Resolving Conflict in Relationships
About the Guest
A significant chunk of "the book of love," a.k.a. Song of Solomon, talks about conflict. Matt Chandler, Tiffany Lee, Chip Ingram, and Tim Muehlhoff address the dynamics involved in conflict, and coach us toward resolution and closer relationships in the aftermath.
Chip IngramChip serves as CEO and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge – an international teaching and discipleship ministry. For over thirty-five years, Chip has pastored churches and served as president of Walk Thru the Bible. Chip holds an M.S. degree from West Virginia University and a Th.M. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored 15 books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Reaching more than a million people a week, his teaching can be hea...more
Matt ChandlerMatt Chandler is the lead pastor of The Village Church, a multi-campus church in the Dallas metroplex of over 10,000 people. His sermons are among the topselling (free) podcasts on itunes and he speaks at conferences worldwide. Prior to accepting the pastorate at The Village, Matt had a vibrant itinerant ministry for over ten years where he spoke to hundreds of thousands of people in America and abroad about the glory of God and beauty of Jesus. He lives in Texas with his wife, Lauren, and their...more
Tim MuehlhoffTim Muehlhoff (PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, and gender. He is the author of I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting, and the coauthor of The God Conversation, Authentic Communication, and Winsome Persuasion, which received a 2018 Christianity Today...more
A significant chunk of “the book of love,” a.k.a. Song of Solomon, talks about conflict. Matt Chandler, Tiffany Lee, Chip Ingram, and Tim Muehlhoff address the dynamics involved in conflict, and coach us toward resolution and closer relationships in the aftermath.
Resolving Conflict in Relationships
Michelle: You know that ugly, sticky weed of conflict?—it usually begins with the seed of poor communication. Here's Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim: I think it's wise for us to understand, ballpark, what causes conflict in relationships: “What is my communication climate like? What's happening in my relationship or my soul, because I'm not being generous with you/I'm not being charitable? I'm going to a dark place, in which I'm always approaching you with these negative interpretations, right off the bat.
Michelle: We're going to talk about conflict resolution, which is more than just believing the best in the other person. We'll talk about it today on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. You know, we are in the full swing of summer. We've talked a little bit about how to help our kids through summer; we've talked about tech-wise in summertime. Now, today, we're going to talk about the dog days of summer—you remember those days; right?—maybe you're living through them right now.
As a kid, I had a German Shepherd; actually, we had a few German Shepherds around the house. I was always told to leave the dogs alone when the heat is high, because they will snap—well, you know—or bite. I learned that first-hand—that a dog will get a little upset with you, because it's hot and they’re crabby—and well, they don't want someone in their face.
As we head into these dog days of summer, let's apply that in human terms: Everybody's inside; no one's outside, because it's just too hot to be outside. We have some close quarters and so, maybe, there's some biting/maybe there's some snapping going on. You know, it's kind of like a conflict is slowly brewing.
And yet, we know that no one really likes those fights. I mean, come on: “We're Christians,”— right?—“We don't fight!” But we do live in a post-Genesis 3 world, and it's wracked with sin! And where sin lives, conflict is not far behind. There's a book in the Bible that deals quite a bit in conflict. You're thinking: “Duh, Michelle! The whole Old Testament deals with war and conflict and all of that kind of stuff.” But this book—well, it's actually a book that you wouldn't equate with war, or conflict, or even arguing—in fact, quite the opposite.
Matt Chandler has spent some time studying Song of Solomon and has concluded that 20 percent of the book is about conflict. Yes; you heard right! The book that we consider the book on love: well, about one-fifth of it is about arguing, and fighting, and conflict. Matt is the lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas; and he's a conference speaker/author. In fact, one of his books is based on the Song of Solomon; it's Mingling of Souls. It's become a Bible study curriculum and a live conference. Here's Matt reading from Song of Solomon, Chapter 6, verse 2.
