Think about the last conflict you had with someone in your life. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? But conflict is normal and happens in all areas of relationships. There’s an opportunity to become upset or offended on a daily basis. It is necessary to work through them in order to have successful, long lasting relationships. Conflicts are not always negative as they can bring on necessary change in relationships. It is more about how we handle the conflict.
Matthew 18 provides a great outline for conflict resolution, providing wisdom for how we can navigate relationship challenges. God calls us to seek healing by addressing conflict when it arises. Jesus instructs us to bring in a third party to mediate if our attempt is not successful, as well as putting boundaries in place if the other party is not receptive.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).
One of the first things we can do is try to overlook minor mistakes. Colossians 3:13 encourages us to make allowance for each other’s faults. Everyone makes mistakes and can potentially offend us at times. Not everything needs to be confronted or addressed, and we should choose our battles wisely. We do not want to be the person that points out minor mistakes. People will be uncomfortable, become defensive, and eventually avoid us. It is important to accept the differences of others.
If we cannot simply overlook the issue, we should discuss it directly with the person. Having a direct conversation is necessary when issues are recurrent, concerning, serious, or when they affect us directly. It is necessary to clearly explain our view, our feelings, and our expectations without lecturing, attacking, or intentionally hurting someone. Being vague for the sake of trying not to hurt someone else only causes confusion and resentment. Listening without being defensive will allow for understanding. Acknowledging how the other feels will validate the other person. Come up with solutions together. It may be necessary to assert yourself and place firm boundaries in the relationship. God did not call us to allow others to mistreat us or take advantage of us.
If the issues continue after an open discussion takes place, another person may need to be involved to assist resolving the issues. Sometimes, we need to get feedback or emotional support. Receiving feedback may hold us accountable if we are having difficulty resolving a conflict that needs to be resolved. Issues, such as addiction, abuse, and infidelity, are serious and need to involve more than one person to resolve the issue. A counselor, friend, pastor, or legal authorities are all examples of third parties that are involved in conflict resolution. There needs to be caution taken that we are not simply triangulating or involving a third person when it is unnecessary.
If the first three suggestions are ineffective and the issue is serious in nature, it may be best to distance ourselves from the relationship. We can decrease interactions or the amount of information shared or start saying “no”. It is important to have healthy limits in place to keep the sinfulness of others from causing additional harm to ourselves and those entrusted to our care. We can not control the behavior of others, but we can establish boundaries to live peaceably (Rom 12:18). God does not call us to submit to abuse in our relationships. As image-bearers of God we are called to grace-filled interactions.
If the relationship is too conflicted and causes more harm than good, we may have to dissolve the relationship. Sometimes, this is the only way to live at peace with certain people. You should forgive them, but you don't have to allow them close enough to hurt you again. God calls us to pray even for those who treat us as enemies. When Jesus suggests that we treat an unrepentant person as a sinner that means that we should be praying for them and desiring that they find healing.
Conflict is not easy nor enjoyable but is possible to resolve. God wants us to be at peace in relationships. He is in the business of relationships. Ask Him for guidance with the conflicts in your relationships.
Rev. Deb Koster
Dr. Robert Ritzema