What’s so good about conflict? Most people avoid conflict as much as they possibly can. Most people would rather be personally miserable than be in conflict with someone else. I remember years ago, my wife was angry at me (deservedly so) so I worked late just so I didn’t have to deal with the conflict when I got home. When I arrived home close to midnight, I saw the light was still on in our bedroom.
I couldn’t tell you how disappointed I was because there was no way I was going into our home until she turned those lights off. It was after one before she finally clicked the light switch and of course I had to give it another 15 minutes to be sure I didn’t have to face her upon entry into our home. Being in conflict can be very scary, intimidating, painful, irritating, annoying, wonderful—whoa…did I just write wonderful? Yeah, I sure did. Please don’t give up on this article too quickly because I believe I have a powerful and life-changing point to make. Conflict is designed to be helpful and growth producing.

When people avoid conflict there are tremendous dangers involved. What I have noticed from my experience with counseling people is the greater intensity of fear, anger, frustration or defensiveness one has the greater distortion that same person has in hearing and seeing the very people he/she is feeling about. With distortion comes misunderstanding and with misunderstanding comes escalating thoughts and more intense fear, anger, hurt or defensiveness than ever. That is a recipe for destruction in relationships. Remember this equation: misunderstanding plus intense emotions equals more misunderstanding and more misunderstanding produces intensifying feelings (anger, hurt, fear, etc). Do you get the picture? Rarely does avoiding conflict lead to benefits. The only exception I can think of right now is when someone is in an abusive or foolish relationship. Then and only then does avoidance equal safety or something else worthwhile.

Conflict avoidance does not eliminate the conflict in your head. While you are working extra hours or staying locked in the computer room or whatever kind of strategy you use to avoid the one you have issues with, your thoughts tend to stay thinking about the trouble. Unless you are a disciplined thinker (most of us are not), those thoughts aren’t making it easier for you to meet and talk face to face with your problem relationship of the moment. Escalating thoughts tend to exaggerate problems not minimize them. Conversely, avoidant thoughts tend to minimize problems not face them.

Long ago, the wise king Solomon wrote this, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17). He also added, “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.” (Proverbs 9:7-8). Yes, there are people who are foolish and do not accept careful confrontation and I would agree with the old wise king—don’t waste your breath. But there are the other folks—the wise ones—who want to hear truth even if it is a rebuke (and love it). Why? Because it is an opportunity to get better, to grow, to fix a problem, to avoid a problem, to enhance life. Why would we not want to do any of that?

This world is highly complex and if you believe that it should be simpler or easier you will be perpetually frustrated, hurt, afraid or angry. Problems in relationship are the norm because God in His infinitely creative style created a world with as many personalities as there are sets of finger prints. No one is alike and no two people have the same perspectives. It is a wonderful thing as much as it is a maddening thing. We are designed to be creative thinkers (like the Creator) and that kind of creation is born out of struggle—conflict. If you will embrace conflict in your relationships in combination with courageous ‘telling the truth in love’, there will be few limits on problem-solving or the ability to pursue mutual dreams.

Written by Scott Hendrickson, L.C.P.C.