Matt: “I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.’” But her response: “I have put off my garment. How can I put it on? I have bathed my feet. How could I soil them?”
If you start here, let's just talk about what has happened in this text. There are two sets of expectations that have bubbled to the surface. There is the waiting for him to get home/waiting for him to get home: “He's not home! I'm going to bed.” And there is—
this brother's worked hard all day long. Something has occurred at work; it's gone later than he thought. He's on the way home. He's missed his bride; he's missed his girl. He's starting to think about those eyes; and he makes his way, and he knocks and just shifts into smooth mode. And she shuts him down—I mean, she kills it: “Not tonight,”—this is kind of your biblical, “I've got a headache!”
Now, some things to consider: all frustrations in life are birthed from unmet expectations. Almost every fight I've ever been in has occurred because I had expectations. I had a mindset that this was how things were going to be. I had thought about it and built it up in my head and, then, my experience was contrary to my expectations.
You want me to get in a fight at home?—let me, on the way home, think:
You know, I've worked all day, put in my time; so when I come in, dinner will be ready. The kids will be orderly. [Laughter] I’m going to eat food. I'm going to put the kids to bed around 8:00. Lauren and I can catch up, and then I'd like to go to bed at 9:30. Maybe, if we have time, watch one of our favorite shows.
And then, just start thinking about that evening.
Lauren’s expectation is:
It's been chaos all day. These children need to be beaten by their father. [Laughter] So what my husband is going to do is—he's going to bound through the door—“Caahhh!”—and knock one kid. He’s going to grab me and say: “Baby, rest. I got this.” [Laughter] He's going to help straighten up around the house from where these little children of his have destroyed it; and then he's going to swoop me off to my favorite Mexican food joint, where we will eat dinner. Then he will bathe our children, because he knows I've been with them all day. He will then cuddle with them/lead them spiritually, because I am done!
All I have left is soul-crushing wounds to put on these little monsters. And so my husband is going to, with great joy—love and serve our children—fulfill what God has for him to fulfill. And then I'm going to collapse and go to bed; or maybe sit on the couch, turn on a show and, then, check blogs that I want to read. So he can watch what I would like to be on, but not watch—
So that’s her expectation. [Laughter] This is my expectation. Now, that's going bad! That's going bad; because then, when I get frustrated, that simply amps up her frustration; because her expectation was straight contrary to mine. And that's what just happened: she says, “I'm going to bed.”
Michelle: That's Matt Chandler, talking about those unmet expectations. We always want something different than what we get. Am I right, or am I right? To hear more from Matt and his dynamic teaching, go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
You know, here's the thing about our expectations: if left unmet, they can turn into a want; and then they can turn into, “Well, I've got to have it!” It's kind of like that weed—you know, that weed in the middle of your yard that, at first, you think: “Oh, it's kind of pretty. It might be a blade of grass. I'm just going to leave it.” And then it starts growing, and it's the ugliest thing you ever did see. But here's what you don't see: those roots go down deep, and it's really hard to pull out. In fact, you basically have to rip up your entire yard to get the weed out.
Ripping up a yard is one thing; but when we're talking about conflict and communication, we don't want you to rip up your relationships to get to the root. There's a singer/songwriter and performer that goes by the name of Plumb—her name is Tiffany Lee. Tiffany actually made this expectation mistake that grew into something larger in her marriage. She didn't notice the fallout, even after the symptoms started to hit.
Tiffany, along with her husband, Jeremy Lee, sat with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine a little bit ago. Tiffany shared the moment she knew that something was going wrong in their marriage.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Tiffany: It was around Thanksgiving, and I remember we had college kids over for Thanksgiving that didn't have family close. One of them asked how we met, and I love to tell that story! I'm telling the story, and he walks by and hears me telling this story; and goes, “Oh, you're telling that stupid story again.” I remember hearing him say that and just—it was like a bullet in my chest. [Emotion in voice]
I knew something was wrong. I thought maybe he was just a little grumpy, but he had been thinking of leaving me and not told me that. He had that on his mind that: “What day?”—like: “Maybe tomorrow,”—“Maybe next week,”—“Maybe we'll get through Christmas.” He had it already in his mind: “I'm leaving her”; and I didn't know that. I just knew something was drastically different about him. It became very dark in our home, and it felt very evil. The weight of that was almost more than I could bear, and I began trying to fix everything.
