Prerequisites for Resolving Conflict
About the Guest
A proud person always sees the speck in another's eye while never seeing his own sin, but that dynamic only intensifies conflict. Biblical counselor Lou Priolo opens the Scriptures to Ephesians 4 to understand the benefits of humility and gentleness when resolving conflict. A humble person doesn't seek revenge, and he looks at himself first and asks for forgiveness for how he has failed to live up to God's standard.
Biblical counselor Lou Priolo opens the Scriptures to Ephesians 4 to understand the benefits of humility and gentleness when resolving conflict.
Prerequisites for Resolving Conflict
Bob: When conflict occurs in a marriage, the only way that things are going to get better is if both the husband and the wife get their hearts right. Here’s Lou Priolo.
Lou: Ephesians 4, verses 2 and 3—Paul says: “As the prisoner of the Lord, I beseech you to walk”—to live your life—“in a worthy manner”—according with your calling. And then he talks about these four qualities that you’ve got to have. He talks about being humble, gentle, patient, and forbearing. To the degree that you’ve got these four things going on in your life, you’re going to be a good conflict resolver. To the extent that you are proud, and harsh, and impatient, and intolerant, forget about it!
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So how can we go about getting our hearts right when we’re not getting along with one another in marriage? We’ll talk to Lou Priolo about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, a lot of our listeners are going to know the verse in the Bible that says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” I was thinking about the conversation we’re having this week with Lou Priolo—I thought some of these things may take a few sun-ups and sun-downs before you’re ready to step in and get things worked on. If you don’t let the sun go down, you’re going to be exhausted; and you may not get to where you’re trying to get to.
Dennis: Well, you need a counselor.
Lou’s been a counselor for more than three decades. He’s also been married for more than three decades / has two children; and he’s written a book called Resolving Conflict: How to Make, Disturb, and Keep Peace. Welcome back, Lou.
Lou: Thank you. It’s good to be here!
Dennis: Explain the passage of Scripture or where this book came from, in the Scriptures; because the Bible really is a relationship book—
—it teaches us how to relate to God and how to relate, with respect, to our fellow man.
Lou: —first and second greatest commandment. You mentioned the verse in Ephesians, Chapter 4: “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.”
Lou: Let me comment on that first, if I may.
Lou: A lot of couples I counsel think—they think they have to stay up until 4:00 in the morning to get a conflict resolved. You may not be able to get the conflict resolved before the sun goes down—that may take several days or weeks—but you have to get the relationship resolved—that’s the point there.
Bob: What do you mean when you say, you may not get the conflict resolved but you got to get the relationship resolved? What are you talking about?
Lou: “Honey, if there is anything I need to ask your forgiveness in the way I responded today, I’m willing to do that; and there may be more we can talk about tomorrow, but it is 2:00 in the morning. Can we just commit to each other that we love each other?—can we commit/agree that we are going to get this resolved tomorrow?” Give each other a kiss; and say, “I love you”; and try to pick this up tomorrow—
—then you give the person a rain check tomorrow night / tomorrow morning—you give them a rain check so that they know you’re just not running away without committing to finishing the next leg of the conflict.
Bob: So what do you do if, in the middle of the hurt / in the middle of the offense, somebody says: “No! I can’t say that. I can’t say, ‘Yes, I love you’; give you a kiss; and just roll over like nothing happened—I’m hurting.”
Lou: Okay: “Well, it is 2:00 in the morning. Can we give it another 20 minutes?” Then you: “What can we do in the next 20 minutes to try to get this thing as close to resolved as possible? But Honey, we just may not be able to—we may, actually, have to get somebody else to help us out here. But if there is anything I need to confess, if there is anything I need to ask your forgiveness about, if there is even some commitments you’d like me to make—maybe I can make them tonight.”
Bob: You’re really starting to touch on what are some of the prerequisites for resolving conflict. Before we dive into those prerequisites, Dennis had asked you about the biblical foundation for this book. You said there really are two verses in the Bible that—
Bob:—that sum up what this book is all about.
Lou: It’s in the same chapter—it’s really Ephesians 4, verses 2 and 3—Paul says: “As the prisoner of the Lord, I beseech you to walk”—to live your life—“in a worthy manner”—according with your calling. Then he talks about these four qualities that you’ve got to have. He talks about being humble, gentle, patient, and forbearing. And then in verse 3, he says “Make every effort to maintain unity.”
The command is—you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get along with other people, but he says those four qualities are essential.
To the degree that you’ve got these four things going on in your life / to the degree that you are humble, and gentle, and patient, and forbearing, you’re going to be a good conflict resolver. To the extent that you are proud, and harsh, and impatient, and intolerant, forget about it!—it is going to be very difficult for you to resolve the conflict, quickly, easily, and without sin or with a minimal amount of sin.
