Resolving Family Conflicts

By Emmanuel V. John

Having considered various points related to family conflicts, let’s now consider some simple, powerful techniques to aid in resolving them. Using the word “RELATIONSHIP” in an acrostic manner, every letter becomes a tool to work through conflicts. 

RRespect the person, recognize the conflict and draw resources from God.
EEvaluate the situation and establish new principles for marital and family relationships.
LLet go of resentment, initiate love and clarify roles.
AApproach the situation with a positive attitude and be accessible to one another.
TTackle the problems and put on virtues.
IImprove communication skills.
OOvercome criticism and negativism by intellectual and spiritual intervention.
NName the problem and nurture the family relationships.
SStart again to build the relationship.
HHelp each other in a humble manner.
IIntervene early in the conflict to begin positive changes.
PPromote problem solving skills.

Respect The Person, Recognize The Conflict And Draw Resources From God 
It is vital to respect the person with whom one has conflict and to begin where the conflict is in order to recognize and define it. First, one has to be willing to break the denial, which is the biggest roadblock to solving the problem. The vision of those involved in conflicts is often so distorted that they cannot see the destructiveness of their own behavior. Many families have good intentions and want to display love, but when under pressure they deny God and the family relationships. Peter thought he would never deny Christ, but when confronted with a difficult situation he denied the Lord with cursing and swearing. However, with the Lord’s help he recognized and broke the denial, returning to Him (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:54-62).

It is important to recognize the conflicts and break the denial, but often one feels powerless and inadequate to deal with the issues. Thankfully a person can draw added resources from Christ, who is the Competent Counselor for every crisis. “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6 NKJV), and in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). When conflicts originated in the garden of Eden through Eve’s lack of trust in God, which resulted in her succumbing to the serpent’s lies, she and her husband Adam were in denial: They hid themselves from God. But when God called them, they broke the denial and returned to Him, who lovingly provided the necessary “coats of skins [from a slain animal, picturing the sacrificial death of Christ], and clothed them” so the broken relationship could be restored (Gen. 3:8-21).

As one recognizes the conflicts, he or she should be aware of the consequences if they are left unresolved. Hence, it is needful to personally admit or to lovingly point out the present conflict in the family system to those who are involved so the necessary changes can be made. At the point of awareness and admission of the conflict, one doesn’t need to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

Preferably, a single issue or causal factor should be dealt with at a time. The one involved should decide to seek additional help as needed and, by faith, develop a closer relationship with God. By respecting the other person or persons, recognizing the problem and deciding to take the necessary actions, the first steps in conflict resolution have been taken. Always remember that God is greater than you and your situations. He loves and cares for you when no one seems to, and is available to you in any place, at any time, for any crisis.

Evaluate The Situation And Establish New Principles For Marital And Family Relationships 
The next step is to evaluate the situation, accumulate information and assess the best approach to resolve the conflict. One should avoid making judgments and conclusions based on assumptions. It is vital to examine how the family dealt with conflicts in the past, whether openly or by covering up and pretending that all was well until there was an “explosion.” Families usually set up their own standards, but these are often faulty and inadequate.

Sometimes families ask for the best reference book for conflict resolution, which also contains guidelines for healthy and happy relationships. The best advice is to use the Master Manual, the Bible. This Book contains all the necessary guidelines and principles for conflict resolution and the maintenance of a happy home, built on the solid foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many verses relating to the family, but at this point let’s simply consider Psalm 127. In this psalm there are four major principles which need to be established in every heart and home.

1. The home is constructed by God. God has a divine plan and He is the Master Builder. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (v.1). This indicates that Jehovah is the source of every blessing, and without Him all of man’s efforts are in vain. The home is built by the Lord, rather than by human wisdom or ingenuity. Hence, the family should constantly seek God’s help in building family relationships with positive verbal reinforcements and love.

2. The home is preserved, or kept, by God. The Lord who builds the home is the One who keeps the home. “Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (v.1). A city is made up of homes, and the home needs protection against various evils, dangers and violence. Thus, the family should seek God’s help in keeping it together.