Dennis: Jeremy, what occurred in your life that you had started moving toward separation/divorce, leaving your kids?
Jeremy: I think/I think that I was separating; and this was just where I was at, at the time.
Jeremy: I was at a dark place, but I was separating being a good dad from being married to Tiffany. I was very involved in my children's lives; and I was like: “You know what? I can be a good dad without being married to her. I don't have to be in this relationship to be a good dad,”—which I know was a lie that I was telling myself to just sort of justify where I was feeling/to justify the disconnect. I think that I had just gotten to the place where, no matter what she said, I was upset; I was just done.
Dennis: So was the word, “divorce,” ever uttered by either one of you?
Jeremy: It was not until that November. In fact, it was one of those things that we had said, when we were dating, we'd never discuss.
Tiffany: —not even joke about it.
Jeremy: —never even utter the word. Until that, you know, I guess the couple of days after Thanksgiving was probably the first time that it was mentioned.
Bob: And you brought it up?
Tiffany: He did.
Jeremy: I did.
Tiffany: I had strep throat—and he's such a caregiver; he gets that from his mother—I had strep throat, so I'd asked him to bring in my antibiotic to me. He kind of slammed it down on the nightstand—he said, “Here's your medicine,”—and he just kind of walked out. I texted him; and I said: “You're not yourself. I know that I'm sick, and I might be a little needy right now, but something's wrong. That's not like you to be so unkind.”
He responded back with a text that said, “I have been thinking of leaving you, and I don't even know how to bring it up.” I texted back and said, “This is a horrible joke, but you better be joking.” He said, “I'm not joking,” and “I don't know how to separate from you, because I would miss the kids too much. But it's been on my mind for a while.”
I call him, and he answers; and he said, “We’ll have to talk about this later.” I said: “No; we will talk about it right now. This is/this is groundbreaking/life-changing. We've never even joked about something like this.”
Michelle: Whoa! That's like the war we never saw coming—well, it was the war that Tiffany Lee didn't see coming. But wait a second here: “That's Plumb! She's this major Christian artist. I mean, come on! She has it all: she's got the money; she's got the kids; she's got this great relationship/wonderful husband. What happened here?”
I guess we need to see in this, and realize in our own lives, no one is immune. Those conflicts/they creep up ever so softly and slowly, just like the weed.
Hey, we need to take a break; but when we come back, we're going to talk about how to resolve those conflicts and how we can work towards peace in our relationships. So stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Okay; so I kind of left you with a cliff-hanger, and you're wondering what happened to Jeremy and Tiffany Lee. It was a long and difficult journey, but they are still together by the grace of God. They worked through all their communication issues and that big weed of conflict that grew in their relationship. You’ll want to hear the entire story; so after we're done with this show, go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com. We'll have a link there to their interview with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.
One of the things that happens when conflict starts, usually, is the festering of anger, which goes back to those unmet expectations or those unmet desires. Just what do you do with that anger?—because anger is a sin; right?—it's wrong.
Well, a while back, Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine sat down with Chip Ingram and talked through our emotions and, specifically, anger. Just an FYI, Chip’s passion is helping Christians really live like Christians; you know, like we're supposed to live.
He's a pastor, and author, coach; he's an avid basketball player and a teacher.
Here's Chip coaching us through what God says about our anger:
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Chip: He says, “Be angry”—a command—“but don't sin. Don't let the sun go down on your anger.” Ephesians 4:26: he says, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve”—or accomplish—“the righteous life that God requires.”
