Resolving Family Conflicts

Part – 6

By Emmanuel V. John

Breakup Of Family Relationships
Reactions to unresolved conflicts lead to serious problems in relationships. Sometimes these conflicts are so painful that the immediate reaction is denial – a common defense mechanism during times of conflict and high stress level. The tendency is to blame the victim in order to avoid taking responsibility for the overreaction to a situation. As Dr. Narramore points out, denial over a period of time can lead to serious mental illness. Denial is often supported by projection and fantasy. He states that “the conclusive cure for denial is confession.”1

Denial is a barrier to a better family relationship. It shows up in many ways, making it easier to avoid responsibility for solving the conflict. I believe that denial stems from the fall of man and can be traced back to Adam and Eve. When they sinned they were bound by fear of being found out. They made aprons from fig leaves and attempted to hide themselves from the presence of God (Gen. 3:7-10). Hence, because of our sinful Adamic nature, denial is often displayed, even by children, in reaction to stress, confusion, conflict, change, abuse and violence – especially in the home. From our early years on we tend to rely on denial to provide immediate protection from having to face the reality of a situation.

In many marital relationships with unresolved conflicts, denial can manifest itself in various reactions including:

  • Simple Denial – pretending the conflict doesn’t exist when it really does.
  • Minimizing – the husband or wife, or both, recognize the conflicts in the relationship but deny the intensity of the conflict despite its present impact.
  • Excusing – while recognizing the conflict, one rationalizes the other partner’s unacceptable behavior, effectively making him or her not responsible for the conflict.
  • Generalizing – mentioning the conflict but avoiding the specific problem, thus refusing the needed emotional involvement to resolve it.
  • Dodging – the couple recognizes the conflict and even speaks about it occasionally, but often changes the topic to avoid emotional disturbances.
  • Attacking – the husband and wife become irritable and even enraged with each other when reference is made to the existing conflict.2 At this point there is usually a high level of resentment between husband and wife, even though they try to remain in denial.

Sometimes resentment increases when one spouse blows up while the other clams up. Resentment usually results from hiding the repressed feelings of bitter hurts that have developed over a period of time. Also, resentment evokes anger, frustration and fear, and can lead to severe consequences. The wife often fears to honestly and appropriately express her emotions, and therefore internalizes her anger. The longer a person represses his or her damaged emotions, the more he or she will be consumed by anger, fear, resentment and rejection.

The husband or wife may respond to the unresolved conflict by refusing to communicate or by communicating in a disruptive and/or highly emotional manner. Either spouse may even threaten to harm self or others to gain attention or to release frustration, or at least display a bad temper without any apparent provocation. This “acting-out behavior” may result from repressed feelings of anger and unforgiveness. One couple, who were experiencing intense conflicts, only communicated by leaving messages on the refrigerator. The wife said she was afraid of exploding if they had face-to-face communication.

The wife or husband may be bound by fear and be in torment in the midst of the family conflict. Fear magnifies difficulties and minimizes solutions. Hence, fear can affect the individual in various ways and cripple a relationship – or even destroy the individuals. Also, it brings bondage as seen in Adam when he hid from God because he was afraid. The apostle Paul declared that “you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear” (Rom. 8:15 NKJV).

Christian families in particular should not be afraid or overly anxious about anything because our heavenly Father will take care of us. Fear is uncharacteristic of our faith in God who is able to supply our needs. Certainly, it is unwise to worry about our future (Mt. 6:25-34). Trusting God is the antidote for fear.

In many marital relationships, fear affects the process of resolving conflicts because the husband or wife worries about reliving past painful experiences, about the unbalancing effect of those experiences on the relationship, and about the possibility of being rejected. Fear significantly affects the strength of love, limiting freedom and bringing feelings of weakness. It also brings in disturbing thoughts. Dr. Tim LaHaye concluded, “The more fear one manifests, the greater the anger of the other [spouse], thus compounding the problem.”3

Internalizing excessive fear and anger often leads to depression. Or, the anger can be externalized and displaced in a destructive manner on others in the relationship. The husband can become isolated from, or agitated toward his wife for not being perfect. He may project his own feelings of failure on his wife, blame and criticize her, or even lose control and become destructive. This is a reaction to the feeling of loss within the relationship. Hence, the problem is not simply feeling angry, but it is remaining in a state of anger rather than accepting responsibility and working through the conflicts, forgiving one another and self. Instead, the husband and wife choose to be “weighed down with guilt, holding a grudge against self and others as well as punishing self through self-critical thoughts.”4 If the husband or wife remains in such an angry state, he or she is close to danger. Remember, anger is only one letter short of danger (D-anger)!

1. Clyde M. Narramore, The Psychology of Counseling, (Michigan: Zondervan, 1978), 278. 
2. [Friends in Recovery], The Twelve Steps–A Spiritual Journey, (California: Recovery, 1988), 34-35. 
3. Tim LaHaye, I Love You, But Why Are We So Different? (Oregon: Harvest, 1991), 155. 
4. Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier, Happiness is a Choice, (Michigan: Baker, 1978), 36-37.