Whatever kind of relationship you have, invest in it when there isn’t conflict. For married life, see these examples.
Conflict is part of life under the sun. Since you will have to face it, instead of fearing it, learn how to work through it in a way that honors God.
According to John Gottman, what most often destroys are defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, criticism. He calls these the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they are harbingers of the end of a relationship. Using these, even when used against you, will increase conflict not lessen it. This is true for other types of relationships too.
Know that not all problems/conflicts are the same. Perpetual problems are problems that are difficult to solve, but you can live with them. According to Gottman, in stable marriages, spouses decide to just live with them, mitigate their impact, and approach them with good humor. In unstable marriages, spouses get grid locked and feel increasingly hurt, rejected, and lonely. When you find yourselves grid locked, it is usually “a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other”. Determine what those dreams are, taking breaks as necessary and perhaps with help. As you do, work toward finding ways to support and honor each other’s dreams. Solvable problems should be tackled right away. What applies to marriages above, also applies to other kinds of relationships.
Resource: The Gottman 19 Areas Checklist for Solvable and Perpetual Problems
When there is a conflict, we get anxious. Learn to notice anxiety in yourself by noticing “a spinning mind, a racing heart, or a tightening gut” (Steve Cuss). This is important because when you’re flooded with anxiety, you make poor decisions that make things worse. So, if you’re feeling anxious, deal with it—often before you deal with the conflict itself. This is part of getting the log out of your own eye. You might do it in the moment or you may need more time. Deep breathing, prayer, walking, and easy reading unrelated to the problem can help you calm down. If you need a break during a hard conversation, Gottman suggests saying something like this: “You know what, I’m having a hard time listening to you right now, and I will come back in 30 minutes so we can continue to talk.” These words are effective because they take responsibility for your own emotions while staying connected to the other person.
Don’t deal with anxiety by over-functioning or under-functioning. Over-functioning is when you take over something that someone else should do for themselves, this includes feeling and thinking. Coercion, abuse, and manipulation are extreme examples of over-functioning. Milder forms look like giving unwanted advice or doing someone else’s work for them. Under-fucntioning is letting someone take over something you should do for yourself—including your thinking and feeling. Connecting your happiness with someone else’s happiness is one example. Refusing to point out or admit problems because it might create conflict is another. Instead of dealing with conflict in these ways, we ought to do what we should, leave to God and the other person what they are responsible for, and remain lovingly connected throughout the whole process. A psychological term for this is self-differentiation, read this summary to learn more. I learned this framework from Murray Bowen’s ideas, which Brené Brown explains well.
So what does peacemaking look like? Ken Sande has distilled the Bible’s teaching on conflict resolution into a memorable “4 Gs.” These steps will help you be a peacemaker instead of a peacebreaker or a peacefaker, as Sande puts it.
- Glorify God. How can I honor God in this situation?
- Get the log our of your eye. How can I own my part of this conflict?
- Gently restore. How can I help others own their contributions to this clash?
- Go and be reconciled. How can I pass along God’s forgiveness and help reach a reasonable solution?
Learn more about these biblical steps in Sande’s book, The Peacemaker: Student Edition, Handling Conflict Without Fighting Back or Running Away. There is a larger version of this book as well, but this edition will suffice for most people.
No matter what type of relationship you’re concerned about, you can follow this basic process alongside of Gottman’s great tips for dealing with the “Four Horseman” I mentioned above.
Learn to apply the advice above in church, friendships, work, your neighborhood, and family life. It may save your relationships from failure and create some of the most fulfilling relationships of your life. But remember, it’s not your job to solve every problem. Your job is to approach conflict in obedience to God, trusting that he will use even the most challenging trials for good.