By Mark Verkler
How to manage conflict in relationships. This is a commonly asked question. We start with looking at James 1:19, Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Now, here is this great principle from James often called the proverbs of the New Testament, because there is so many topics covered in the book of James. By the way, the first book written to the New Testament Church was the book of James. To be swift to hear or quick to hear and slow to speak, you are going to have to surrender your pride in your tongue. The Scripture talks about humbling yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He’ll lift you up.
Let’s talk about the tongue for just a moment. In James 3:2, it says, for in many things we all offend. If any man offends not in word, the same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body. In James 3:8 it says, But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Most of the conflict in a relationship comes from my tongue. So, what am I to do? If no man can contain the tongue? And my tongue is an unruly evil? And it is the cause of all this conflict? What do I do? I must surrender my tongue.
Back when I was a junior in college at the University of Arkansas, I had a very sharp tongue. I had practiced for many years using that tongue sharply and with sarcasm. I was confronted by a graduate student about how it was hurting other people. And I was so gripped by that five- or 10-minute rebuke that I took it to the Lord and began to surrender my tongue to him. That was 35 years ago, and it has been so important to me ever since that my tongue is surrendered to God. I will tell you; the heart of conflict is what I do, and do not do with my tongue.
I would exhort you to begin with this prayer if you’ve never done this: God, I can’t tame my tongue, but I can surrender it to you. Begin asking Him (and maybe the people around you if you’ve got the courage to do that) how am I doing with my tongue these days?
Let me give you some key principles once you have surrendered your tongue to God. You cannot carry out any of these commands from scripture, or these principles unless your tongue is surrendered to God. The first one is to agree with your adversary quickly. If you have someone in a relationship that comes to you and says, this is an issue, or this is a problem, or this hurt me. Agree with integrity, what you have done. Yes, that was wrong for me to say it that way. Or for me to be so mean or so loud or slam the door or whatever it was. If I can agree with my adversary quickly, not three days later, but quickly, then that immediately begins to lower the conflict.
Let me give you three C plus and three C minuses we are trying to get out of relationships. We are trying to get into relationships that are healthy and have less conflict. What are the negative C’s, we are trying to get out? Critical. Criticizing, and Contempt, which is the sarcasm I used to be good at. Mocking, patronizing talking down in contempt creates conflict, and then just condemnation. The Bible says in Romans 8, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Why would I be condemning someone else or condemning myself when there is no condemnation in Christ? So, we are trying to get these three C’s out of our relationships, critical contempt, and condemnation.
What are the three C pluses we are trying to bring into this relationship to be authentic and real but to lower the conflict? The first is correction; I can correct someone else, and I can receive corrections because of what we talked about earlier. I have humbled myself. Complaints, believe it or not, in a relationship are healthy. They need to be mixed with positives, of course. The last C that we are trying to get is commendation instead of condemnation. So, we are trying to get condemnation out of the commending, or commendation. Correction, complaints, the commendation, are things that are going to help make my relationship healthier.
Years ago, I was listening to Max Lucado on the radio talking about the two most important things in his marriage of 25 or 30 years at the time. Those two things were forgiving and asking for forgiveness. I will tell you today, after 35 years of marriage myself, those are the two most important things in marriage. They are the two most important things in overcoming conflict also.