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RESOLVING CONFLICT


INTRODUCTION

When Jesus visited the Nephites he commanded them saying: "There shall be no disputations among you . . . He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away" (3 Nephi 11:22, 29-30).

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF SOMEONE WITH A CONTENTIOUS SPIRIT TRIES TO START SOMETHING? The Savior taught "And unto him who smiteth thee on the cheek, offer also the other; or in other words, it is better to offer the other [cheek], than to revile again. And him who taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. For it is better that thou shalt suffer thine enemy to take these things, than to contend with him" (JST, Luke 6:29-30; compare 3 Nephi 12:39-40). Elsewhere the Savior taught: "If men will smite you, or your families and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded. But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you" (D&C 98:23-24).

That's hard doctrine, isn't it? It is hard doctrine because it can make us feel like things are out of control, that we are not in control, that the Lord is asking us to be the doormats of society and that we aren't allowed to do anything about it. Not only can we do something about it, we must do something about it. We must do the right thing. If a roommate storms into the apartment, screaming accusations against you and you react by firing back your own barrage of accusations, who is in control? When we react, we allow the other person to take control. When we act, we are in control. So if you respond to the angry accusations of your roommate by saying, "I'm sorry. Is there something I can do to help?," who is in control?

The story is told of a council meeting involving the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Twelve Apostles. During the meeting, the Prophet rebuked Brigham Young from head o toe in front of the others, accusing him of something he had not done. When Joseph had finished his rebuke, the other brethren sat silently awaiting Brigham Young's response. Brigham Young rose to his feet. He was a strong man. He could have reacted and said: "Now, look here, haven't you read how you're not supposed to rebuke in public, but only in private?" Or, "Brother Joseph, doesn't it say something in the revelations about persuasion, and long-suffering, and gentleness and meekness?" Or, "Joseph, you are dead wrong. I would never do that." But Brigham Young did not react in any of those ways. He acted and said simply, "Joseph, what do you want me to do?" Joseph burst into tears, approached Brigham Young, threw his arms around him and said, "Brother Brigham, you passed [the test]" (See Truman Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet, p. 88).

Now the Savior's hard doctrine gets even harder. Not only does the Lord require us to do the right thing, he expects us to do the right thing with the right attitude. If you apologize to that roommate and ask what you can do to help, but inside you are full of anger and resentment and you continue to hold a grudge and harbor bad feelings, you still miss the point. Jesus said: "Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of [the] judgment [of God]" (3 Nephi 12:22-24). And, "I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:9-10).

The Savior's command to the Nephites that there be no contentions or disputations was well received and well lived. The two hundred years that followed his visit comprise one of the most peaceful and harmonious periods in history. Mormon wrote in 4 Nephi 1:2: "The people were all converted unto the Lord . . . and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another." Does that mean there were no contentions in any of the marriages? Absolutely! In verse 13, Mormon said: "There was no contention among all the people in all the land [and] there were mighty miracles wrought among [them]." In verse 15, he said: "There was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people." Again, in verse 18, Mormon noted: "And the Lord did bless them in all their doings [because] there was no contention in all the land." Four times in the first 18 verses Mormon indicated that there was no contention among the people. It was almost as if Mormon could hardly believe that was possible.

Many today argue that it is impossible to not have contention in marriage -- every marriage does. Elder Boyd K. Packer told the following story: "I went home teaching years ago to an elderly little woman . . . She was a shut-in. I was not married at the time . . . and one evening she said she wanted to give me some counsel. She told me the story of her life -- marriage in the temple to a wonderful elder, living together and beginning a family, a call to open the mission field in one of the continents of the world, a happy mission, return [home] and entering into life's pursuits. Then she focused in on a Monday morning. A dreary washday, gray and cloudy, outside and in; cross children; little irritations; a poor meal; and finally an innocent remark by one, snapped up by the other, and soon husband and wife were speaking crossly and critically to one another. "As he left for work," she said, "I just had to follow him to the gate and call that one, last, biting, spiteful remark after him." And then as the tears came, she told me of an accident that day, and of his not returning from work. "For fifty years," she sobbed, "I have regretted that the last thing he ever heard from my lips was that biting, spiteful remark."