I think what God says is: “That emotion that you feel—angry—fine; that's legit. Now what do you do with it?—how do you express it? When do you express it?—to whom do you express it?—in what way?” Basically, what we're talking about is learning how to do that.
Dennis: And so, to that—that spouse, who's in a marriage relationship, who may be at the point, where the anger gets spewed—
Dennis: —or maybe they have no relationship, because the other person is stuffing their disappointment—
Dennis: —what would you say to the spouse who's in that, day in and day out?
Chip: Well, this gets a little bit too close to home; but in my second year of seminary, I was in a class. Paul Meier was teaching it on pastoral counseling. When I listened to what I was supposed to be helping these other people with, I remember I went down—you know, of course, after everyone left; because I was very embarrassed—I said, “Excuse me, Dr. Meier; but what you're talking about: man, I need help!”
He basically said: “Look, my brother is an excellent counselor. He used to be a pastor, so he’ll understand you. I'll give you a student rate.” I'm making $1,000 a month in seminary—a wife and three kids—barely making it. I paid $90 a week for 12 sessions that taught me how to express my anger, how to send “I feel” messages, how to understand why my wife felt the way she felt, and how I responded. It's the best money I ever spent.
I just want people to know: I paid $90 a shot for this stuff; [Laughter] you get it for free! My point is—sometimes, if it's really intense—you've got to go get some help; and it may be from a Christian counselor or a pastor.
Bob: And intense doesn't necessarily mean it's all spew-ers.
Chip: Oh, no!
Bob: We go back to where we started. It can be intense just because the temperature of the house is down to about 40 degrees.
Chip: My wife was a stuffer. Here's what happens: when she stuffed, well, she shuts down. Let’s get real specific how this really plays out. You get angry; and as a man, often, you get more verbal.
Well, then, you know, guess what? She's not feeling very romantic. This sex life is going down the tube. You get more resentful; so the guy gets more vulnerable to sexual temptation on the outside of his life. She feels unappreciated. It's a vicious spiral. I mean, even as I'm talking right now, I can just almost see the lights going on in people's heads going, “That's us!”
Michelle: Boy! As Chip Ingram is talking right now, I just feel like a tornado is just sort of spinning in my chest. I'm like: “Ah! Get me outta here!” It is a vicious cycle. Communication, when done wrong, can really just take over and can almost start destroying our relationship; and we don't want that!
Now, I realize that you might be listening and walking through a dark valley. Our valleys/they can get so deep that it's almost impossible to climb out on our own. Can I suggest something here? Like Chip did, maybe consider counselling to help you work through your anger and your communication issues.
Hey, speaking of communication issues, we all communicate differently. Even the best of communication can go down the wrong road really fast. I thought it might be time to hear from a man—someone who knows this communication thing really well—someone who has been a professor, maybe?—at Biola; teaches classes on family communication; wrote a dissertation on helping a couple move past marital gridlock; and someone, who co-hosts the podcast, The Art of Relationship, which, by the way, is really a good listen! I listened to several the other night, and I was really impressed; but don't look for that podcast ‘til we are done with this show!—please. Did I communicate that right?
Who I'm talking about is Tim Muehlhoff. Along with the reasons I just gave about why he should be the one to help us understand the complexities of communication, well, he speaks at our Weekend to Remember® getaways. Tim said that, in dealing with difficult communication issues, it's important to step back, and strategize, and think through just how we should be approaching the situation.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Tim: I think it's wise for us to understand, ballpark, what causes conflict in relationships. One is something called “first- and second-order realities.” Now, let me explain what that means. A first-order reality is something that is absolutely undeniable. For example, when Barack Obama ran to be President the first time, he didn't wear a lapel pin of the American flag. Now that's a first-order reality; it's undeniable. He doesn't have the lapel pin on of the American flag.