Bob: I think it’s important to say—in the midst of that, if there is perpetual, ongoing conflict in a relationship between you and somebody else, you don’t have to dig far before you find pride, or a lack of forbearance, or a lack of gentleness. These are the root sins that have got to be dealt with.
Lou: I know before I ever counsel a person, based on their paperwork—that if they are having long-standing problems/conflicts—I know, without ever talking to them, based on this passage, that, at least, one of them is out of sync with the Scripture. It’s always the case—one of the two / maybe both are violating or insufficient in those four prerequisite qualities that the Lord says we must have in order to get along with other people.
Dennis: I can see through the radio, right now—there’s a listener—and he or she’s got their arms folded and they’re going, “You’re right; it’s not me.” [Laughter]
Bob: “Let’s talk about pride.” [Laughter] Since Dennis just identified that—humility really is the beginning. This goes back to Jesus, who said, “You’re really good at seeing the speck in your brother’s eye, but you can’t see the log in your own eye.” We are all predisposed to this kind of pride. Humility is not something that any of us is born with.
Lou: That is the first quality, and that probably is the most important one. When I do marriage counseling, it’s really interesting how we do this. Typically, I have each couple in the first session—or as a first session homework assignment—to go home and identify the specific things that they have done—each of them have done—in terms of failing to be the husband / failing to be the wife that God wants each of them to be.
Then they come in the next week with their lists. I give them a little checklist of about 100 things they might could check off if they can’t think of enough on their own. They’ll come in with 30/40 things maybe.
We begin the second session, typically, by having the husband confess his sins to his wife: “Honey, these are some of the ways that I have failed you over the years,”—and he begins—“Number one…Number two…Number three…Number four…” He finishes the list; and then he turns to her and he says, “Will you forgive me for these things?”
Typically, I’ve also given them a little booklet that I have written on bitterness so they understand what they’re meaning when they say, “I forgive you.” She forgives him; then she begins, “Honey would you please forgive me for these things…” She reads the whole list: a, b, c, d, e, f, g; when she’s done: “Will you forgive me?” He forgives her; then, I have them switch lists.
Dennis: Lou, you said they’ve got to deal with their bitterness. What does forgiveness have to do with bitterness?
Lou: Bitterness, simply put, is the result of not forgiving someone. When you do not forgive someone of their offenses—but instead, you replay the offense over and over again in your mind: “I can’t believe he did that. What’s the matter with him? How would you like that if someone did that to him? You know what? I think I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine—I’m going to show him what it’s like to be offended that way.” The more you replay that in your mind, over and over again—the Bible likens bitterness to a root—the deeper, and hairier, and uglier that root becomes. Essentially, when you are bitter / when you are resentful at someone, it means, in one way or another, you have not forgiven that person.
Dennis: What you’re saying is—forgiveness means you’re giving up the right to punish the other person.
Dennis: You no longer consider their offense and continue to get angry, stew about it, and find ways to hurt them back.
The Bible says, at the very end of this chapter that we’re in, that we should be kind, tender-hearted,—
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Lou: —and forgiving one another. Elsewhere, it says that we should forgive even as God in Christ has forgiven us. When God forgives us, He goes on record—He tells us: “You are forgiven!” When He says to us: “I will remember your iniquities against you no more,” He’s going on record; but He’s making a promise to us.
That’s really what forgiveness is. Not only is it a matter of relinquishing all supposed rights that you think you have to get even, but it’s making a promise to the other person—really, three promises: “I promise I’m not going to bring it up and use it against you in a pejorative way in the future. I promise I’m not going to tell other people about it—at least, if they have a need to know, then I’m going to put pressure on you to tell them before I tell them. Third, I promise I’m not”—and this is the hardest one—“I promise I’m not going to dwell on it.
“When I’m tempted to think of the offense, after I’ve forgiven you, I promise that I’m not going think about that anymore. Rather, I’m going to think about how I can show Christ’s love to you.”
Bob: You started off with this husband and wife reading their lists of “I’m sorry for doing this,” “I’m sorry for doing this,” and then the other spouse forgives. I’m imagining the husband, who is sitting there; and his wife is saying: “Honey, will you forgive me for multiple infidelities?” “Will you forgive me for spending money without telling you and putting us in financial ruin as a result?” “Will you forgive me for being inattentive to the children and one of them being seriously injured as a result?”—going through a whole list—and you’re expecting, at the end of that list, that the husband is just going to smile and say, “Of course, Sweetheart, I forgive you for that”?