Elder Packer then counseled: "Never speak a cross word -- not one. It is neither necessary nor desirable. There are many who teach that it is normal and expected for domestic difficulty and bickering and strife to be a part of that marriage relationship. That is false doctrine. It is neither necessary nor desirable. I know that it is possible to live together in love with never the first cross word ever passing between you" (The Things of the Soul, 1996).

REASONS FOR CONFLICT IN RELATIONSHIPS

SO WHY DOES CONFLICT ARISE IN RELATIONSHIPS? Three of the most common reasons are: FIRST, INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES. Because people are different, conflict arises. Some of our differences are biological (male/female differences) and some are environmental (family-of-origin differences-how we were raised; community differences-where we were raised). These differences shape our personalities, our interests, and our talents. They influence the particular strengths and weaknesses we develop and the expectations we have for ourselves and others.

SO WHAT DO YOU DO IF CONFLICT ARISES BECAUSE OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES?

One suggestion may be to distinguish between principle and preference, between the essential and non-essential. If the difference is non-essential, a matter of preference, let it go. Don't sacrifice the relationship over a matter of preference. If it is essential, a matter of principle, discuss it. Settle the difference. Determine what is right, not who is right. Elder B. H. Roberts taught: "In essentials, let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity!" (CR, Oct. 1912, p. 30). Unsettled essential differences lead to disagreements. Disagreements escalate into conflict. Conflict causes anger. And anger leads to divorce.

Another suggestion for resolving conflict that arises from individual differences is to remember that some differences are complementary. The word complementary means complete. Some differences make a relationship complete much like combining different pieces of a puzzle make a picture complete. Complementary differences add variety to a relationship; they allow weaknesses to be offset by strengths, and encourage growth through learning from each other. Elder Richard G. Scott : "In the Lord's plan, it takes two, a man and a woman, to form a whole. A husband and wife are not two identical halves, but form a divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics" (Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 73).

A SECOND REASON WHY THERE IS CONFLICT IN HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS IS BECAUSE OF UNREALISTIC OR UNCOMMUNICATED EXPECTATIONS. Many individuals believe that the right person is the one who will fulfill all needs. They go into marriage with the expectation that the spouse will fulfill all needs. That is an unrealistic expectation that leads to disappointment and conflict. While some needs should appropriately be fulfilled only by a spouse, such as sexual needs, no spouse can or should be expected to fulfill all your needs. Some needs must be fulfilled by others. For example, we have spiritual needs that can only by satisfied through our individual relationship with our Heavenly Father. Thus, the importance of personal prayer, personal scripture study, and personal righteousness. Our social needs will not be fully satisfied by our spouse. Part of our social needs will be satisfied through continued association with our extended family. Part of our social needs may be satisfied through good friends. In most marriages, it would be unrealistic to expect that a spouse will meet more than 80% of one's needs. You have a choice. You can choose to be grateful and express appreciation for the 80% or you can choose to feel frustrated, disappointed, and angry over the 20%. What you choose to do makes all the difference!

Our individual differences can lead to unrealistic or uncommunicated expectations. For example, you may have been raised in a family where each person was expected to share responsibility for the upkeep of the home through daily chores. Your roommate, however, was raised in a home where there were no such expectations. Mom did everything. You think your roommate is immature, selfish and irresponsible because she isn't meeting your expectations. It isn't that your expectations are wrong. They are just unrealistic right now. A roommate who won't share responsibility for the upkeep of the apartment is immature and is selfish and is irresponsible. But one does not become mature and unselfish and responsible over night. So, be patient. Don't abandon all expectations, but be sure they are realistic. Allow time for change.

In marriage, the wife may expect the husband to be a handyman around the house, capable of fixing anything, or responsible for all of the outdoor responsibilities such as mowing the lawn and maintaining the cars, because that's the way it was in her home growing up. She can't understand why her husband hasn't fixed the leaky faucet in the bathroom yet. The reason may be that the husband, who has trouble fixing his hair, has not even noticed the leaky faucet or if he has, has no idea how to fix it.