3. The home should be a place of contentment and rest. Many families suffer loss of relationships because of discontentment centered on materialism. The material gains, prestige, power and popularity from mothers entering the work force along with their husbands is not worth the family loss that results from burning the candle at both ends. “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (v.2). Many working mothers are overcome with guilt and self-reproach for being at work, but, of course, there are circumstances where mothers have to work to provide the necessities for their families.

After the birth of our daughter, my wife was given four months maternity leave from her job. On resuming work, our daughter was cared for by a baby-sitter who was a friend and committed Christian. However, looking back we realize there is no substitute for a mother caring for her child. When we moved, our daughter, then 11, needed support to help her adjust to her new environment. We agreed that my wife would be available at home for our daughter. So I know what it’s like for both parents to be working and caring for a child. I also know the difference when a mother is at home. The benefits are so great that I now encourage mothers to be at home with their child or children if at all possible.

Materialism is emphasized in our society today. Nothing is wrong with having money, and the lack of it can be a significant inconvenience. But the “love of money” (1 Tim. 3:3, 6:10) and the obsession of having more money is a serious problem. Real contentment is found in knowing God as seen by the fact that “He gives His beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2). Many families are so worried about what they do not have, that they are not even enjoying what they do have. We are reminded, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

4. The home is where education begins for the children. Children are blessings, not burdens. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward” (Ps. 127:3). Many mothers have been persuaded that children are barriers to success and career orientation, but God says they are blessings. He pronounces the man who has a quiver full of them as “happy” (v.5).

Children may cause difficulty, diminish income, demand sacrifices and even cause some heartaches, but they are worth it all. Mothers should try to raise their children instead of leaving them to be cared for by others. Children need parental structure and training. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth” (v.4). An arrow is a pointed weapon which can be directed at a target while still in a person’s hand. We see then that it is vital for children to be trained by their parents so they can be propelled through life with realistic goals and in the right direction.

Thus, it is very important to carefully evaluate the causes for conflicts and examine faulty patterns of dealing with them. Also, there should be an evaluation of the construction (how the people fit together), conservation and contentment of the home, as well as of the children’s respect, responsibility and relationship with the parents. Properly functioning parents can have such a positive modeling effect that the children won’t want to let down the dad and mom who have so carefully and lovingly raised them.

Let Go Of Resentment, Initiate Love And Clarify Roles 
When there have been years of unresolved conflicts, the baggage of anger and resentment can seriously impede progress toward a happy relationship. It is important to let go of the baggage, for then one can proceed on the marital journey.

It is very painful to be rejected by the person one loves. Real, lasting and genuine love is the heart cry of every individual. Love is the lever that lifts the heavy load of guilt and is the key to unlock unresolved conflicts and pent-up feelings of anger, resentment and hurts. If you follow a worldly philosophy regarding relationships, there is still hope for you. Be honest with yourself, your spouse and God. Confess and surrender to God any addiction you may have. You will then experience His love and forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9).

When writing the word “LOVE” in my early school days I had to write a capital “L” by starting from the top and going to the bottom with a straight stroke, then continue across the bottom with another straight stroke. As I recalled this I realized there is a deeper lesson to be learned: For families to experience love, we must all begin at the top with God and allow His divine love to flow down in and through us to others. This can produce a life of victory. When His love flows through us we have life with meaning and purpose. Relationships fail miserably unless divine love is experienced and demonstrated, as this love looks beyond faults and recognizes the needs. “Love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

“Husbands, love your wives” is the instruction given by the Holy Spirit through Paul in Ephesians 5:25. Many husbands love their wives but have difficulty demonstrating it. Therefore they ask how to love their wives. Meanwhile, many wives ask how should they submit to their husbands. When these questions are unanswered there is role confusion in the family. To provide an answer, I refer to the Master Manual, the Bible, where love-in-action is seen and role clarification is clearly defined. How should husbands love their wives? Consider seven suggestions:

1. Husbands should love their wives for who they are. This means that acceptance is not based on performance. They see the inner beauty of their wives. Christ loves the Church as it is, and He does not abandon it because of its many weaknesses. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (v.25). Jesus Christ expressed His love fully.