Lou: Well, in situations like that—at some point, there may need to be additional teaching / at some point, we may to have to talk about those things.
In other words—for example, the way that would play out, in my office, may be along these lines. The man might say: “Honey, I’m willing to forgive you, but not so fast. Do you really understand the degree to which you have sinned against God? Do you really understand the impact that your sin has against me?”
At that point, he might offer an expression to let her know that he’s willing to forgive her; but there may need to be some further explanation on her part to convince him that she really gets it and that she’s committed to doing what she needs to do in the future to correct those things. Perhaps most importantly, to do what she needs to do to earn the trust back that she lost.
A lot of people get hung up because they think that forgiveness means trust.
Lou: No! You don’t have to trust someone in order to forgive them.
Lou: “…even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”—but she submitted to him and she hoped / she trusted in God.
So, you don’t have to trust someone in order to forgive them. As a Christian, if you ask my forgiveness—even seven times in one day, you return to me, saying, “I repent,”—ultimately, I’m going to have to forgive you / I’m going to hand you forgiveness on a silver platter.
But the trust that you lost in the process, I don’t hand you on a silver platter. You’ve got to be willing to earn that back. All I’m required to do, over time, is to give you the trust that’s commensurate with what you have earned. It would be foolish, I think, biblically, to trust someone who is not trustworthy, to deem someone faithful who has not yet proven themselves faithful. I have a whole little book on faithfulness; and I make this point: “Faithfulness is something that takes time to develop.”
Bob: We have to acknowledge that there are some folks—who, when they say, “Will you forgive me?”—what they are really saying is, “I don’t think what I did was all that bad, really; but I’m just looking for a get-out-of-jail card.” You want to make sure that this person understands the gravity of what they are asking forgiveness for.
Dennis: What we are talking about here is back to the first prerequisite that you have, Lou, which is humility. Ultimately, humility is teachable—it’s willing to admit fault, and it’s also willing to come and ask for forgiveness because of that fault. What Bob is describing there is a person who is only partially humble, if that’s possible—I don’t think it is. But the point is—they’re not really willing to deal with their stuff.
Anything else we ought to know about this first prerequisite called humility, rather than being selfish or prideful?
Lou: The opposite of pride is humility. The reason pride is such a show stopper when it comes to resolving conflict is because it keeps the conflict ultimately from being resolved. Not all conflicts are the result of sin—most of them / many of them are.
So, at the end of the day, a conflict cannot be solved thoroughly and biblically unless the person, who is sinning, is willing to acknowledge that what he did really was a sin.
Now, the flip side of that is humility. There is something disarming about humility. When you are communicating / when you’re resolving a conflict with someone who is humble, you can tell—he’s leaving this crack in the door that basically says:
Look, I may try to persuade you to my way of thinking; and so, keep that in mind, even as I am arguing with you; but know that I realize that I am a sinner. I know that the effects of the fall on my life have impacted me so much that I may think, logically, to the wrong conclusion. I may be blinded by my sin. I just may not be able to see all that you see right now; but I know I’m a sinner, and I’m willing to give you a fighting chance to convince me of my sin. As soon as I see it, I’m going to acknowledge it; and by God’s grace, I’m going to repent and I’m going to commit myself to a different, more biblical course of action.
Dennis: I’m thinking back to a very fundamental definition of humility: “Humility is right thinking about yourself in light of who God is.”
Dennis: It’s properly evaluating yourself, not compared to other people—because if you have pride, you can think you’re better than other people—but it’s properly evaluating yourself in light of who God is and how He made you. At that point, you need to deal with your stuff, ask for forgiveness, [and] wait for the other person to deal with it / process it. They may not be as fast as you are at handling conflict, and resolving that, and offering back forgiveness.
Bob: There’s another prerequisite to successful conflict resolution. In addition to both people having humility, there needs to be a spirit of gentleness present between both of them—that’s really the second thing that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:2; right?
Lou: Right. In fact, it’s really interesting—Jesus said a lot about His being the Messiah: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life,” “…the Beginning / the End,” “…the Door,” “…the Way.” As far as I know, the only two things he ever said about His character are these first two prerequisites—He said, “Take My yoke upon you for I am meek and lowly of heart,”—cognates of these very same two words. I would argue that the first two of these prerequisites are probably the most important. Yes; we must be humble and we must be gentle.
Dennis: You’re giving us two prerequisites for resolving conflict. One is humility; the other is gentleness. I think we may all assume we know what gentleness really is—define it for us though.
