Messy Conflict– who is at fault?
I’m one of those people who gets fixated in conflict on who is “right.” I can hold to principles, truth, and my perspective way past a healthy point. During one of the most tumultuous times in my marriage, my husband and I were at odds for an extended period of time. One of the things I kept demanding to know from God was — “Who is RIGHT?! Just tell me. If I’m wrong, I’ll back down. But I’m pretty sure you’re telling me to hold on to some of these truths in order to make our relationship grow.”
After ranting one day to my sister, she said, “Yes, Amy, you are right. And so is Alex. And you are wrong. And so is Alex.”
That’s conflict for you– usually both sides are holding some things which are right and and some things that are wrong.
Picture conflict like a tangled mess of different colored yarn. There are multiple issues woven together: relational issues, spiritual issues, systemic issues, and usually multiple people pulling on different pieces of yarn to confuse things. There are swirling threads of truth, sin, brokenness and hurt feelings all knotted together. And it takes time, patience, and discernment to disentangle the knots and strands.
Recognize that there is a mastermind behind this conflict… and it is NOT God. Satan’s ongoing mission will be to confuse, undermine, and ultimately destroy you, your relationships, your ministry, and your faith. So if you are experiencing discord, hatred, hopelessness, deception, jealousy, envy, unfaithfulness, manipulation, bitterness, control, rejection, or condemnation, God is not the source of these things, nor does He tempt us to participate in those things.
Your enemy is not the other person with whom you are in conflict. The Bible tells us that we “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11). Unfortunately, our humanness means we get sucked into the his schemes, and before we know it we are participating in creating the mess. Just remember, your true enemy here is not the one sitting across the table from you.
Everyone has something to own. In many types of conflict, both parties will have unhealthy threads of behavior woven throughout the conflict: Bad attitude. Gossip. Disrespect for authority. Withdrawl. Passivity. Aggression. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. Lack of trust. Pride. Complaining. Abuse of power. Lack of love. Poor leadership. Undermining leadership. Withholding your voice when it’s needed. People pleasing. Neglect. Fear of taking sides.
Additionally, in organizational conflict, there will be multiple players connected to the problem– supervisors, teammates, and often even systems that may have contributed to the problem. Unpacking this conflict well means that everyone connected to the conflict will need to examine the threads of their participation. Ideally, everyone is committed to discovering the truth about their broken responses and seeking to find God’s healing and redemption. (Conflict with someone who is unrepentant or unhealthy will be addressed in a different post.)
You are responsible for YOUR part. We usually can see the other person’s issues much more quickly than we see our own. We all have weaknesses and blindspots that allow us to be hooked into accusations, aggression, and/or self-protection. The bottom line is this: the enemy has found a strategy which has worked against you. Your job is to figure out where you have consciously or unconsciously participated in destructive behaviors so that you don’t repeat this again.
Pick a thread that you know is yours and follow it. You will usually end up at one of these places:
A weakness. Many times we have non-strengths that create problems in our lives. You are not a detail person, so you are late on your bills. You are not a direct communicator, so your vague directions are confusing for others. You need predictability, but you are in a highly chaotic environment. These weaknesses are not insidious, they simply point to either a need for outside help or a role that isn’t a great fit.
An area of sin. Some threads of our behavior are just wrong (i.e. slander, manipulation, pride, anger, avoidance of responsibility, control, neglect). Confess it to God. Confess it to those you have wronged. Without confession and forgiveness, nothing will get untangled.
An area of wounding. Places of wounding will always be a place of great vulnerability, because there will be other things contaminating your current situation (i.e. distrust of others, distrust of authority, unforgiveness, bitterness, fear). Conflict leads us to our unresolved hurts– this is an opportunity to pursue healing.
A stronghold. When you feel like you are spinning your wheels in conflict, it’s usually because you (or the other person) has an area of deep healing that is needed called a stronghold. (My next post will be about going to the deeper levels of what’s happening in conflict, but you can learn more about strongholds here.)
Ultimately, you’ve got to address these things head on whether the other person owns his/her part. Confess. Forgive. Seek healing. Bring in others. Find new resources. Get accountability to break patterns. Make your wrongs right.
You can own your stuff AND still hold someone else accountable for their wrong behavior. Just because we acknowledge that the enemy is at work doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to be angry at the other parties involved. Choices were made that were deeply hurtful. Most people will have righteous anger, hurt, and disappointment surfacing off and on throughout the conflict. Beware of minimizing other people’s behaviors. It’s actually not loving to allow our people to weave their destructive behaviors into your lives or the lives of others.
Once when talking with a friend in a difficult conflict situation, we were encouraging her to say some difficult things and hold her ground. She said, “That just doesn’t feel very loving.” My other friend said, “I don’t think your definition of love is the same as God’s, because love is what motivates you to do speak those truths.” In conflict, we are invited to let God expand our understanding of what loving behavior looks like to say and do difficult things. Even when the other person does not experience those actions as loving.
Sometimes things really are more one person’s fault than the other’s. While it’s true that everyone has things to own, there are certainly times in conflict where one person is more at fault than another. Situations of infidelity, betrayal, moral failure, rebellion against leadership, addiction, or deceit often become the gateway through which major issues are uncovered. When people refuse to take responsibility or minimize their actions, that usually indicates a major stronghold that needs healing. Often, the offender tries to deflect responsibility by pulling in other grievances and making the situation seem more two sided than it is. Healthy conflict means the offender is held responsible for what they did, even though you too may have played a smaller part.
Surrender to the Master Weaver. The mastermind of evil can NEVER outwit our God. No matter how big our sin and brokenness, no matter how much the other person is participating in evil, and no matter how elaborate the enemy’s scheme against us, ours is a God who untangles the most knotted of situations and creates brilliant, redemptive weavings.
Invite the Holy Spirit to come cover your conflict: every interaction, every conversation, every hurt, every strand of truth, and every strand of sin. Picture Him hovering over you and the others, ministering His Spirit of discernment and wisdom. Pray for courage to see your own part. Pray for supernatural ability to forgive. Pray for wisdom to know what to hold the other person accountable for. Yield yourself to Him and others as you untangle the mess of truths and brokenness.
When I was in the midst of conflict with a colleague, I found myself praying a verse from Isaiah 59:1 over and over, “Surely the hand of the LORD is not too short to save…” I kept picturing God’s hand reaching out to the both of us–reconnecting and restoring our relationship. Which He did, in time.
May you know the Master Weaver is present with you today– ready to patiently untangle your knotted mess, whatever it may be.