When I was in my early twenties, there was nothing I disliked more than conflict. I won’t use the tired cliché that I avoided it like the plague. But, since I just used it anyhow, I’ll admit I tried to navigate around conflict at any cost. Especially at the holidays. I mean who wants to address issues in between bites of Grandma’s fudge and Aunt Jane’s turkey casserole?

I was a ‘stuff it and smile’ kind of girl. The problem with pretending to be fine when you’re really not, is all that pent up steam will eventually come out. And if you’ve ever held your hand too close to steam, you know how it can burn.

A much healthier approach to the inevitable conflicts we all must deal with during holidays and every day is to face the issue head on with grace and humility having asked ourselves one very crucial question. This question is so crucial that might I dare say not asking it could lead to extreme conflict escalation rather than relationship restoration.

So, what’s this crucial question?

Am I trying to prove or improve? That’s the question. In other words, is my desire in this conflict to prove that I am right or to improve the relationship at hand?

When I try to prove I am right, I use the circumstances of the conflict as an arsenal to attack the other person. I come armed with past hurts and offenses ready to state my case. I’m tempted to tear down the other person. I react from a place of hurt and anger and can often say things I later regret.

On the other hand, when my desire is to improve the relationship, I seek to understand where the other person is coming from and I care enough about the relationship to fight for it rather than against it. Instead of reacting out of anger, I pause and let the Holy Spirit interrupt my first impulses. I tackle the issues, not the person.

Here are some great questions to ask when we’re dealing with conflict out of a desire to improve a relationship:

• Can you help me understand why you feel this way?
• Why don’t we both agree to stick to the issue at hand and not pull in past issues?
• What is your desired outcome in this situation?
• How can we meet in the middle on this issue?

My husband I have renamed what we used to call “fights.” We now call them “growth opportunities.” And the more we’ve been practicing these principles, the less conflicts we’ve been having.

But I won’t tie this devotion up in a neat holiday bow and end all “cheerio.” While Art and I are doing great right now and have had very few “growth opportunities” lately, conflicts with others seem to always be around the corner. So please hear my heart, I’m not saying all of this is easy. Just this week I’ve had to tackle some growth opportunities that made me feel like I had fire crackers burning through my veins.

Maybe you can relate.

What I will say is that it’s possible to let those conflicts lead us to better places in our relationships. Improved places. And that is the good side of conflict.

By Lysa TerKeurst

In Lysa’s new book, Unglued, she shares personal experiences and scriptural wisdom to help us make right, godly and healthy decisions with our reactions. Click here to order your copy today!

  • http://galwaygal12.blogspot.ie/ sonika

    It’s a tricky question, prove or improve, when you’re trying to show a *parent* (albeit lovingly and gently) that Jesus is the only truth…

  • Luna

    Thanks Lysa, Thanks for that. I think God wanted to speak that to me today. I had a serious conflict with someone yesterday and it’s one of the biggest I had. But even then I know God is in control and he has the power to turn it into something amazing.

  • Amanda

    “Growth opportunities”… I like that. I think I’ll ask my husband and I to rename our conflict moments. Thanks!

  • http://www.findtimefortea.com Kimberly

    I needed to read this today. I’m in the middle of a “growth opportunity” at the moment, and struggling with the growing pains. Thank you for sharing your wisdom:)

  • http://plantedoak.wordpress.com kris scorza-sobieski

    a “good side of conflict”. going to carry that thought around. a reminder not to avoid it. thank you lisa.

  • http://www.livingfreeinhim.blogspot.com Sue Molitor

    Thanks Lysa. Needed that today. Praying for the Lord to give me wisdom and discernment when having to do this.

  • Guest

    Ouch. I am not a conflict avoider. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t seek out conflict but if it comes my way, I don’t run away. That being said, I am sadly very guilty of wanting to prove. :-( Thank you for this profound and simple question.

  • http://myheartseekshim.blogspot.com Shelley@myheartseekshim.blogspot.com

    Oh my did I need this. It was almost if I was writing it myself. I struggle so much with communicating with my husband, neither of us seem to be very good at it without getting upset. Please pray that I can use this to help resolve some issues that have truly been going on for years. Thank you.

  • http://sarahannrogers.com Sarah

    I love the idea of “proving vs improving” – I think it might go up on my fridge. I am a very black and white person, yet I don’t love hurting people’s feelings. That balance is a tough one to find.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Kathy

    I like the term “growth opportunities” instead of “fights” as I feel it is more positive and the conflict doesn’t mean one person wins and the other loses in any dispute. The pause before response is also a wonderful way for the Lord to intervene and bring words that heal rather than hurt. We can grow in our relationship when we think of the other person and where they are coming from. Wonderful words you’ve given me to make any conflict become a constructive conversation.

