RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution

I am a pragmatic guy who likes internal combustion engines. My wife is an artist who wouldn’t know a piston from a wrist pin. But she is great with flowers and has an eye for color and style. We had a dogwood tree at our house in Georgia, a beautiful tree that had a branch growing right out into the driveway. It swiped the car every time I parked.

Someone gave me a used chain saw. I got it running and was cutting up some old trees in the backyard. Gas remained in the tank when I finished. You can guess what happened next.

My wife came running out of the house, “Why are you killing the dogwood tree!”

“I’m not killing it! I’m just taking off this branch!”

“But why?”

“There was still some gas in the chainsaw!”

You can imagine where the conversation went next. Krista and I were still learning conflict resolution skills back then. We’ve learned what works, not only in marriage but in all walks of life. Here are three steps everyone can use.

1st Slowdown

Fast is slow, and slow is fast. Misunderstanding creates most conflict, and speed aggravates it. I didn’t know how important that one branch with flowers on it was to Krista. She didn’t know how much it bothered me when it scratched the car. For all she knew, I was going to cut the whole tree down. So she was urgent to stop me. And I was impressed! It takes a brave woman to yell at a man with a chainsaw buzzing in his hands. But I was also insulted. Why is she yelling at me? Can’t she see that the branch is in the driveway?

Too many assumptions happen too fast when we rush into a conflict. Slow the communication process down; proceed with extra respect, especially if others are present. Bonus thought: never attempt conflict resolution via text or email. Assumptions multiply when we can’t hear the tone of voice or read body-language.

2nd Calm down

Get control of yourself before working through conflict. Keep your voice down. Be the NAP, the Non-Anxious Presence. When a crisis is looming, or you are already in a dispute, be the one who has self-control. If you can’t, don’t engage in discussion until you can figure out why. Take a break and, without blaming others for how you feel, take responsibility for your emotions.

For Christians, self-control is a gift of the Spirit. If you feel your temper rising, excuse yourself for a while, agree to take a breather, and tell the Spirit of God, “Lord, you say that in Christ I am not a slave. I feel enslaved to anger right now. I confess that as sin and ask you to be within me the peaceful presence that I do not have the power to be right now.” He will help.

3rd Reason instead of ranting

Ranting is popular entertainment in America, taking the place of serious discussion. But it is incredibly destructive and has no home in Christian life.

James, the brother of Jesus, said it this way.

         But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

         And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [1]

Reason is pure, peaceable, and gentle. Reason is full of mercy. You can go a long way toward achieving this by removing two phrases from your vocabulary: “You never …” and “You always …” When we say those things, we are saying that, even though we said we forgave some insult, we never really did; even though we promised we would agree to something, internally we never did.

Ranting raises walls. Reasonableness builds bridges.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” said Walt Kelly’s Pogo. We are our own worst adversaries in conflict resolution. We usually rush into it, raise our voices, and rant about the issue. Slow down, calm down, reason instead of ranting, and you will eat the fruit of peace in all your relationships.


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Jas 3:13–18). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

7 Keys to Successful Romance

7 Keys to Successful Romance

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat.

“Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for about 36 years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love.

First, make an all-out commitment to Christ. (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love before it begins to stink up the relationship.

Second, develop the heart of a servant-leader. (Matthew 20:25-28). Successful lovers lead through service. Begin by leading yourself. Your lady wants to be your wife, not your mamma, your co-laborer not your wet nurse. She needs you to grow up, maximize earning potential, use money wisely, and stay out of unnecessary debt. She needs you to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, learn how to make good decisions, and be strong in the challenges of life. Not superman. Not unwilling to take advice and counsel. Just strong, full of faith, trusting God, looking ahead, paying attention, adjusting to contingencies, pursuing a goal, refusing to wither in the face of adversity.

She also needs you to take out the trash, run the vacuum, do the dishes, change the baby and—if you can do it without poisoning her—cook from time to time. It boils down to this: study her like a good waiter watches his table and provide for her needs. You will be amazed at what this will do for your love life.

Third, commit to communicate.  Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know your love language and how to speak hers.

Fourth, develop conflict resolution skills. Few people grow up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Successful lovers learn how to have a productive argument, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they celebrate with ice cream and … well, read the Song of Solomon and you’ll get the picture. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

Fifth, commit to commitment. Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.

Sixth, practice the art of forgiveness. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.

Seventh, work at it like a gardener. Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Romance needs daily attention like a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.

SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat.

“Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for 34 years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love. Ladies, I’ll get to you next week.

ONE: An All-Out Commitment to Christ – (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love before it begins to stink up the relationship.

TWO: The Heart of a Servant-Leader – (Matthew 20:25-28). Successful lovers lead through service. Begin by leading yourself. Your lady wants to be your wife, not your Momma, your co-laborer not your wet nurse. She needs you to grow up, maximize earning potential, use money wisely, and stay out of unnecessary debt. She needs you to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, learn how to make good decisions, and be strong in the challenges of life. Not superman. Not unwilling to take advice and counsel. Just strong, full of faith, trusting God, looking ahead, paying attention, adjusting to contingencies, pursuing a goal, refusing to wither in the face of adversity.

She also needs you to take out the trash, run the vacuum, do the dishes, change the baby and—if you can do it without poisoning her—cook from time to time. It boils down to this: study her like a good waiter watches his table and provide for her needs. You will be amazed at what this will do for your love life.

THREE: Commit to Communicate – Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know your love language and how to speak hers.

FOUR: Conflict Resolution Skills – No one grows up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Successful lovers learn how to have a productive argument, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they celebrate with ice cream. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

FIVE: Commit to Commitment – Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.

SIX: Practice the Art of Forgiveness – The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.

SEVEN: Work at it Like a Gardner – Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Romance needs daily attention like a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.