Conflict is inevitable. What? You wanted me to say that you can skillfully maneuver through life without ever experiencing conflict? Well, I’m not going to do it and so now you are in the middle of a conflict with me.
Better get used to it. We live in a fallen world and conflict is a part of it. Jesus experienced it from the beginning of his ministry. Some of it came from other people’s misunderstanding. Some of it he caused on purpose because he was just being who he was. (For example see Mark 3:1-6 and note verse 6 especially.)
And if Jesus experienced conflict it’s a safe bet we will too. The problem is most people are not good at conflict. Many are conflict avoiders. I know. I was one for a long time. I’d run from conflict as fast as Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters. (In fact, if you had conflict trying to catch me, I might be able to beat him in a race.)
That all began to change when my wife and I were taking a training course on how to help marriages. The person teaching the course told us that the homework assignments the couples would take would lead them into conflict. I remember feeling the anxiety in my own body and thinking, “Why would we want to do that?! We’ll have to clean up the mess!”
But then he began to explain why learning to handle conflict is so vital to a relationship. He wrote three words on the board. At the top was the word INTIMACY. Below that word he wrote CONFLICT. And then at the bottom he wrote WITHDRAWAL.
In short form here’s his lesson. We want intimacy in our relationships. But when conflict surfaces and we don’t deal with it in healthy ways we move to withdrawal. There may be no fighting or no arguing. But there’s no intimacy.
Then he said, “You’ve got to have a different view of conflict. Conflict is just one step away from intimacy.” I definitely wanted intimacy so I started creating a lot of conflict in my marriage until Karen told me, “That wasn’t the point!” (I knew that. I was just hoping she wouldn’t catch on.)
But because she did we started working on how to deal with our conflict. We learned to listen more deeply. Respond less quickly. “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.” We looked for times either of us tended to withdraw and worked on the process of engaging the places of conflict.
One principal to keep in mind is that you can’t avoid the conflict. You can’t move from withdrawal straight to intimacy. Why? Any intimacy you find won’t last because the conflict is still present. You have to go through the conflict that is being avoided to get there.
Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. But intimacy is attainable. Learn to see conflict as a stepping stone that will get you to the intimacy you desire.
Question: How do you and your spouse or close friends handle conflict in the relationship?