The husband may expect his wife to be a gourmet cook, an expert housekeeper, and to maintain her slim figure throughout their marriage. He can't understand why the meals they eat are not like the ones Mom cooked or why the house isn't spotless like the one he grew up in. He can't understand why his wife can't make a bowl of cold cereal without a recipe or why the only thing she can "cook" is something that can be warmed up in the microwave. The truth is, his mother didn't cook or clean much better when she was first married. The husband is comparing his new bride to a mother who had many, many years of practice.

SO WHAT DO YOU DO IF CONFLICT ARISES BECAUSE OF UNREALISTIC OR UNCOMMUNICATED EXPECTATIONS?

First, "own" your own expectations. Take responsibility for them. Be willing to admit it if they are unrealistic. Then be willing to change them. Second, communicate your expectations. Don't expect your spouse to "just know" or to read your mind. Third, never expect someone to do something beyond his capability. The better you know someone, the better you are able to determine what is realistic and what is not. Get to know the person as the Lord knows him. Fourth, be patient. Change takes time. Be quick to recognize and appreciate effort rather than result.

THE THIRD REASON WHY CONFLICT ARISES IN RELATIONSHIPS IS BECAUSE OF PERSONAL SIN. I believe this is the main reason why conflict arises in relationships. It may be pride (the central feature of which is hatred, President Benson taught), or selfishness ("the inordinate and excessive concern with self," according to Elder Maxwell), or an unwillingness to "put off the natural man," and submit our will to the will of God, or the violation of any other commandment or covenant. All cause the Spirit to withdraw. And, when the Spirit withdraws, we are left to ourselves. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. When the Spirit departs so do the fruits of the Spirit, which Paul taught are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. With those things gone, no wonder we have conflict!

If our lives are not in harmony with God, they will not be in harmony with others. President Harold B. Lee said: "If we are not united, we are not [God's] . . . If we would be united in love and fellowship and harmony, the Church would convert the world . . . Likewise, if in that Latter-day Saint home the husband and wife are in disharmony . . . there is evidence that one or both are not keeping the commandments of God. If we in our wards or branches [or apartments] are divided and . . . not in harmony, it is but evidence that something is wrong" (CR, April 1950, pp. 97-100).

SO WHAT DO YOU DO IF CONFLICT ARISES BECAUSE OF PERSONAL SIN?

We must humbly repent! A good example of this is found in the marriage of Joseph and Emma Smith. David Whitmer recorded the following story: "One morning when [Joseph] was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was [upset] about it. Something that Emma his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but he could do nothing. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour -- came back to the house, and asked Emma's forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were, and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing [until] he was humble [and repentant]" (The Saints Herald, 1 March 1882).

WHAT DO YOU DO IF THE CONFLICT ARISES BECAUSE OF THE SINS OF ANOTHER? Joseph Smith said: "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind" (TPJS, p. 240).


USING CORRECT PRINCIPLES TO RESOLVE CONFLICT

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE MOTE AND THE BEAM. READ 3 NEPHI 14:3-5. A beam is a plank, a large peace of timber. A mote is a speck of sawdust or a splinter. The idea of this principle is that when conflict arises we should first look at what we need to change. Two common reactions seen among those in conflict are: 1) It's not my fault. It's your fault!

and 2) If you change first, then I will change! The Savior taught that we must always look to ourselves first.

For example, ask yourself: "What must I change physically?" Conflict is more likely to occur if we are tired. It is not surprising that a person who routinely stays up until all hours of the night and does not get sufficient rest becomes easily irritated or offended by others. Physical changes might also include obeying the Word of Wisdom and getting regular exercise.

What must I change spiritually? As already mentioned, personal sin is probably the greatest contributor to conflict there is. So, repent! But conflict is also more likely to arise if we are not feeding our spirits on a daily basis through personal prayer, scripture study, and service -- the things that invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Without the Spirit, we tend to react instead of act.

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRAYER. At least twelve times the Savior commanded the Nephites to pray. He said: "Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed . . . And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them . . ." (3 Nephi 18:21, 19:25).

