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How to Handle Conflicts

By Barrington H. Brennen

Seminar Handout


Question: Dear Sir: It seems as if my husband and I always have conflicts that end up in a fight. I want my way, and he wants his. What can we do to manage conflicts better? Signed, Want Some Peace.

Answer: Dear Want Some Peace, I am glad you said that you want to know how to manage conflicts better because we cannot avoid all conflicts. Some conflicts can be prevented, and others just occur in the natural course of life. There are two ingredients that make conflicts what they really are: anger and selfishness. In marriage, conflicts often mean anger—hot or cold.


"Hot anger can be described like this: In the first year of marriage, the husband speaks and the wife listens. In the second year of marriage, the wife speaks and the husband listens. In the third year of marriage, both speak and the neighbors listen!" (Caring for Marriage, 1990) This is hot anger; it is excited and often cruel. It is loud and frequently crushing. With hot anger you do have some idea what the other person is thinking. It isn’t accurate, but there may be some consolation that we care enough to be angry.

Cold anger, on the other hand, is like an iceberg. We can see only the tip of it, and we have no idea what’s underneath. "It can be devastating silence, coldness, strangers living under the same roof. . . Cold anger can take another form. It can become what we like to call being "an angelic phony"--- a covered up courtesy that is full of pretense and deception. It says, "No dear . . . Yes dear . . . Anything you’d like dear." But behind the seemingly sweet words is the spirit of coldness, where feelings have been anesthetized, or worse extinguished" (Ibid).


Dealing with anger is the fist step in solving conflicts in a relationship. We must accept the ownership of our anger, our feelings. Only when we do accept its ownership can we be free to choose what we will do with our anger. We choose to be angry or, we can choose to be loving, kind, and responsive. Here are key Biblical verses to ponder: "Better be slow to anger than a fighter. Better govern one’s temper than capture a city." (Proverbs 16:32 NEB) "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools (Eccl 7:9). Unless we deal with our anger we will be in great trouble. It is important to remember that unresolved anger is stored. It closes channels to communication. "Today’s anger becomes tomorrow’s resentment, and resentment becomes bitterness."


There are skills that help in solving conflicts, but far more basic is attitude. If you are truly honest, dear friend, about your search for peace, one important thing you must do to solve conflicts is to begin to think things through. Conflict often has set patterns, and we need to ask ourselves, "Why do we fight?" Is it to clear the air? Is it because we have short tempers? Is it because the other person usually starts it? Is it because the pressure builds up from storing problems over a period of time? Is it because we are so different and don’t think alike? Or is it because you want attention, and this is the only way you can get it." Think it through.

Do you realize that some conflicts would go out the window if we didn’t take life so seriously. There are times when we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, and with each other. "The difference between happy and unhappy couples is not how many conflicts they have, how many differences they must resolve, but how they handle them."

Remember, that regardless how close you put your heads together, you will never see things precisely the same way as your spouse. We are humans, and we are married to humans. We have our own ideas of marriage, life, money, sexuality, religion, and parenting.


1) Deal with issues, grievances, and potential conflict situations as they occur. More damage is done when we procrastinate and let things build up inside. However, do not cause unnecessary embarrassment by trying to deal with the problem with your partner in the presence of friends or family. Chose the earliest appropriate time in private.

2) Listen and share. It is important to listen to each other’s point of view. Be open to change. Value the other persons’ thoughts and feelings. Share what you have on your heart in a non-threatening manner.

3) Think of the problem in terms of the needs of each spouse. Being unselfish is hard at this time, but it is important. Remember selfishness is a root cause for most conflicts. Therefore, thinking about the other spouse’s needs and concerns with help solve the conflict.

4) Ask yourself, "Can my spouse’s need be accommodated?" Be willing to see how best to accommodate your spouses’ wishes.

5) Consider alternative solutions. There are often many ways to kill a cat. If one partner insists that his or her way is the only way, then the conflict remains. However, being open to various alternatives to solving the conflicts goes a long way.

6) Evaluate your possibilities It is important for the couple to keep an open mind and to take the time to evaluate carefully and honesty all possibilities.

7) Pray together Placing God at the center is a sure antidote to anger and selfishness. Coming together in prayer with the right attitude and an open mind will open doors to proper conflict resolution. However, do not let prayer be a cop-out or cover-up. Be genuine about it.

8) Plan to reassess the solution. After arriving at a good solution and carrying it out, the couple should take time to reassess the solution and see if it brought happiness, acceptance, and other benefits to the relationship.



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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