Been to battle lately? Conflict can actually be good for you. Criticism separates people, but conflict stimulates people. If you ignore things, they build up and get worse. You might as well fight the battle before you have to go to war.
A little boy asked his dad, "How does a war start? "Which war?" replied his father. "The big war, how did it start?" "Well, it started when Germany invaded Belgium." His wife interrupted, "That isn't how the war started. It started when Germany invaded Poland." He argued, "That's not right, it was Belgium. I know my history." She said, "You don't know history. I'm the one who got you through college." He said, "You couldn't get me through anything, you've never been right about anything in your life." They continued to argue back and forth as the boy watched. Finally his father looked at his son and said, "What was your question again?" The little boy said, "Never mind, I know how wars start. They start small but they build up."
How do we learn to battle before we have a war? There are different strategies. The first is "My Way." This is the most popular. "I am right. Do you agree with me or are you wrong?" It's like the lady who prayed at breakfast, "Please make my husband be right today, because You know he will never change his mind." It is the attitude of someone who is always right and must always win. Generally that battle has a winner and loser.
People use intimidation instead of negotiation. Their strategy is based on how they won in the past. This method is extremely attractive to males. Men like sports in which the object is to seriously injure the opponent. When you've won, you tend to use the strategy over and over. Some women win by crying. If they don't win, then they cry and cry again. Some men will buy things. If they don't win, they'll buy and buy again. These are inappropriate and neurotic, but they work. People use whatever works for them.
When Penny and I were first married and had an argument, I would pretend I was a lawyer. I had exhibit A and exhibit B. Then I made one big point and looked at Penny and said, "The defense rests." She looked at me and asked, "Do you know what Capital Punishment is?" I might have won the battle but I was definitely headed for war.
Another strategy for solving conflict is "Your Way." At times it is appropriate to just give in to the other person. There are some things that are not as important to you as they are to your mate. When we moved to Texas I really wasn't that concerned with the style of house and what the kitchen would look like. The only thing I wanted was a "split bedroom" model. The master bed and bath were on one end, and the other bedrooms and bathrooms were on the other end. I knew I wanted my girls to be in their bathroom and not in mine. I didn't want to die of pantyhose strangulation. That's all I cared about and I could yield on everything else such as wallpaper, kitchen, and so forth. It just wasn't that important.
Sometimes that happens in a relationship. You yield but you have to yield with a positive attitude. Some people yield but they do so with gritted teeth. A lady said it was like living in a foreign mission field suffering for Jesus. "I give in. I give in. I'm a martyr." You don't need to be a martyr or a doormat. You don't need to be Edith from All in the Family who was the classic doormat. There is a scene from the show when a friend is talking to Edith. Her friend tells her, "Of all the people I know, you're the only one who has a happy marriage." Edith responds, "Really? Archie and me? Thank you." "What is your secret," her friend asks. Edith says, "Oh, I don't have a secret. Archie and me still have our fights, of course, we don't let them go on too long. Somebody always says 'I'm sorry,' and Archie always says, 'It's OK, Edith.'" That's a doormat, and God put you together so that you can become more together than you were apart. So, at times, you'll need to speak up. At other times, give up when it's not as important to you.
Another way to solve conflict is "Half Way." This is the way most people try to deal with conflict. I give a little, you give a little, and we compromise. Many times you have a quicker solution this way, but, unfortunately, it is one that nobody likes.
Which brings us to the last strategy of handling conflict - the "Best Way." Make a "we" decision. Decide that together you can make a better decision than you can apart. That means Penny and I decide that we're going to pray about it and talk about it until we both feel that is what we ought to do. It may take a little longer but it is the smartest thing to do. I'll tell you what, if I had included Penny in all of my decisions, I would have a better life than I have now. God put people together so that you would have another way of looking at things. The "we" decision becomes a good decision and a God decision because you're getting input from both. Some men don't profit from this because of ego and pride and they don't include their wives. I ran across a bumper sticker that illustrated this: "If at first you don't succeed, do it the way your wife told you to."
One soldier told Abe Lincoln during the war, "We need to pray that God would be on our side." Lincoln said, "We better pray that we're on God's side." God doesn't change sides. So if you're in a duel and you'd like it to be a duet, consider making it a trio. Get on God's side and discover that God's way is the best way.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Baptist Church, Albuquerque, N.M.