Second-order reality is: “How do I interpret that?” What I'm advocating for is to step back—even though you are convinced, 98 percent, of the correct interpretation; you know why that person did something—I'm saying, “Step back and allow that person to interpret those actions.” One communication scholar says: “There are no brute facts; all those facts have to be interpreted.”
Bob: Here's the illustration that I've used—and Mary Ann and I have talked about this many times—I'm 15 minutes late coming home from work. Now, she doesn't know why I'm 15 minutes late coming home from work. She begins to piece together, in her mind, “Why would he be late coming home from work?”
Dennis: “He’s had a wreck!”
Bob: That's the first thing that she goes to. I've said to her, “Now, how often is that the real reason why I'm late?—that I've had a wreck? How many times, that I've been late, is that the real reason?” and “It's not been that many; right?” But that's the first thing she thinks; or, then, the second thing is: “He doesn't care about me,” and “That's why he's late and hasn't informed me that he's late.”
As we've talked about it, I said, “What we both have to do with one another is give each other”—what I heard somebody call, years ago—“‘the judgment of charity,’”—
Bob: —which means that, when I'm interpreting the first-order reality, my duty is to ascribe the highest or best possible motive for why that data is the way it is until I know differently. My second-order reality is always believing the best about you rather than believing the worst about you.
Tim: And what that shows, to me, Bob, is: “What is my communication climate like?—because I'm not being generous with you/I'm not being charitable. I'm going to a dark place, virtually every single time, and a negative interpretation. What's happening in my relationship or my soul, in which I'm always approaching you with these negative interpretations, right off the bat?”
Dennis: So let's address that problem you just quickly described there—that there's a dark cloud in the relationship—there's something that is eating away, internally.
Bob: We’re believing the worst about each other; yes.
Dennis: Yes; what is a person supposed to do at that point?
Tim: Remember we talked about two different types of listening?—listen to understand/listen to evaluate. Let's say Noreen does say to me, “Honey, you didn't open the car door for me; and I just kind of feel like you don't value me anymore.” My initial reaction is to listen to evaluate and to talk her out of it/say: “Oh, honey, that's not true,” and “I think you're just being a little bit too sensitive.”
No; what I need to do is to say: “And why would you interpret it that way? What's been going on that you would think that I don't value you because the door hasn't been opened for you?” She might say: “Well, I'll be honest with you: you don't open the door for me, ever; and I kind of feel like romance has been a little…”
Boy! That's good information to get. I could be defensive, and try to talk her out of it, or I could seek to understand: “Why have you given that first-order reality that particular interpretation? What's happening with you and our relationship that has led you to that kind of a negative interpretation?”
I'll be really honest with you; it depends where I'm at spiritually. If I'm in a good place, spiritually, I'm probably open to her critique. If I'm not in a good place, spiritually, I might get defensive. That's why this spiritual preparation before conversations is so incredibly important. You know, Tim Muehlhoff on a good day, I'm going to receive what my wife has to say; or a co-worker. On a bad day, I probably will get defensive, and just jump in and debate that person, and try to talk him or her out of their interpretation.
Michelle: Great advice from Tim Muehlhoff. We need to always live on the side of giving grace. It's not easy to hold our tongue; it's not easy not to slam that door; it's not easy not to hold the grudge. What would happen if, when the first shots were fired, both sides would sit down and work hard on a resolution before the full-scale war broke out?—just something to think about.
Another thing to think about: I heard, this week, that almost one in four women have a miscarriage. Of course, we know, with miscarriages, there's pain that's deep; it's a lasting hurt. There's a longing to understand what just happened and why it happened.
I'm inviting Stephanie Green to sit with us next week and just to unpack all of that pain and give us some hope in the midst of all of that pain. Stephanie is an OBGYN nurse. She has also experienced a miscarriage, and she's written on this topic, and now has a ministry to women in her church. I hope you can join us for that next week.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” today to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join me again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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