3 Attitudes That Promote Healing in Conflict Management

Jesus’ Conflict Management Rule

I am always amazed with how succinctly Jesus was able to put truth. His wisdom usually amazes me. I don’t know why I’m amazed. I guess I should just expect it, but I continue to see depths to His teaching that seem so simple on the surface.

What’s one of the first rules of conflict management from Jesus’ perspective?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)

Jesus’ first rule is to deal with our own stuff first.

What Jesus says here is tough to do. When I’m hurt, I react out of that hurt. Often, I react with contempt, criticism, blame, defensiveness and stonewalling. I’m never surprised when I see couples reacting the same way.

I’ve learned I can’t control how others confront me. I can’t control how my wife confronts me. She may not have taken the speck out of her own eye.

I can, however, control my behavior. I can control that I look at my own stuff first before I try to correct her.

My wife, Michelle, and I have gotten to be better at being able to have healthier behaviors by examining our own attitudes.

1. Own My Part

When I’m hurt, it’s difficult to own my part. I want someone else to change. In my marriage, I want my wife to change.

Jesus says to look to yourself first. What’s the plank in your own eye? What are you responsible for?

As mentors, we try to shift the focus away from blame and onto to owning your own part. We’ll ask, “What part are you responsible for?”

Maybe it’s only a small part of an argument, but let’s focus on that first.

I have found that when I come to my wife and admit that I own part of a disagreement, it’s a much softer start and seems to go better.

“I realize I’m hurting you in some way. I don’t really understand how, but I don’t want to hurt you. Please help me to understand how it is I’m hurting you. I would like for us to work on understanding each other and finding healthier behaviors.”

That approach seems to open up more understanding rather than defensiveness and counter-attacks.


2. Put Down the Ledger

In I Corinthians 13 it says “Love… keeps no record of wrongs.”

When we work with couples, we talk about keeping a record of wrongs. It’s tempting to keep a running ledger of who is ahead or behind.

In our head, we write up all the positive and negative things our spouse does. “You do this or you didn’t do this.” Then, we keep score.

Guess what? We usually win.

When we win (in our heads anyway), we start to focus on what is “right” or “fair.” It ends up that we minimize our partner. We tally up our own good deeds and ignore or dismiss our partner’s good deeds.

I’m not saying that the actual behavior doesn’t need to be talked through. For example, household chores are a common area of conflict. A couple may need to talk through who is responsible for what chore. They may need to manage their disagreement.

The issue here is hanging onto the score. The ledger builds up resentment. The resentment causes distance. Are you keeping score or not?

3. Understand the Intent

The challenge is that we judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intent. So, their intent may be good, but we interpret it negatively. We say, “You’re trying to hurt me.”

When we do something that hurts someone, we think, “Yeah, but I didn’t intend to hurt you. Since my intent isn’t bad, therefore the action isn’t bad.”

I speaking with a couple and this small shift made a huge difference. They had fallen into the trap of judging their partner’s intent by their actions.  The result was a number of misunderstandings that were driving them apart.

In our meeting, one of them complained about what the other one was doing. I asked, “What was your intent? Did you mean to hurt them?” The answer was, “No, I didn’t intend that at all. I was just trying to express myself.”

They started to get that their intent wasn’t to harm one another, rather is was misunderstanding in the actions. They were able to work towards understanding each other’s intent. They came to have a better appreciation of each other.

The shift in focus is instead of jumping to conclusions it is working to understand. This is a much healthier attitude.

Tips for Mentors:

  • Ask Each Person What They Are Responsible For – We frequently will ask each person what part they are responsible for. When they can see that part of their behavior isn’t healthy, it softens their partner.
  • Focus on the Intent – Most of the time, couples aren’t actively trying to hurt each other. They are misinterpreting actions. This misinterpretation may cause them to react in a poor behavior. We try to help them to see their partner’s good intent.
  • Is Ledger-Keeping Working for You? – We will ask about the impact of keeping a record of wrongs. Does that create resentment? Does it create distance? What would be a better way of handling it? Is there something more you could do to resolve the issue?

Jesus’ wisdom in these short verses is immense. Focus on the plank in your own eye before you look at the speck in your brother’s eye.