Category Archives: conflict

Fear or Pride?


There are times when I am sitting in front of a couple, locked in a power struggle, emotionally stuck, and obviously in pain. And I try to understand what is holding them back – fear or pride. In this context I would define fear as not wanting to make a mistake, and pride as not wanting to surrender and do the right thing. Sometimes I think I am confronted with one of each – pride in one person, vs. fear in the other.

Fear and pride holds us back from taking a reasonable risk, even when it might accomplish the relational goals that God would ask of us.

Consider these inner dialogs that you might have had.

“What if I ‘turn the other cheek’ and he does the same thing again?”

“What if I offer an apology and she rejects it and won’t forgive?”

“What if I admit my part of a conflict and it is used against me?”

It is obvious that pride is a sin against God. What about fear? We are told to fear (God – be in awe of Him), and we are told not to fear (to be courageous). I guess you could say the context of fear has everything to do with how you answer that question. It would seem that God would want us to take some bold stands, and not to do so would be considered sinful.

I would offer that both pride and fear are understandable. They both share the risk of losing something – a part of self. It is very hard to move in the direction of loss – it is counterintuitive. But sometimes solutions can only be found when we move against our feelings.

What Nan and I recommend to break a relational stalemate is for each person to make a small step towards the other person – called a repair attempt. When we encounter a repair attempt from another person we must acknowledge and accept it as genuine – and not criticize it or minimize it (too little, too late). It is difficult to do when we are emotionally on high alert, but if we can remember to keep the big picture in mind it makes self-soothing and calming ourselves easier.

I believe our personality and temperament may determine which side of the line we are likely to fall on. Probably anxious people will drift toward the fearful side and stubborn people towards the prideful region. Either area is dangerous in a relationship, because it prevents God from doing a healing or even miraculous work in our lives.

I know that Nan and I have experienced both pride and fear when dealing with each other. Over the years we have probably traded positions depending on the season or the situation. It still shows up time to time. What makes “now” different from “then” is the amount of time we are willing to invest in a power struggle. Age can have its advantages.

The Gift of Silence (8/30/2014)


Somewhere in the first half of our marriage Nan and I took a vacation break and drove up the coast of California for a weekend getaway. You might call it a sanity break. Los Angeles is noisy and busy most of the time. It was on this road trip that I became aware of something for the first time. There was an undeniable intimacy between the two of us. How did I come to this conclusion? We had just spent 2 hours driving in the car without talking. And we weren’t mad at each other, just content with being together.

We did not need constant conversation to reassure ourselves that everything was OK. 

As I sit here by myself on another sanity break, I am up before anyone else, watching the sunrise. I am listening for God’s voice. I realize that the world is never silent. I can hear a cacophony of birds, the crash of waves, the rustling of trees. But this is as silent as the world gets without locking myself in a soundproof studio.

Why is silence a gift?

It’s a gift because it is so rare.  If you have kids you really know what I’m talking about. Kids are not silent except when they are sleeping (or maybe mad). My workplace is never silent and I’ll bet yours isn’t either. But in silence I can really tune in to my thought life, my inner conversation, in a way that I can’t when the world around me is too noisy. Only in silence can I really hear.

I want this for Nan, not just for me. I need her to hear from God, to sort out her thoughts in order to make good decisions for us. She can’t do that effectively in a constantly noisy environment. That is one of the reasons we gave up television a number of years back. It was hard for us to control its pull on us, so we got rid of it. (OK, we have Netflix)

Silence in counseling is powerful. I ask a question and wait – and wait – and wait some more. It feels awkward for the untrained, but for a seasoned counselor it is an important tool. It allows a client to search deeper and more comprehensively. I compare it to a search on my computer’s hard drive – sometimes it takes a while to come up with the information I am seeking.

Does your anxiety or insecurity keep you talking? Is this a habit that needs to be broken or are you already good at this? Being a good listener requires the ability to endure silence.

If this is a struggle for you, try this exercise with someone you care about. Agree to be together in silence for a period of time. You choose the amount of time – 10 minutes, a half hour, whatever. Be aware of how you are feeling, and then discuss it with the other person. Ask the person how it was for them.

Silence is powerful when it is not used to punish, or avoid or shut out another person, but rather to offer a precious gift.

One Big Obstacle to Counseling Success

It was another really hard session – tempers were up and hope was down. Nan and I had tried for months to get this couple on track. They were both devout Christians and really good willed people. It seemed like every positive move was sabotaged by another destructive one. Although we had our suspicions, we couldn’t definitively pinpoint the problem person in the relationship. Was one spouse just too passive or was the other too aggressive? Did we have a well concealed addict and a co-dependent unwilling to speak up?
As it turned out, it was neither. We had an undiagnosed disorder that was unpredictable. You might think figuring this out would be a big victory, but it wasn’t at first. Now we had the task of convincing both spouses that it needed treatment beyond talk – to us and God. It required medication for any real change to take place. But there was resistance. Why? It was a twofold problem. The couple came from a religious tradition that believed that taking medication meant that one lacked faith in God’s power to heal. And the second reason was that to seek a medical solution meant having to humble oneself and admit that they were the problem or at least a large part of it and not their spouse.
What finally happened?  As I said earlier, these people were good willed people who were truly committed to following Christ. Humility paved the way to surrender, and we were able to get them to make an appointment with a psychiatrist, who accurately treated the disorder. After that we were able to make real progress in counseling. Grace reigned as they dealt with issues of resentments and the subsequent forgiveness. Yes, both people did have a part in the problem, but the disorder prevented them from making progress. Instead they got stuck in an endless cycle of blame and defend. The medication changed the entire atmosphere of the counseling sessions. They got unstuck.
What ultimately is needed in these situations?  
  • Humility – a willingness to investigate the possibility that you might need additional medical help. Sometimes it is not a belief that holds a person back, but just plain stubbornness (sin). We have actually identified the problem, understand that the most effective solution would be medication, but the person wants other people to accommodate their dysfunctional behaviors rather than have to take a step that feels distasteful to them. 
  • Kindness – anger will never move a couple or individual forward.  
  • Courage – it is difficult to move beyond our fears and closely held beliefs.  
  • Embracing Grief – It may require embracing the loss that comes with surrender. What loss? The feeling of loss of control or power, the loss of my belief that I am right and you are wrong or something else similar

2 Cautions  

Medication alone is not sufficient to deal with the problem — it takes a combination of medication and counseling to deal effectively with the issue. The second caution is never go off the medication without a doctor’s approval. There is a tendency to start feeling much better after a while and then believe that everything is great. You are feeling better because you are taking the medication. Listen to the doctor’s instructions carefully and follow his/her advice.
I really love this talk from Pastor Tommy Nelson on his fight with depression. He embodies the things I have been talking about.
 Click the link and enjoy! 

Proverbs 15:22 (ESV) Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.