, we need to learn how to scuffle in healthy, productive ways.
“Some Christians think peacemaking means avoiding conflict,” Gary Wilkerson points out in a devotional, “but doing that only leads to further division, strife and disorder.”
Disagreement, criticism and conflict are all areas that people—inside and outside of the church—struggle to handle in healthy ways. What is modeled far more often for us is strife handled poorly, exploding in everyone’s face or being covered up after the fact without actually addressing what caused a fight in the first place.
What TV shows, movies or books can you think of that have shown two people fighting in a beneficial way?
No lashing out at each other from a place of pain and mistrust. No side-stepping core problems like anger issues, lying, infidelity or past accusations. No “forgiveness” that sweeps over past wrongs and avoids actual change or character growth.
Can you think of any?
If you were lucky enough to have real people in your life who modeled healthy disagreements, statistics say you’re probably in a very small minority.
The Root of Quarrels
Conflict is unavoidable this side of eternity.
As long as we experience sinful self-interest or must grapple with hurts in our own history, our sharp edges will cut others, and they will injure us in turn.
Gary Wilkerson points out a taproot of conflict in most people in one of his 86 Seconds devotionals: “What happens to us, to me, when I get angry? When someone criticizes me, I find myself sometimes getting resentful to a larger degree than the constructive criticism merits. Where’s the power behind that?
“Well, I would suggest to you that it’s not that actual event; it comes from something deeper inside, old wounds from your history. …never being good enough, never being powerful enough, never being lovable enough.
“Out of that, when someone criticizes me, I don’t just take it at the surface level. I take it at a deeper level. They’re actually confirming my suspicions about myself…”
If we can honestly acknowledge our own sinful predilections or how a personal relationship history affects our responses to others, this can really help us understand where we may be breaking down during a clash.
Humanity is made in God’s image, but we’re also fallen.
We’re made for living in relationships, but we will hurt ourselves and others. Sober reflection on our own personalities and motivations is very important so that we can work toward separating what in us is the Holy Spirit’s work and what is our own. Only then can we step forward toward healthier conflict and better relationships.
“It’s Not You; it’s Me…”
Most people are familiar with the explosive way of fighting, and the church generally warns against this way of handling disagreements. Sermons talk about anger and how to tell if you’re sinning or not in your anger.
What they rarely mention are the alternatives that aren’t any better.
With the advent of online dating apps and websites, a new term came into existence: “ghosting.” Like the term implies, it’s when a person falls out of contact without a readily apparent reason. Since then, the term has become mainstream to describe anyone who disappears from any kind of semi-formalized relationship without explaining why.
Popular psychology journals and magazines are beginning to analyze the effects ghosting has on people. Even businesses have begun using the term and analyzing how to minimize its occurrence in working relationships.
This way of handling relational problems, though, certainly didn’t start in 2012 with the creation of Tinder.
The Bible presents fairly good evidence that none other than the world’s first family dealt with both major forms of negative conflict. First, Cain beat his brother to death thanks to his own massive insecurities, then there’s good evidence that he ghosted his parents rather than deal with the fallout of his first poorly handled fight.
Why is it such a bad thing to avoid creating a scene or getting into an outright disagreement with someone? Isn’t that peacekeeping at its best?
Psychology Today explains the problem this way, “People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel.”
Putting Our Ghosts to Rest
So how can we start on the road to developing healthier conflict habits?
Gary Wilkerson explores this in 86 Seconds as well. “Someone suggested this to me: Write down everybody that you know... Then look through all those names and find people who you’re still in good relationship with and ones who you’ve kind of cut off, that you’ve moved away from, ones that—maybe they offended you, or you offended them, and you’re no longer in relationship with them.
“God wants us to have relationships. I looked back at my list and realized that I had allowed small offenses—little foxes that spoil the vines (Song of Solomon 2:15)—little things like that ruin them [relationships].”
Sitting down and talking to someone about a bruised or broken relationship is tough. It takes a lot of courage to be that vulnerable.
We have to be open to the possibility that the other person isn’t ready to mend bridges. They may need more time. They may not ever be ready.
We also have to be open to the possibility that either we’ve hurt them as badly or even worse than they’ve hurt us, or the entire conflict may have been caused by a misunderstanding or innocuous reaction without any intent to harm or upset us.
“I want to encourage you to take some time to assess ‘Where have [my] relationships been broken in an unhealthy fashion?’” Gary asked. “Where can you be an agent of peace in a troubled world?”