Understanding Conflict

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Conflict is any difference between people or groups of people which actually or seemingly offends the sensibilities of either party (feelings, beliefs, dignity, convictions, values, opinions, methods, goals, self-esteem) or threatens the well-being of either party (personal freedom, economic security, social ranking, happiness, orderliness, peacefulness, emotional/mental/ physical health, possessions, family, community, nation).

Conflicts perceived threat to our well-being, or Core issues too personal to ignore -

Conflict always occurs within the boundaries of relationship. Therefore, approval/self-worth, control, justice, and/or acceptance/love are most often the core issue(s) for both disputants in any given conflict. Since these issues are deeply personal, it is hard not to see conflict as a direct threat to our well-being when one or more of these issues is being threatened.






Because these four core issues are so precious to us, we are prone to act on behalf of protecting and preserving them at the first sign of their being under attack. And because conflict generally affects one or more of these core issues, our primary concern when responding to conflict tends to be that of:

        1) minimizing or removing disapproval,

        2) promoting or affirming self-worth,

        3) asserting or maintaining control,

        4) correcting injustice, or insulating ourselves from its effects,

        5) promoting acceptance/love,

        6) cutting our losses so as to diminish the pain of rejection.


When our primary concern is approval/self-worth, control, justice, and/or acceptance/love, we see victory over or distance from the offender (including going our separate ways) as the most rational, productive response to conflict.

When we believe victory over the offender is the best response to conflict, we feel justified in unleashing strong feelings, harsh words, cruel criticisms, put-downs, undefeatable logic, unanswerable accusations, exaggerations, threats, and even physical abuse. Each of these responses may bring the victory desired, but they always damage, and often end, the relationship.


When we believe distance from the offender is the most reasonable response to conflict, we feel justified in using silence, coolness, indifference, unfriendliness, withdrawal, avoidance, divorce, and internalized hatred. Though these responses are self-protective, they are also relationship destructive.


Generally speaking, we choose victory over or distance from the conflict-offender out of a selfish concern for our own well-being or interests. In other words, we are looking out for our own good at the expense of the relationship. We are saying that "my" individual happiness is more important than "our" relationship. We are behaving as if "my" well-being (sense of control, feelings of peace, avoidance of the unpleasant) is non-negotiable, while "our" relationship is disposable. When relationships are seen as disposable, self-protective, relationship damaging, responses to conflict seem rational.




1. What we know, we know. What we believe, we do. Knowledge is not the direct motivator of behavior. Our personal beliefs are the most significant factor motivating our behavior. We can know something and agree that it is true, and even the right thing to do. But that does not mean we believe in it (i.e., that we are willing to live according to it). The surest way to discover what we believe is to observe what we do and then answer the question: WHY?. Learning the "why" gives us the information needed to determine what we believe about God, others, life, and ourselves in relation to what we are doing. 


2. Our behavior is not the direct result of a given stimulus. Instead, it is the direct result of what we believe or tell ourselves about the stimulus. For example, people, or people’s behavior, do not make us mad. We get mad based on what we believe about that person or that person’s behavior.

Stimulus Beliefs & Self-Talk Response

1. Criticized by someone


(What I believe about the stimulus drives my response. Therefore, to understand why I am responding the way I am it is important to understand what I believe about the stimulus and/or person causing it.)

1. Defend yourself or grow quiet

2. Treated with disrespect

2. Feel hurt and/or angry, then verbally attack the one who showed disrespect and point out his flaws

To find out why you respond in negative, selfish, and sinful ways to certain stimuli from others, examine what you believe about the way they are treating you, or what you are telling yourself about them or their behavior.


3. "Your actions speak so loud I cannot hear what you say." Certain words and deeds done once are enough to label us. In other things, our repetitive words/deeds label us. Too often we overlook the impact on others of our repetitive words/deeds. However, when such words and deeds hurt, frustrate, discourage, or push others away, they do not overlook them after experiencing them for a time. This means that even if one or more of our repetitive words/deeds are not in the "big sin" category, they still lead others to label us as uncaring, unloving, sinful or selfish. Accept responsibility for your self-made reputation.


4. There is a distinct difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter. However, manslaughter committed on a repetitive basis against the same person or group of people soon feels like premeditated murder to them. And once the offender is clearly shown how his behavior is hurting others and therefore should be stopped, it is no longer manslaughter when carelessly committed. It is irresponsible, uncaring, reckless murder which now should be treated as premeditated murder by both the perpetrator and the one hurt.


