What if talking it out doesn’t work?

April 13th, 2010 · by Tom Stuart · Communication, Relationships

In my previous posts “When in doubt talk it out” and “5 times when you better talk it out” I initiated some conversation about resolving relationship conflict.  Unfortunately that is not all that can be said about the topic.  What is a person to do when that does not work?  Several who read the blog have raised that question with me privately.  And the reality is, from personal experience, some attempts at reconciliation do fail in some measure.

How you proceed from there basically depends on two things, the condition of your heart and the condition of the heart of the person with whom you are seeking to resolve the conflict.  Success or failure essentially boils down to attitude; your and their willingness and capacity to pursue reconciliation.   

Paul makes it clear in Romans 12:18 that we are to do all that we can to live in peace with everyone. The problem is that not everyone seems to want peace as sincerely as we do and there are types of people with whom making peace is very difficult.  Thankfully the Bible has some clear things to say about how we should proceed in such a situation and about dealing with these challenging types of people.

First, given that you have a right attitude of heart and are seeking reconciliation with forgiveness and humility, here are four steps to take when the first attempt does not work.

1. Make another one-on-one attempt.  Pray about a better way to do it, better timing, and most importantly the preparation of the heart – both theirs and yours.  Even a worse case scenario is worthy of a second try.  Paul encourages Titus regarding his dealing with a divisive person, to at least talk to them twice before finally having nothing to do with them. (Titus 3:9-11)

2.  Enlist the help of another person to go with you in talking it out.  Sometimes no matter how hard we try, seeking to iron out relationship difficulties one on one just does not work.  Many factors can be involved in one or both of you that leads to miscommunication, 

That is why the Bible encourages us in Matthew 18:15-16 to involve at least one other person who can bring perspective and hopefully serve in a peacekeeping role.  Insure that the person you select is someone who will likely be respected and received by the person you are trying to reach.  Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers” and that should be your prayer.

3.  For the time being, learn to live with it as it is.  Sometimes, because of the nature of the relationship, the type of person you are dealing with and/or the depth of the rift between you, full reconciliation is just not workable.  After several failed attempts, you might consider coming to peace about it and simply letting it be.  This is not defeat, it is just reality. 

This is a choice to suffer long and to bear the fruit of the Spirit with a forgiving heart.  When you’ve done all you can do to live at peace with someone, and they are not cooperating, then love must prevail.  That means being patient and kind.  It means not demanding your own way, nor being irritable or keeping a record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)  Ultimately it means praying and trusting God that somehow, someday, that thorny relationship will get ironed out.  In the meantime, as Proverbs says iron is sharpening iron and ultimately you will be a better person for it.

4.  Finally you may have to distance yourself from them.  There are some relationships that are injurious and toxic to ones emotional, spiritual and even physical health. The Bible makes it clear that in such cases it is imperative to avoid having contact with them and literally stay away from them.  All further attempts at reconciliation with them will be futile and a waste of time.  It doesn’t mean you don’t cease to pray for them, bless them and maintain a forgiving attitude toward them.  After all Jesus made it clear that is how we are to treat even our enemies.  But is does mean that you need to distance yourself from them.

In my next blog I will look at several types of people who make reconciliation nigh unto impossible.  Don’t get me wrong, all things are possible with God.  But these are situations where we definitely need to ask Him for a miracle.

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No Responses to “What if talking it out doesn’t work?”

  1. Pastor Tom….Dave and I have been reading your posts and following this “conversation” 🙂 in particular. Thank you for sharing your insights and for sharing the Biblical wisdom. We have taken so much from this! Relationships are tough–even within the body of believers–and it’s good to have some guidance in the ways to pursue peace.

  2. Thanks for the comments Sarah. Being in the church certainly does not exempt us from relationship conflict. In fact that is the best place to have them because it is God’s workshop for learning how to resolve them. It’s been said that “we are supposed to love our enemies and if you stay in a church long enough you’ll have some.”

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