Yesterday one of my students reminded me that I deal with conflict in an up front manner.  He reminded me I had said in a class “if you have a problem with me talk to me about it.”  This statement came about because I had heard a rumour that someone was upset with me.  The rumour is still unverified to this day though I know the person happily talks to me still and would raise the issue if there was one.  You see I can’t trust rumours because they may be malicious or make things worse.  At the same time there is an issue called triangulation where A has a conflict with C and rather than go to C, A decides to go to B.  (I was taught this principle about church life in my Person and Practice of Ministry class at Fuller but it applies to couples and families as well.)  I was seeing a number of my students triangulate and I kept sending them back to talk to each other.  If a student had a problem with me I wanted them to come to me.

Now I don’t like conflict.  I don’t think people are even supposed to like conflict.  Yet conflict happens.  How we handle it through to resolution is where we see if we have gained wisdom.  So how did I get some wisdom here?  Well being honest by putting my foot in it, not being compassionate and caring all the time, have people double guess me wrong and just being human and tired and saying the wrong thing.  The greatest places of conflict for me has been, unsurprisingly, my marriage and secondarily my employers.

Concerning my marriage I will make more comments about tomorrow as there are some basic issues in communication where I think I have gained some wisdom.  Yet I will quote my wonderful wife who says one of the first things she had to learn to do when we got married was argue.  Sometimes we have this idea that marriages should be places of no conflicts and no problems.  The reality, it seems to me, is that marriages, and most relationships, are strengthened by shared experiences of solving conflict and problems. Just going through them will not bring people together, they need to go through them together and come out the other side talking to one another.  These issues of life become cement for people to build with.  This is reflected in the popular idea that “make-up sex is the best”.  You are now emotionally closer and can celebrate that emotional intimacy, physically.  Concerning my employers I will possibly comment at a later time.

Arguing well though requires both sides to listen to one another and not have tantrums.  I am reading a book at the moment on disciplining children and it claims most smacking is temper tantrums by parents and I am starting to agree. The book for those interested is the poorly titled “1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents“.  We don’t really change from some of this brutish behaviour no matter how old we are.  It is always easier to blame the other person for a conflict than to realise we started or escalated it.

At the same time we need to recognise that we do not know the other person like we think we do.  There will be frustrations and hurts that may not come to light for a long time.  My wonderful wife and I have friends who we think were trying to sort out all their problems before they were married.  Considering their age, and point in life, we think the delays of trying to work everything out stopped them being able to have a family.  Guess what, when they did get married they still had adjustments to make.  And I would also warrant a series of more problems to resolve.

The idea that we resolve conflict by knowing someone totally is a fallacy.  We need to move from knowledge to wisdom.  We need to know them enough to know they are committed to God, and to us and we are committed to God and to them and decide what God wants us to do from there.  How long does that take to happen?  I would like to give a definite answer but it varies from person to person.  Some people do know quickly they want to be with someone, some people take more time.  Many Christian girls I think have the idea that a year is long enough for “a ring on the finger”.  If you are in your 20s that sounds great to me but longer may be better, if you are in your 30s that may be too long if you want a family.  Even more so in your 40s.  If you are in your teens then that is nowhere long enough as people go through so many changes from 18-25.  You need to ask those around whether they see this commitment is the direction God is leading you both to pursue.  Waiting just to avoid conflicts is not wise, it leads to all sorts of problems in other areas.  It is being committed no matter what, that makes conflict resolvable.  If one person decides to no longer be committed and is not persuaded otherwise by God, circumstances, other people or themselves then it seems to me no conflict is resolvable.

So how committed are you to working out conflict and remaining in a relationship?