Conflicts arise when selfish desires collide (see James 4:1-2), or as June Hunt (2013) says, “We assume that what we want is what we need...” (loc. 585, emphasis mine). Gottman and Silver (2015) identify two types of conflict – solvable and perpetual problems. The latter tends to lead to gridlock.
Most people approach all conflicts as solvable problems and are caught off guard to discover the problem does not have a solution that is acceptable to both parties. If only the other party understood, would be reasonable, or would just compromise!
This attitude leads one to conclude that their partner is selfish, leading to feelings of bitterness and resentment, gridlock follows. The hallmarks of gridlock are escalating frustration, feelings of rejection, both parties digging in their heels, and culminating in emotional disengagement (Gottman & Silver, 2015).
At the heart of every unsolvable problem is an “unrequited dream” (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 141). When viewed in this light, the seeds of compassion can grow into respect for your partner’s position - this does not mean that the problem can be resolved. It does mean that you do not have to take it personally, i.e., feel rejected, misunderstood, or threatened.
The solution to the perpetual problem is to humble yourself and respect your partner (Hunt, 2013), and never lose your sense of humor (Gottman & Silver, 2015). Humor defuses relational bombs when directed at the situation and not your partner. Use it wisely and use it often. To learn more communication tips geared toward trust-building, see my post Sex and Intimacy.
Respect for your partner and their position is agreeing to disagree. In other words, it is accepting that you are at an impasse and not holding grudges, manipulating, or punishing your partner to come into agreement with you. It also allows you to keep your position respectfully and compassionately. Win-win.
Commit yourself to the relationship and reconciliation (Hunt, 2013), and as far as it depends upon you, live in peace (Romans 12:18). Do not withdraw and refuse to confront the issue biblically (see Matthew 18: 15-17). Avoidance of conflict can be mistaken for peacekeeping; however, it is the building blocks of resentment, not peace.
If you need help navigating the waters of healthy confrontation and living with perpetual problems, contact me.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. Harmony Books.
Hunt, J. (2013). Conflict resolution: Solving your people problems. [Kindle edition]. Aspire Press.