  • Ann

    Oh! I am crying while typing this! I am in really bad situation! And I keep telling myself “I’m not an Angel” but I bagged for forgiveness three times in a row and the other side tells me she has nothing against me , and then in last year I heard really bad stuff about myself( she even told my father how bad I am ) and my two business went bankrupt, I stress a lot, don’t want to go to church, my health is really bad right now, I don’t want to see anyone, if I go some where it is all fake(smile, talk). I decided to keep everything to myself. Whatever I say is against me anyways( I just told some of it to my husband, since he’s really busy and I don’t want to bother him). Please, pray for me, my story is a lot longer. Sometimes, I have really bad thoughts. I really need God’s guidance. I am only 26 with 3 little kids that I have raise.

    • Wanda

      Dear Ann,
      You are 26 with three little kids that God has blessed you with. Chose to raise them! Regardless of your struggles and your situation you are all that they have. I can feel the pain in your message and I want you to know that you are not alone. You’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. People will talk. Businesses will fail, relationships can be relentlessly painful. People can be unforgiving and sometimes that has to be ok with you. God forgives you. He will carry you. Lay down your burden. I am 46 and i can tell you that the journey is not at all what I though it would be when I was your age. But God has never left me. Even in my darkest moments in the mental health unit in the hospital, God was with me. In the depths of crushing debt, God is with me. When our four boys give us a run for our money, God is with me. God is with you Ann. Hold on to His promises today.

    • tanya

      I am praying for you.

    • polli

      Ann….failure is not fatal nor is forgiveness. What others say about you is NOT important. Who you are is important and you are a child of GOD. He makes no mistakes!
      Pray it is the answer.

  • Wanda

    Thank you Lysa,
    Just before reading this I received a text message from a “friend” who I’ve not spoken to since September. Unfortunately, her words have become just and only that; WORDS. It has been a difficult time for her and for me but I am praying that some day both of us, with God’s help, will be able to sit together and talk things out without having to PROVE anything. I would like it if the two of us could just agree that sometimes only God knows for certain. It is difficult for me to know my place in the relationship with her. So many things have gone on in my life and in hers over the past several months that I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever find common ground again. God knows. And if she and I do not find that common ground then I’ll have to be ok with it and pray that the healing comes sooner rather than later.

  • Heidi

    Wonderful word and exactly what I’ve needed in my heart with the upcoming holidays. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sue

    Wow Lysa, you hit right at the heart of a family conflict with three of my family members that has been going on for a year now. Trying to prove that you are right can prove to be very hurtful in a relationship, and this is not only hurting the three people involved, but it has changed the whole family. You posed some very excellent questions above that I pray these three people will ask each other so that hopefully their relationships can be reconciled. Personally, I have not taken sides, even though I love them all dearly. I will continue to pray for the three of them knowing that God is in control of this situation.

  • Keri

    Wow! I needed to hear this today. Praise the Lord for working through you, Lysa! I need to ask myself if I am trying to “prove or improve.” As many above have stated, I am going through a growth opportunity presently. Thank you for your words and encouragement.

  • http://www.taytalk.com Taylee

    I am a “stuff it and boil” kind of girl. Not good, I know. Conflict makes my skin crawl, and the fear of ever saying the wrong thing in a horrid, rude kind of way is what keeps me from ever being able to deal with the issue right then. I will say that it has got better since I have realized the problem I create not only for myself but for the person I am boiling towards.

    We never have anything to prove, being broken people all the same it leaves us on the same playing field. Thank you for the post. Prove or improve. I like it!

  • Jessica

    I love this article. How often I’ve been in a place where it was more important to be right then to be reconciled? I just wonder what happens when you realize that what you thought was a relationship of mutual trust – is really just labels and obligation? What happens when you come to a place where you understand that what you have/had with someone is not a relationship it is just what you have always done (the same ole’ gang so to speak)? What happens when there is no relationship other than we are related?
    Is there anything worth “improving” when you step back and look at the whole dang thing? Can it be possible that sometimes the best place to be is one where we release each other and walk away? Can there be a point in relationships when the best thing to do is learning when and how to let go and let God deal? It’s not avoiding conflict or the messy – just understanding that a hardened heart unwilling to change how they treat you – is someone you are going to have hand completely over to God until He shows you something has changed.

    Some “relationships” cycle more filth then they do life. What do we do with those?

    • Hurtandsad

      So true! There are people in my life who seem to enjoy being hateful to me. They have intentionally tried to destroy my marriage…yes, they tell my husband he should leave me…and they falsely accuse me…yes, my husband agrees and knows the accusations are false…and they spread these false accusations to others. They have done this for years, and the last few years have been the worst. Over and over, I have tried to improve the relationship, and they will even deny that! My husband knows my hurt and frustration, and he also sees and hears me trying to do nice things for them. I love them, pray for them, and forgive them, but I no longer trust them. They claim to be Christians. How does a true Christian lie and try to divide a marriage?!