Of the principle of prayer, President Hinckley said: "I know of no single practice that will have a [greater] effect upon your lives than the practice of kneeling together as you begin and close each day. Somehow the little storms that seem to afflict every marriage are dissipated when, kneeling before the Lord, you thank him for one another, in the presence of one another, and then together invoke his blessings upon your lives, your home, your loved ones, and your dreams . . . God will then be your partner, and your daily conversations with him will bring peace into your hearts and a joy into your lives that can come from no other source. Your companionship will sweeten through the years; your love will strengthen. Your appreciation for one another will grow . . . The destroying angel of domestic bitterness will pass you by and you will know peace and love throughout your lives" (Ensign, June 1971, pp. 72-73).

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE LAW OF THE HARVEST. READ D&C 6:33-34. We reap what we sow. If we sow kindness, love, and forgiveness, that is what we will reap. If we sow unkindness, hatred, and revenge, that is what we will reap. Remember that the harvest does not come immediately. It takes time. But eventually "what goes around comes around!" And, some harvests will be more plentiful than others. Don't give up. Don't become impatient. Eventually, you will reap what you sow. That is according to the law of justice.

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE GOLDEN RULE. READ 3 NEPHI 14:12. Most of us were taught this principle as little children. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. President N. Eldon Tanner taught: "Now if we could just learn to live the Golden Rule and let compassion and the kind of love which our Savior spoke control our actions, we would automatically obey all the other commandments. We would not steal, or kill, or bear false witness, or commit adultery, or covet. We would honor our parents, keep the Sabbath day holy, and show proper reverence for the name of the Lord" (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 44). Elder David B. Haight once noted that "we have committed the Golden Rule to memory. Now we must commit it to life" (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 15).

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE SOFT RESPONSE. READ 1 NEPHI 5:1-8. The first thing Lehi did was to agree with Sariah. The Savior said: "Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison" (3 Nephi 12:25). The next thing Lehi did was to comfort Sariah. He could see that Sariah was hurting and sought to comfort her. The last thing Lehi did was to expand Sariah's vision. He taught her and testified to her. Her own testimony was strengthened. Through it all, Lehi was careful to bridle his tongue.

Joseph Smith said: "A wise man keeps a still tongue . . . It is far better, many times

. . . to forget all [you] know, than to tell all [you] know. And better still to forget than to tell some great things which [you] do not know" (HC 7:413).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "All of us have far too much to do to waste our time and energies in criticism, faultfinding, or the abuse of others" (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 6)

President James E. Faust said: "Some want to justify their criticism by claiming, ‘But it is the truth.' My answer is, ‘How can you be so sure?' The Apostle Paul reminded us that the misuse of the truth changes it into a lie. (See Rom. 1:18-25)" (Ensign, Nov. 1985, p. 9).

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE PROPER MOTIVE. READ MATTHEW 18:15-17. Notice first who the Lord expects to take the initiative. We are not justified in saying, "Well, he started it," or "He's the one who hurt me. He should be the one who apologizes." The Lord says, if you've been hurt or offended, you take the initiative to make peace. Secondly, the Lord teaches us that our motive should always be "to gain our brother." It can't be to make sure the other person knows how much he has hurt me. It can't be to prove that I am right and he is wrong. And, it also can't be to prove how much more righteous and spiritual I am because I am taking the initiative to solve the problem. It must be to gain my brother. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO "GAIN OUR BROTHER?"


SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

DON'T BE SO QUICK TO TAKE OFFENSE. Many of us, frankly, are overly sensitive. We get offended if someone looks at us wrong. The natural man is easily offended. Being easily provoked is an evidence of the absence of the Spirit. Brigham Young said: "He who takes offense when no offense was intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense was intended is usually a fool" (Quoted by Marion D. Hanks, Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 21).