Lou: The Greek word, Dennis, does not have an exact English equivalent. There are two components to it. The first part has to do with humility—
—it’s sort of like recognizing your own frailty. It’s sort of like when I tell my counselees: “Look, I’m not the expert here. I’m just one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is at,” or I might say to him: “I’m giving you counsel today, but I’m a sinner too. Six months from now, I may be on the other side of the desk; and you may be giving me advice about something,” or I might say, “You know, brother, the things I’m telling you today, I had to tell myself just two or three weeks ago.” There’s that built-in component of humility in the Greek word for gentleness.
But the other part—probably the larger part of the word—has to do with controlling your anger. It has to do with not being harsh / it has to do with speaking in such a way that you communicate love, and mercy, and compassion. It’s not being harsh / it’s not being over-bearing.
It’s speaking to the other person in such a way that you’re not coming across in a condescending way but rather as a fellow struggler / a fellow sufferer, here, in this world cursed by sin.
Dennis: As you were talking here, Lou, I couldn’t help but think back one book, to the Book of Galatians—to Galatians, Chapter 5, which talks about the fruit of the Spirit. If people are wondering, “Where are you going to get fruit like gentleness?” It is one of the fruits of the Spirit: “…gentleness, self-control.” All of those are a part of allowing the Holy Spirit—to control your temper / to control your tongue—to help you control how you think and to, ultimately, cause you to have that humility, where you go to the other person and say: “Will you forgive me for the harm I have caused you?” “Will you forgive me for how I have dropped the ball?” “Will you forgive me for coming home late again, tonight?”
Then, being quiet and allowing the other person to offer the words: “Yes; I forgive you.”
Bob: You’re saying that, if a person wants to be a gentle person, you don’t just look deep inside yourself and find that inherent gentleness that is just deep down inside of you; because that’s not what’s deep down inside of you; is it?
Dennis: No; it’s not. In fact, it’s what Paul commands, here, as we look at all the fruit of the Spirit. I guess I just ought to read it here quickly: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Who doesn’t want those things? Now, if we do have the Holy Spirit—and the Scriptures promise that we do / at the point we receive Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within you—the promise is He will begin to produce—and it’s not instant fruit, by the way.
It’s not that you pop out these different fruits of the Spirit—you slowly begin to mature, as a follower of Christ, and you find yourself being gentler with your spouse.
Lou: “But how?! How does the Holy Spirit produce those fruit? Do we just sit back and say, ‘Okay; zap me Spirit’?”—no! We have to collaborate with the Holy Spirit—
Dennis: That’s right.
Lou: —who works through the Word. It’s not just a matter of praying—it’s a matter of reading, and studying, and internalizing God’s Word—because that’s, ultimately, what the Spirit is going to use to change you from the inside out to reproduce in you the character of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bob: But you stop and think about conflict—in a marriage relationship, between parent and child, in extended family relationships—if two people are walking by the Spirit / if the fruit of the Spirit is present in their lives, that’s going to be a different kind of conflict resolution than if they are being controlled by the flesh.
Ultimately, that’s what you are trying to get people to in the book, Resolving Conflict, which, of course, we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
If listeners need some coaching on how to do this well—if conflict is more regular at your home, or if you just don’t have the basic skills to know how to pursue peace with your spouse—I’d encourage you to get a copy of this book. I’d also say—if it’s just one of you in the marriage, who says, “Okay; I’m going to try to do this God’s way,”—you just read the book and start to apply what Lou talks about here. I think you’ll see a dramatic difference in how conflict happens in your home. You can order the book, Resolving Conflict, from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com; or you can order by calling 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the title of the book: Resolving Conflict by Lou Priolo—How to Make, Disturb, and Keep Peace.
You know, this is right in the heart of what FamilyLife Today is all about. When we started, as a ministry, our ministry got started doing pre-marital preparation—for couples, who were young, and in love, and getting married and needed just some basic skills to know how to navigate their marriage. Over time, while we were teaching engaged couples—well, we had married couples telling us, “We need this more than the engaged couples do.” That’s how the Weekend To Remember® began. FamilyLife Today came along a few years later, and then FamilyLifeToday.com came after that.
Throughout the history of the ministry, we’ve had this one goal in mind—and that is to effectively develop godly marriages and families—because godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time. When you support this ministry with a donation, what you’re making possible is for more people to more regularly receive practical biblical help and hope to build a stronger marriage / to build a more healthy family to point people back to Christ being at the center of your marriage and your family. We are grateful for those of you who have supported this ministry in the past—those of you who have made today’s program possible, through your support.
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Tomorrow, we will continue our conversation with Lou Priolo to talk about how couples can forgive one another—how you can do that with your kids too! When the peace is broken between parent and child, what do you do to resolve conflict there? We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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