    • Leigh

      So true! There are people in my life who seem to enjoy being hateful to me. They have intentionally tried to destroy my marriage…yes, they tell my husband he should leave me…and they falsely accuse me…yes, my husband agrees and knows the accusations are false…and they spread these false accusations to others. They have done this for years, and the last few years have been the worst. Over and over, I have tried to improve the relationship, and they will even deny that! My husband knows my hurt and frustration, and he also sees and hears me trying to do nice things for them. I love them, pray for them, and forgive them, but I no longer trust them. They claim to be Christians. How does a true Christian lie and try to divide a marriage?!

  • http://bmetswife@wordpress.com Shauna

    Growth opportunities hurt. That would be why I usually avoid conflict–but it finds me anyway. I try to do things right, and it bites me. Really struggling with this right now…weary of feeling hurt and empty.

  • http://hamershappenings.blogspot.com Lisa

    I love this and it is amazing advice. Am I out to prove or improve…Perfect motto. I’m a confrontation avoider, so I guess in a way by not being out to prove I’m right, but avoid a conflict that could put a relationship in jeopardy, I have been following this wise counsel.

  • Ann

    Jessica thank you for bringing up those points. I had the same thought. Hopefully Lysa will address your question. Some relationships we have chosen to walk away from because the other people are irrational and emotionally unhealthy.

  • Kathi

    Lysa, Thank you for this. I really was searching for something along these lines during the pre-election season!!! My desire to be right reared it’s very big head. Wise words…”do I want to prove or improve the relationship?” I pray that God writes that into my heart for the next encounter!

  • http://www.athirstforGod.com Summer@a thirst for God

    Thank you Lysa, very appropriate for this Christmas. I didn’t know the general feeling of dread I was experiencing was totally this. I fear conflict…let’s just hope they become growth opportunities and don’t develop even further struggle.

  • Frustrated

    What if the issue at hand is part of a history of bad behavior? How can you address it to improve the relationship without bringing up the past.
    Fictional example: Your roommate regularly borrows your nice, expensive clothes without permission then ruins them while wearing with stains and tears, loses them and/or machine washes dry clean only items. This has been a point of contention since she doesn’t have the same respect for boundaries that you do. How can you address that behavior without saying that you have discussed this with her before and she’s done it again?
    I ask because I have a conflict born of patterns and have been told that I have been trying to be right, point fingers when all i am trying to do it solve the problem/stop the bad behavior once and for all.

  • http://www.nancyaruegg.com Nancy Ruegg

    Grace and humility in the midst of conflict are powerful attributes, sure to take the heat out of any argument. Just by remembering those two words as a conflict begins will surely help me follow your wise advice: 1) Pray for the Holy Spirit to become involved. 2) Ask questions that foster understanding. 3) Consider conflicts as growth opportunities. Thank you, Lysa, for this practical post.

  • Beth Williams

    Wise wise words Lysa. I love the term “growth opportunities”. I am going to do my best to improve the other person and myself with the help of Almighty God!

    I have a problem with first trying to avoid conflict, while getting upset about something. Then one day it comes out like “pent up steam”. PHEW! Then we end up in a huge conflict. Iam going to try and talk things out first. Explain my side of the situation and see if we can come to an agreement on the subject.

    Blessing Lysa!

  • laura

    “prove or improve?” This is going on my fridge….for ME!

  • ronni

    I have a friend that seems to enjoy a bit of conflict. She will push me until I get upset and have asked her to please stop while we are ahead. Usually over a bible difference. I believe it is best to stop before an it becomes to heavy and she likes to be very passionate about pushing the reason she believes what she believes like she expects me to change my mind. After this is over and I come to tears, our friendship gets damaged and I am now the sensitive one and I can’t be talked to about God things. Praying about this I have found it best to end the friendship. It hurts to do this since we both are christian adults. How do you deal with conflict with a person like this, or am I wrong? Any advise for me? God has seemed to close this door in friendship but my heart hurts for this situation.

  • Janice Green

    Our God is so awesome!!!!!!!!! Abba has been teaching us this major life lesson… The last year. Always seek him first, humor and humility and honoring each other. And words mean something!!!!! After all he spoke everything into existence.

  • Karen

    There was a conflict with of my some extended family. An in law decided that she needed to tell me how to parent my son – my 18 year old son! She wouldn’t hear anything else or discuss it, or to stay out of it or drop it. It was like she was going to cause trouble no matter what I said or did. She went as far to say that she didn’t care if this was ever resolved. This nonsense went on for quite a while until finally things came to a head and we’re now out of contact with each other. Sometime that’s the “conflict resolution”, by going separate ways, instead of just continuing the conflict, causing more stress and difficulties.

    • Karen

      correction – some of my extended family

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