REBUILD TRUST. Healthy relationships are built on trust. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey compared trust to a bank account. He said that we make deposits into the bank account of another through courtesy, kindness, honesty, apologizing, expressing appreciation, and keeping our commitments to them. If I make regular deposits, I build up a reserve and trust increases. We feel safe with each other. We can talk about most anything. But, withdrawals from that bank account occur when there is unkindness, blaming, criticism, the breaking of confidences or commitments, talking about others behind their backs, and through conflict. WHAT HAPPENS IF WE CONTINUE TO MAKE WITHDRAWALS WITHOUT MAKING ANY DEPOSITS? (Eventually the relationship will be bankrupt!). If the trust level has eroded, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to resolve conflict until trust is rebuilt. We have to watch everything we say and do around the other person. And, they don't trust us enough to listen to anything we have to say. We are not likely to be successful in resolving conflict until the reserve of trust is replenished.

MOST COMMON AREAS OF CONFLICT
FROM ENGAGEMENT THROUGH
THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF MARRIAGE

 

 Topic

Engagement

6 Months 

1 Year 

5 Years 

Overall 

 HUSBAND'S  JOB

 1

4

 WIFE'S JOB

 8

10 

10 

 HOUSEHOLD TASKS

 3

 1

 MONEY

 6

 HUSBAND'S FAMILY

 11

10 

 WIFE'S FAMILY

 5

 HUSBAND'S FRIENDS

 7

12 

11 

11 

 WIFE'S FRIENDS

 10

 12

13 

12 

12 

 AFFECTION

 8

 5

 CHILDREN

 12

13 

11 

12 

13 

 RELIGION

 14

14 

14 

14 

14 

 SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

 3

 11

 TIME SPENT TOGETHER

 1

 3

 2

 1

 2

 SEX

 13

CONFLICT IN MARRIAGE

DIRECTIONS: THERE ARE MANY AREAS OF CONFLICT IN MARRIAGE. BELOW IS A LIST OF THE FOURTEEN MOST COMMONLY MENTIONED AREAS. RANK THEM IN THE ORDER YOU THINK THEY COME, FROM 1 TO 14, WITH 1 BEING THE MOST COMMON AREA OF CONFLICT AND 14 BEING THE LEAST COMMON AREA OF CONFLICT.

TIME SPENT TOGETHER

RELIGION

AFFECTION

HUSBAND'S FRIENDS

WIFE'S FRIENDS

HUSBAND'S FAMILY

WIFE'S FAMILY

MONEY

WIFE'S JOB

HUSBAND'S JOB

HOUSEHOLD TASKS

SEX

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

CHILDREN


TOP TEN AREAS OF CONFLICT IN MARRIAGE

 

1. VALUES (MONEY; GOALS; LIFESTYLE; ROLES)

2. PERSONALITY

3. INSUFFICIENT TIME TOGETHER

4. PARENTS OR IN-LAWS

5. POWER (CONTROL; INDEPENDENCE)

6. BACKGROUND (DIFFERENT INTERESTS; RELIGIOSITY; EDUCATION)

7. COMMUNICATION

8. SEX

9. DIFFERENCES IN COMMITMENT

10. FRIENDS



COOKIES AND OFFENSE IN AN AIRPORT


A woman returning home from overseas, had an extended layover in an airport in Europe. To help pass the time, she bought a carton of milk, a package of cookies, and a newspaper. With her arms full she made her way to a waiting area where there was a small table with seats on either side. A few minutes later as she was reading the paper, she heard the rustling of the cellophane wrapper on the box of cookies. Peeking over her paper, she was stunned to see a young man helping himself to a cookie. Not wanting to confront him directly, she gave him a dirty look and reached over pointedly and grabbed a cookie for herself. The man just smiled.

A moment or two later, she heard more rustling of paper and watched the man take another cookie. She glared back at the man and angrily grabbed another cookie for herself. And so it continued until there was only one cookie left in the package. She was irate but still did not have the nerve to say anything. Suddenly the man looked at her, smiled, took the last cookie, broke it in half, and handed half to her. Absolutely infuriated, the woman got up and stomped off. About an hour later, when the public address system called for her flight, she opened her purse to get her ticket. And there, much to her surprise and embarrassment, was the package of cookies she had purchased earlier!