Every relationship known to mankind has the potential for conflict. Thank Adam and Eve for that. Granted, some conflicts can be minor, but sadly some can be major. The pressing issue in relationships is not if there is conflict, but rather how to deal with it so that only minor conflicts remain.
Scripture obviously gives important instruction on dealing with conflict. One of the best verses on dealing with conflict is Prov 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is very important to speak kindly and softly when possible. There are so many escalated conflicts that could have been avoiding if both parties would have simply spoken kindly to one another (cf. Col 4:6).
Although speaking kindly is important, there is also an entire mindset that must be present in dealing with conflict. This mindset focuses on self, not on others. Not self-focused in a selfish way, but rather a humble focus on what you individually can do to minimize conflict.
With that in mind, here are 3 biblical principles to practice in order to minimize your conflicts. By following these principles, escalated conflict can often be avoided.
1. Always look to be wrong first.
This comes from a mindset of love and humility (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-7; Phil 2:3-4). It is easy to see the faults of others, but much harder to be shown your own faults. It takes a truly humble individual to be non-defensive and to examine his or her own life. Often conflicts can be resolved quickly when we take the initiative to confess our own sin and admit where we have been wrong. Its always more difficult to admit fault the longer a conflict goes on. So make it a habit to examine your life by Scripture once conflict arises.
2. Respond humbly in every instance.
The Bible commands humility in many places, but notably is Paul’s command in Ephesians 4:2-3, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
How easy it is quickly speak in your own defense. But, Peter also reminds us of Jesus’ example, how, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23). Whether or not we are the main causes of the conflict, or whether it is thrust upon us out of nowhere, a humble attitude is required of us.
3. Sit and think before responding.
Often, the first response instinct is not the correct one (cf. Prov 29:20). Because we are given to impulsive emotions, it is often wise to take time before responding. Sometimes this is a luxury that cannot be enjoyed, but other times it will save relationships.
There have been times where I have written emails or letters, and held on to them a couple days before sending them. Having a delay in my communication often brought new information to mind or helped me see things differently, often sparing me embarrassing words. There are many times I wish I would have taken more time to think before I said something.
This principle applies to marriage as well. Some of the best marriage advice I have heard my pastors give is to not fight when you’re tired. When you’re tired it is too easy for things to escalate. One of my pastors said that there are appropriate times to put a conflict on pause. For example, a conflict late at night is often not a good time to try to work it out (especially when an early wake-up time looms). In these instances, my pastor would recommend the couple affirming their love for one another and working through it the next day.
Because we live in a Post-Fall world, we all deal with conflict in relationships. The key to dealing with conflict is to practice humility. By practicing these three principles in conflict, many conflicts will be dealt with before they escalate, and some conflicts may be avoided entirely.