Resolving Family Conflict
The Bible is filled with stories of family conflict. Beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel, through Jacob’s trickery involving Esau and Naomi’s daughters-in-law, we see that relationships do not always function in the way God intended.
This has not changed — as we all know. Today, families are in as much turmoil as they have ever been. Advancing down the road of time does not always remove the problems faced in the past; sometimes it just emphasizes them.
Conflict by the Numbers
The two greatest sources of conflict identified in a recent survey were “your spouse or former spouse” (18%) and “other family or in-laws” (14%). Simply put, between 10 and 20 percent of Americans are dealing with some kind of family conflict.
Syncing Personalities, Preferences, and Habits
Spousal conflict is nothing new, as anyone married for longer than about 20 minutes can tell you. Syncing two people with different personalities, preferences, habits, and expectations is difficult. Communication breakdowns and differences between the genders are also sources of conflict.
Think about how many times spousal conflict has broken out as the family was preparing for Sunday worship. Or the conflict that seems inherent in making decisions related to child rearing. Now think about those types of conflicts without the context of a supportive faith family.
Extended family members and in-laws can up the conflict ante as well. Manipulative parents, like Laban in the Book of Genesis who lied to Jacob about marrying his daughter, Rachel, still exist. Mothers-in-law who try to insert themselves into every decision and fathers-in-law who can never be pleased by their daughters’ new husbands are sources of tension. Holiday festivities can become nightmares attempting to please everyone at every turn.
Taking Action to Resolve Conflict
We all think resolving conflict is easy, but often it is not. What are some steps to take? Here are four ideas:
1. Be immediate: Do not let offenses and conflicts fester for days, weeks, months, or years. They are like open sores.
2. Be humble: Do not approach conflict resolution with the assumption that you have done no wrong yourself. Even if unintended, we sometimes cause a reaction we were not expecting. We need to be prepared for that possibility.
3. Be honest: It does absolutely no good to lie about the depth of offense, nor to act as if a surface wound is a heart transplant! Be completely honest about your perception of the offense, the issues it has caused, and how you think it can be resolved.
4. Be flexible: It may take more than one meeting or discussion to reconcile. It may take a face-to-face discussion over coffee rather than a phone call.
Scripture implores us to live peacefully with everyone as much as possible. When the peace is broken we must attempt, as much as possible, to restore it.