5. No one likes pain. Yet if we choose a sinful approach to conflict, we will suffer. And if we choose a godly approach to conflict, we will most likely suffer. But, is it not better to suffer for redemptive, noble, and good purposes? (This is the "take up our cross daily" theme.) Therefore, learn the difference between:

a. QUICK FIXES: methods and solutions which bring immediate relief from current pain or ensure protection from future pain without resolving the conflict and restoring the relationship. Such methods forestall our misery (delay until some time in the future), they do not end it (i.e., blocking, passively yielding to the aggressor, aggression, threats, abuse).
b. REAL FIXES: methods and solutions that deal with reality, resolve issues, solve problems, and protect or restore relationships. Such methods will include uncomfortable, even unwanted feelings and situations, but they solve differences and strengthen relationships so that the future is more satisfying.


6. When trust is eroded, love is eroded. When there is conflict, try to restore trust as soon as possible. No one can trust without good reason to trust. Therefore, eroded trust must be repaired and a tarnished reputation must be renewed through repetitive displays of trustworthy behavior. But no one can re-earn trust unless the offended party trusts enough for trust to be re-earned. It takes both parties working together to restore trust and revitalize love.


7. Complete trust in the goodness of God and the reliability of God’s Word is essential to conflict resolution. At whatever point you think God will not protect your interests, or at whatever point you think obedience to His Word will leave you too vulnerable to the schemes and injustice of others, you will depart from doing things God’s way (doing what you know is right, living according to God’s Word) and resort to doing things your own way (doing what you feel certain will promote or protect your interests). Since God’s way of thinking and behaving is based on love (seeking the good of everyone who in any way is affected by your choices and behavior), to depart from God’s way leaves only one other way - self-centeredness (seeking the good of self as your first concern and others only as it fits into your first concern).


8. Beware of self-deception. It is motivated by self-centeredness. It is a self-imposed hardening of your own heart against God and God’s Word. It is the most difficult deception to overcome because it is self-constructed in the shape of your own (self-serving) view of reality and truth. It is a self-made curse.




Who is helped the most, whose interests are primarily served, by your favorite method of responding to conflict?

MYSELF________ OTHER PARTY________ BOTH OF US________

EXPLAIN: ________________________________________________



                       (Conflict resolution is relationship centered)


1. The ultimate purpose of God's law is the establishment and preservation of relationships built on mutual love and trust. (Mark 12:28-31; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8)

MARK 12:28-31 . . . And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' "The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (NASB)

ROMANS 13:8-10 . . .Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. (NASB)

GALATIANS 5:14 . . . For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (NASB)

JAMES 2:8 . . . If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. (NASB)


2. The primary goal of Christ's death is to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God and share a relationship of mutual love and trust with Him forever.

II CORINTHIANS 5:18-20 . . . Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (NASB)


3. Paul's statement that the goal of Christian teaching is love (the one ingredient essential to every meaningful relationship) supports the importance of relationships.

I TIMOTHY 1:5 . . . But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (NASB)


4. God's instruction concerning the behavior of husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, and among Church members shows His intentions for us to value and protect relationships of the most basic kind and at the most basic level. (Ephesians 5:21-32; 6:1-9; 4:2-3)

EPHESIANS 5:21-32 . . . and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (NASB)

EPHESIANS 6:1-4 . . . Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother which is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NASB)

EPHESIANS 6:5-9 . . . Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (NASB)

EPHESIANS 4:1-3 . . . I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (NASB)


5. Jesus taught that we must forgive those who sin against us if we are to experience God's forgiveness for sinning against Him. And, forgiveness is a vital ingredient in the restoration of any relationship, including our relationship with God. (NOTE: Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35)

MATTHEW 6:14-15 . . . For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (NASB)

MATTHEW 18:21-35 . . . Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (NASB)


6. Jesus taught that restoration of broken relationships are to be put before worship. In other words, do not worship falsely. Do not worship a god you do not trust and therefore do not find worthy of obedience. God is a god of relationships. If you do not value relationships, don’t worship him. (NOTE: Matthew 5:21-26)

MATTHEW 5:21-26 . . . "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent." (NASB)


7. God teaches that we are not to take another Christian to court. Rather, we are to settle our disputes with other Christians within the community of believers. This means that if we cannot settle it one-on-one, we are to get help from other Christians in resolving the difference and restoring the relationship. (NOTE: I Corinthians 6:1-8)

I CORINTHIANS 6:1-8 . . . Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life? If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren. (NASB)



You will not be inclined to make it your life’s aim to resolve conflicts and strengthen relationships if you are self-centered.

