Facing Conflict In Relationships - How Do We Make Peace?

Wisdom from my two fathers

Written by

There was a time in my life when I was really struggling in a relationship. I had prayed for God to restore things, but after being wounded yet one more time by this person, I was weary of the fight for peace. Their words hurt too much, and I was not sure I had the strength to face this person with grace.

I sat down at my computer feeling broken, wanting desperately to defend myself and point out the wrong they had done to me, but knowing this would only escalate the distance between us. I wiped my tears as I tried to find the right words. Deep within, a voice kept whispering to me, “Mercy - you are to extend mercy.” I knew that mercy was undeserved forgiveness or compassion, but I had been falsely accused and I was hurting – surely I wasn’t supposed to just let all that go?

In the midst of my struggle, my dad offered me some words of wisdom.

Healing requires giving up the right to be right on both sides. There will be no healthy relationship if things deteriorate to a win-lose contest. It's fantasy to think conflict can be completely traced to one party. Each of you must look inward before outward. Each must identify, own and deal with personal responsibilities for what's happened, even if specifics seem minor. What's little to one can be major to the other. If something is important at all to the other, it must be honored.

It seems another indispensable part is the empathy to put yourselves in each other's shoes. Pain can be jealous for itself, wanting to hog all the emotion and focus from a single perspective. Whatever exercise or conversation you can have that will help you feel the other's pain, and them feel yours, will be prerequisite. You do not want to have a debate, where the goal is to superimpose a conclusion on another by reason alone. Sometimes feelings are more important than facts.  If you can cry for each other instead of because of each other, you'll relate in the Spirit of Christ and be closer to the heart of the matter.

Truth is not the highest value. Love is. Laying everything out on the table just because it's true does not guarantee love. Scripture enjoins us to speak the truth in love. If the facts are correct but the heart isn't, it's not God's definition of truth. You should avoid using correct facts without correct love. That's a weapon, not a tool. If you know something's going to hurt the other, be very, very sure it's ultimately redemptive. This takes great inner discipline and compassion. Always check your true motives in such a case.

I was worn out from wrestling with my emotions, so after reading my father’s words, I decided to put an end to my self-protective efforts. I told the Lord I would let go of my need for justification and I would do whatever He told me. I can only describe what happened next as supernatural. He softened my heart towards this person, and suddenly I wanted to bless them with my words. I found the sections of this individual’s letter that were true (no matter how small a part I played) and I assumed responsibility for them. I realized they were hurting too, so I asked forgiveness for everything I had done to add to their pain. I did not mention one offense or disagreement I had with them, but only wrote that which was helpful for building up. (Ephesians 4:29) 

It was gut-wrenching to walk through this process, but after writing the letter, I felt like a weight had lifted off me. A tremendous peace settled over me. People are often astonished when they hear of a physical healing, but the healing that happened that day in my heart was no less a miracle.

There is a scripture in Deuteronomy that says, “Today I lay before you life and death, choose life.” I realized the fleeting satisfaction of putting someone else in their place would never compare to the peace experienced from partnering with God. When I chose love over all other options, and gave up my “right to be right,” the Lord healed my deep wounds from this person. Somehow, in the laying down of my life, I found it. No longer did it matter what this person said to me or what they thought of me. From that moment forward, this person’s behavior and words didn’t “trigger” me like before – they didn’t have control over my peace any longer. 

My victory came when I learned to respond in the opposite spirit of the world; only then could I discover the fullness of joy and freedom God desired for me. 

As Lysa Terkeurst points out, "The secret to healthy conflict resolution isn't taking a you-against-me-stance, but realizing it's all of us against Satan - he's the real Enemy." She goes on to say, "Behind every harsh critic is usually a brokenhearted person desperate for love." If we can soften our hearts to recognize this, then there is hope for healing in the relationship. 

As this prayer by St. Francis of Assisi notes, it was ulitmately through seeking to comfort and understand others that I found the comfort I needed for my own soul.

Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace that, where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that, where there is error, I may bring truth; that, where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that, where there is despair, I may bring hope; that, where there are shadows, I may bring light; where there is sadness, I may bring joy.  Lord, grant that I may seek to comfort rather than to be comforted, to understand, than to be understood; to love than to be loved; for it is by self-forgetting that one finds; it is by forgiving that one is forgiven; it is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

Recommended reading:

"Bait of Satan" by John Bevere

"Keep Your Love On" by Danny Silk

"Unoffendable" by Brant Hansen

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.