This piece is for everyone who wants to work out a covenant. The covenant relationships most common to us are the ones we keep in our marriages and the one we have with each other as the people of God gathered face to face as the church. [Listen to the pastors’ latest video].
A covenant is not the same as the more-familiar contract. A contract is an agreement the partners maintain as long as expectations are met and justice is done. A covenant like God makes is an expression of character – a character devoted to realizing self-giving love and mutuality — true love is more about the character of the lover than the characteristics of the beloved. A covenant is made by partners who promise to give love and commitment without an end in mind for themselves – their goal is keeping a reconciling, growing relationship alive and, if they follow Jesus, breeding love.
A covenant is refined and comes to fullness when it endures conflict. It needs conflict like certain pine forests need fire to rejuvenate. Just like God’s covenant with us in Jesus goes through death to life, our covenants of love with God and others also endure that kind of suffering to become what they can be. So conflict between covenant partners is part of the love. Having healthy conflict is part of the covenant.
- Conflict is normal: it is a natural, inevitable reality – especially because the world is subject to sin and death.
- Conflict is nightmarish: it is scary and often mismanaged in painful, abusive and/or destructive ways.
- Conflict is necessary: it is what God goes through with us; it is needed for producing growth.
12 basics for covenant keeping when there is conflict (as there will be!)
These basic statements are not for judging whether a covenant partner is living up to their part of the relationship. I list them for self-reflection by people who want to master self-giving love by enduring conflict with the goal of enjoying and providing the blessings of covenant in Christ. They are a list of ideals – some we may be good at expressing already and some may show up our deficiencies. If we can learn them, we will be well on the way to showing up for the benefit of our partners, like God shows up for us in Jesus.
So, here’s what you do when you are in covenant (like in marriage or the church) and there is conflict…
- Prepare the setting, if possible, and plan for constructive confrontation.
Avoid distractions, interruptions, or non-private discussions; being overly tired/stressed; or being emotionally reactive (Proverbs 16:1-3).
2. Take responsibility and take initiative to directly address the issue.
Avoid running from the problem, using the “silent treatment,” waiting for the other person to make the first move, or allowing problems to accumulate (Matthew 5:23-4)
- Attack the problem, not the person, and propose viable options or solutions.
Avoid judging or criticizing the other person and/or their personality, appearance, family of origin, etc., name-calling, power messages or manipulative actions, or attempting to change or “fix” them (Proverbs 15:1-2)
- Stay on the subject; focus specifically and concretely on the facts, actions, feelings and events.
Avoid sweeping generalizations, using the “everything and the kitchen sink” attack, bringing up the past, comparisons with others, or irrelevant issues (Proverbs 17:14)
- Take responsibility for your part of the conflict and humbly admit when you are wrong.
Avoid being proud, stubborn and arrogant by blaming the other person for your feelings or actions, or denying your humanness and blind spots (Philippians 2:3-5)
- Practice active listening and effective communication skills; use self-disclosing “I” language.
Avoid accusatory “you” statements, exaggeration, and extreme language (e.g.: “never, always, all, everyone” etc) or interrupting (Ephesians 4:29).
- Be calmly assertive; state your needs, wants, hurts, disappointments and feelings clearly.
Avoid pouting, nagging and complaining: putting words in others person’s mouths, or expecting them to read your mind (Matthew 12:34-37)
- Show honor, consider how you speak, be truthful, and practice courtesy
Avoid lying to protect yourself or someone else. Put all of the following on your “forbidden” list: name-calling and sarcasm, belittling or degrading the other person, and abusive, intimidating, forceful or violent behavior of any kind (Proverbs 15:4).
- Be considerate; appreciate and understand the other’s needs, feelings, interests and differences.
Avoid the idea that you need to think or feel the same way as the other person. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to deny differences in taste, upbringing, viewpoint, customs or coping mechanisms in order to resolve your conflict (Romans 14:19-15:4).
- Be willing to forgive an offense in order to cultivate the other’s growth, healing and well being.
Forgive can be functionally defined as “giving up our ‘right’ to hurt back.” Avoid becoming resentful, bitter, punitive, alienated and controlled by vengeful fantasies and actions (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).
- Strive for mutual understanding and a “win-win” outcome; develop an “us-we-ours” view of the situation.
Avoid trying to change the other person. Let go of the need to get your own way or to “win” the argument. Stay away from a self-centered “me-my-mine” attitude (Romans 15:7).
- Agree to agree. For the moment, you may need to agree to disagree — if there are unresolved issues, arrange to discuss them later. If necessary, get outside help from an unbiased, neutral, objective mediator or arbitrator. But keep the covenant goal in mind.
Avoid the temptation to withdraw from the situation and let the conflict go unresolved, as far as it is up to you. At the same time, don’t pull in biased family members or friends to support you. When arguments escalate or become too intense, suggest calling a brief time-out to allow flaring tempers to cool (Proverbs 15:22, Matthew 18:15-17).
This is primarily taken from a seminar by Jared Pingleton which he has published elsewhere. It is not reproduced, in total, or quoted for profit.