But, neither will you be motivated to work out your differences with others in a way which promotes and protects relationships if you do not highly value relationships.

Now, you cannot be self-centered and value relationships. But neither can you love as God calls you to love and regard relationships as expendable, disposable, or of less value than your interests and well-being.

So, make it your aim to love enough to value relationships enough to be motivated enough to resolve conflict for the sake of protecting and strengthening the relationships you have.



I JOHN 2:9-11 . . . The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (NASB)

I JOHN 4:7-8 . . . Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (NASB)

I JOHN 4:19-21 . . . We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (NASB)






And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (NASB)


"But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. (NASB)


"And 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 taxgatherer. (NASB)




We need help because we get emotionally involved in disputes, thus hindering our ability to think clearly and act in a manner that seeks the good of everyone involved.

We need help to discover reasonable alternative solutions to the dispute so we have more than one or two possible ways to resolve the conflict. A third party (someone not involved in the dispute) can often see possible alternative solutions that those in the dispute cannot see.

We need help keeping self-interest in its proper place. We need help in remaining faithful to God and His Word. We need help in remembering that the relationship is far more valuable than our personal sense of approval/self-esteem, control, justice, and/or acceptance/love. We need help in persevering until the conflict is resolved in a manner that preserves the relationship and settles the dispute. Conflict tests our trust in God and His Word to work well enough to protect our interests. Conflict tests our trust in the other person’s desire to be fair. Conflict tempts us to return to old "sinful" methods of survival - methods which protect our own interests and promote our own happiness first and foremost. We need help to pass these tests and resist these temptations.




We are blessed by God when we resolve our differences with one another.

I PETER 3:8-9 . . . To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (NASB)


We are blessed by God when we help others resolve their differences with one another.

MATTHEW 5:9 . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (NASB)



Summarize what God has done to promote relationships in our world._____________________________

What value does God want us to place on relationships?_______________________________________

Why is love vital to the promotion and protection of relationships?________________________________





but that doesn't mean I am rejecting you,
or that I don't value our relationship.
So hear what I am saying
without feeling rejected
or worthless
or unloved.



but that doesn't mean

I am wrong and you're right,

or that I am less and you are more,

or that we cannot value and enjoy our relationship.

So after saying what you want me to hear,

listen to what I have to say.

And after listening to each other,

let's work out our differences

in a way that preserves our love for each other.





but that doesn't mean I am attacking you,

or that I care about you any less than when I am agreeing with you.

So hear what I am saying

without feeling put down

or condemned

or that there is nothing I like about you.



but it is alright for people to disagree

as long as they do not let their disagreement

drive them apart.

So I will listen to you

without feeling attacked or offended

knowing that you want to be understood as much as I do.

Then you can listen to me,

and we can work toward a resolution

that will help our relationship grow

rather than stagnate or die.





not because I am angry with you,

though I may be,

but because I love you and care about what happens to you

and to our relationship.

So hear what I am saying

without getting defensive and hostile

or growing silent and withdrawing

or thinking I am just being critical.

Hear me as one who cares.



and it hurts to hear some of the things you are saying.

But I want to know what I am doing to hurt you

because you matter to me.

So I will listen,

resisting the temptation to defend and attack back

or walk away and act as if you don't matter to me.

I care about you,

and I don't want to hurt you.

Let's work this out together

so we can grow closer together.





realizing it will take time and hard work

before lasting change is achieved.

So understand that I am not asking you

to be perfect immediately

or to put in the hard work

without my patient support and encouragement

or to ignore changes I need to make

for the sake of healing our relationship.



and I will do my best,

because I care about you and our relationship, too.

But relationships are not one-sided.

So join me in setting goals for changes we both need to make.

Join me in tracking our progress

so we can see how far we've come.

Let's help each other when we are weak.

After failure, let's renew trust rather than suspicion.

Let's work through this together for the sake of our relationship.




Describe your present attitude toward conflict. _______________________________________

What part of your attitude toward conflict should you change? ____________________________

What would your new attitude look like? ____________________________________________

Describe the right attitude toward confronting. ________________________________________

What part of your attitude toward confronting should you change? _________________________

What would your new attitude look like? ____________________________________________



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Revised 2020