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How do we keep our relationships intact when our individual needs collide?

One of the greatest weaknesses within the body of Christ is our paranoia when it comes to handling conflict. Regardless of how many scripture verses we learn about addressing it, we still treat it like the plague.

Why don't we deal with discord truthfully and without fear? Jesus taught us "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9, NKJV), but we seem to have translated His words this way: "Blessed are the doormats." However, the truth is, peacemakers clearly practice the skill of negotiation during conflict.

For most of our married life, even though my husband and I were home-group leaders and active in the church, we had no idea how to constructively address conflict. Outside the home we worked hard to create the illusion that we were happy and carefree. But behind closed doors we were miserable.

My husband, Jim, had his way to deal with offenses: He perfected the art of intimidation. To keep me from penetrating his own deep sorrows, Jim withheld approval and affection. When my husband's behavior alternated between cold silences and outbursts of anger, I held my tongue.

Although my lips might not have expressed my pain over Jim's behavior, my heart grew weary under the weight of unresolved conflict. Instead of following the instructions of Matthew 18:15 and speaking openly to Jim after each series of offenses, I'd think, How peaceful life would be if he were simply gone.

Some days, my dread of him was so complete I secretly hoped that he would have a fatal accident coming home from work during one of our wild Pennsylvania snowstorms. No more walking on eggshells and complying out of fear! But at the end of the day, his car always pulled into the driveway, and I returned to my agonizing role as the people-pleaser--hoping to win his kindness.

We were locked in a solitary world of fear where no one would tell the truth. As a result, reality was never discussed. Although we knew that God wanted something better for us, we felt powerless to change. The hopelessness of our situation loomed large, and we were ready to call it quits.

But God had a different plan in the works.

TRUE GRACE If the truth be told, many of us don't believe that God loves us unconditionally. Since the day of our salvation we have been collecting and harboring a secret list of behavioral law we feel we must obey to gain His approval.

We struggle to be worthy but never feel secure, never certain we have the validity to act on God's Word and expect the promised results. Since it takes confidence and a strong sense of our personal value to God to address conflict, we are unable to bring true healing into tense situations. Instead, we use fleshly behaviors to cope:

**Murder (imagining our "adversaries" dead, wishing something awful would happen to them to take them out of our lives)

**Compensation and compliance (turning ourselves inside out trying to please and bring peace)

**Intimidation (alternating between the silent treatment and outbursts of anger)

**Avoidance or denial (pretending everything is all right, tiptoeing around the problems, purposely staying away from the person, living in emotional isolation)

**Character assassination (disclosing our adversaries' faults, often in an exaggerated way, to others; attempting to build our own credibility by destroying theirs).

It wasn't until Jim and I met with a team of counselors trained in inner healing that we learned how to grab hold of grace and resolve the conflict in our lives. Amazingly, when I finally acknowledged my own unfulfilled needs, gave up my self-righteous compliance and told Jim that I would no longer take responsibility for his anger, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.

He showed me the truth: The sins of my heart were as hellish as the sins of my husband's temper. I had to embrace His grace for my own inadequacies and sins.

Jim encountered the true target of his anger: God. As he began to forgive his parents, other authority figures, himself and ultimately God for allowing his pain, the love of God penetrated his heart and changed it forever. Met with forgiveness, truth was no longer a thing to fear.

Jim needed God's grace, too.

How we learn to deal with conflict as children affects how we respond to one another as adults--in our homes, at church or in the workplace. Although I loved God deeply, I was always unsure of His approval. I knew I wasn't perfect, so I lacked confidence when it came to addressing unfairness or sin against me. Perhaps I believed I deserved it.

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