2. Husbands should love their wives by thinking pleasant thoughts and communicating those thoughts to them. It is healthy for husbands to think pleasant thoughts of God, their wives and themselves. The mind is powerful, and our thoughts influence our actions and reactions to each other. The apostle Paul concluded, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Hence, genuine compliments given to our wives daily will improve the relationship.

3. Husbands should love their wives by embracing them daily. It is a good manifestation of love, an evident display, for husbands to begin the day by holding their wives’ hands and praying together. A goodbye kiss in the morning and a kiss and embrace when returning home will develop intimacy and feelings of belonging, being needed and being loved. Thus when husbands think love, they will verbalize love and embrace their wives in love.

4. Husbands should be willing to make sacrifices for their wives. “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). He died for the Church, and husbands need to die to pride and selfish ambition. Some husbands do not verbalize their love for their wives, others verbalize but don’t demonstrate love, and too many take their wives for granted. In Scripture, love is followed by action. For example:

  • “God so loved … that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16),
  • “Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25), and
  • “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

5. Husbands should love their wives in a sincere manner. “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). They should nourish and cherish their wives. Husbands who pay much attention to their own bodies should show the same attention toward their wives. Men value and care for their bodies and likewise should value and care for their wives. Married men should love their wives in such a way as if they are part of themselves – not as a possession. When a man’s body is tired, he rests it; when it is hungry, he feeds it; when it is thirsty, he satisfies it with drink. He should love and care for his wife in the same way and always value her presence. Roger P. Daniel concluded in his biblically based book, Man+Woman: God’s Design, that “in really loving his wife, the husband promotes himself because he and his wife are one flesh – one family unit, glued together … If he hurts her, he hurts himself. A loving husband likely will get love in return.”

6. Husbands should love their wives above all other women or family ties. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (v.31). Our wives should come before our business, our friends and even our own personal pleasures or hobbies. Many marriages without Christ are regarded as 1+1=2, which means that each person has his or her own individual interests and is mainly concerned about his or her own way. But for the Christ-centered marital relationship, the equation reads 1×1=1, meaning the husband and wife are equally important, recognize their differences, but are in unity – yes, “one flesh.”

7. Husbands should love their wives steadfastly. As husbands we should be loyal and faithful to our wives throughout the entire marital relationship. We should be good providers by giving spiritual, economic, social and emotional support to them. “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

There may be differences of opinion and even conflicts at times in marriages, but love for our wives should never be diminished. We should promote her feelings of security, reassurance and love. We must never take our wives for granted or treat them as if they are our employees, property or baby-sitters. Instead, we should continually keep the marriage fresh and vibrant by spending quality time together, praying together and for each other, giving pleasant surprises, going on trips, taking evening walks, giving positive verbal reinforcements and much more. The wise man Solomon concluded, “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (Song 8:7).

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22) is an admonishment from God to the wife. Wives have a responsibility, but this submission does not mean inferiority to her husband. In this context it is simply one who is equally significant, putting herself under another to please the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus submitted to His Father, although He is not inferior to the Father, but equal. “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:5-6). Jesus Christ declared, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9), and “I and My Father are one” (10:30). Hence, a wife’s submission to her husband does not imply inferiority. Rather, it demonstrates love and reverence to him, even as to the Lord.

The reason for submission is that God has an order for the earthly family. “The husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the Church” (Eph. 5:23). The divinely-given role of the husband is to be the head of the wife. But this does not mean that the head is superior and that he is to simply give orders or demand submission from his wife. The wife is to submit because she believes it is God’s order and her divinely-given role. True submission does not inhibit liberty, it promotes freedom. When we submit our lives to Christ, He gives us liberty, not bondage. Husbands therefore must provide loving leadership even as Christ displayed love for the Church.*

One of the techniques in conflict resolution is to work through the negative emotions and let go of past painful experiences. This can be accomplished by using unconditional love. To prevent constant friction the husband needs to know how to really love his wife, and the wife needs to know what godly submission to a husband implies. Remember, a body without any head is dead, a body with two heads is confusing, but a body with one head in which the leadership role is rightly executed resolves conflict and maintains a mature marital relationship.

We will continue with our “RELATIONSHIP” points in next month’s article.