The Benefits of Resolving Conflict
About the Guest
All healthy relationships experience conflict. Marriages and friendships all have to navigate personal differences. Ann Wilson explains how to know whether to overlook a conflict or to address it.
Ann WilsonAnn Wilson and her husband Dave are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Mother to three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody and wife to one, occasionally grown-up husband, Dave, Ann balances a home life and professional ministry career building both on the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ. Frequently speaking at Kensington Church, a 6-campus church that welcomes more than 14,000 visitors every weekend, and touring across the country at m...more
All healthy relationships experience conflict. Marriages and friendships all have to navigate personal differences. Ann Wilson explains how to know whether to overlook a conflict or to address it.
The Benefits of Resolving Conflict
Michelle: Many of us tend to shy away from conflict in hard discussions—or well, maybe, that's just me—but Ann Wilson says that there's a positive reason for taking care of disagreements.
Ann: Every time I have a conflict with a friend—maybe it's with my kids or a co- worker—my attitude is this: “If we can get through this, we're going to be better; we're going to be deeper; we're going to be closer than we ever have been; because you get on the other side of it, you feel like, ‘Well, I know you better, and I know that you've forgiven me,’—or maybe, I've forgiven you—‘but man, we're closer now.’”
Michelle: We're going to talk with Ann Wilson about the benefits of resolving conflict—big and small—on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. There's a song that has been playing around in my mind, and I started doing some research on it. I found who all has sung this song: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and many, many more.
Before I share what the song is about, I want to introduce our guest today. Ann Wilson is sitting across the table from me. Welcome, Ann; I'm so excited to have you here.
Ann: Thanks, Michelle. Now, I'm like sitting on the edge of my seat, like, “What is the song?” [Laughter]
Michelle: I just want to quickly introduce you to our listeners—
Michelle: —in case they don't know who you are. You and your husband Dave are speakers at our Weekend to Remember®. You've been a part of The Art of Parenting and the Art of Marriage. Now, I've just heard the slight rumor that you are taking over the airwaves a little bit, here, at FamilyLife®?
Ann: Oh, gosh! Doesn't that sound intimidating? [Laughter] I don't know if we're taking over anything; but we're going to be a part of that, yes.
Michelle: Ann and Dave Wilson are hosts, along with Bob Lepine, of FamilyLife Today®. We are excited to be rolling that out. In fact, if you were listening to FamilyLife Today this week, you heard Ann and Dave talk about their story and, also, Dennis Rainey handing over the reins to you guys.
Ann: I know, and it's a big deal for Dave and I. We’re very humbled by it. Who can replace Dennis Rainey?
Ann: No one! Dennis and Barbara are heroes of ours. They've mentored us; we've looked up to them. Honestly, for us, it was the first marriage that we looked at and we thought, “We want a marriage like that.”
Ann: Because it's centered on Jesus.
Ann: And we'd never seen that before, growing up; because we didn't grow up in homes that were really Christ-following homes.
Michelle: I want to make mention that Dave is one of the co-founders and pastors at Kensington Church in Detroit. It's just a tiny, little church; right?—of like fourteen thousand people or such. [Laughter]
Ann: —which is crazy, because we started out with forty of us;—
Michelle: Oh, wow!
Ann: —and most of those were our children. [Laughter] So this is a God-thing that has grown that church—it’s not us—believe me.
Michelle: That's really cool.
Okay, so I’ve got to get back to the song that Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney, and Billie Holiday, and all of these greats—Fred Astaire—that they helped to bring to the forefront and make popular. It's a song that talks about disagreements. It's/do you remember one of those songs?
Ann: Come on, give me like a hint. What—
Michelle: How about: “I say potato; you say potato [emphasis on syllables change].”
Ann: Oh, yes.
Michelle: “I say tomato; you say tomato [emphasis on syllables change].”
Ann: —“tomato,” yes.
Michelle: “Let's call the whole thing off!”
And it seems to me that we are in a day and time, where it is easy to just call the whole thing off over just such a—what we would say—a petty argument or petty differences. That's what I really want to talk to you today about is conflict, because I’ve heard that—
Ann: —because I'm good at it?
Michelle: —you know how to do conflict! [Laughter]
Ann: I have conflict; I don't know if I'm good at doing it. We do have quite a bit of conflict in our lives as people.
Michelle: Right; we do. I know that you and Dave talk a lot with young couples—and also older couples—and really coach them through conflict. Conflict resolution skills are such an important skill, not only in marriage, but in life in general.
Today, I really wanted to sort of talk about singles and conflict, because—as I was listening to the FamilyLife Today programs that you and Dave were on this week—I kept thinking, “Singles need these skills too.” So, as we just jump into this, can you explain conflict to us? What is conflict?
Ann: I think it—I don't know if it's easy to explain—but we've all lived it. It's when you have that/that passion: “This is what you believe,” “This is what you think.” And when somebody doesn't agree with you, how do you deal with that?—
Ann: —you know—and if they want to go in a totally different direction. Every single person has faced that from the time they're tiny.
But for us, I think this has been so important; because we were so bad at it. I'm one of those people that's like, “Let's deal with this!” And others are like, “I really don't want to deal with it,”—I was married to that person. And I see that in kids; I see that in some of my friends that are single/married—it doesn't even matter what phase of life you're in—we all face conflict.
Michelle: Well, what I see is—I am the adult I am today from the home that raised me.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Michelle: And in our household, I had a father who was not afraid of conflict. He’s an attorney, so he's not afraid of conflict at all [Laughter]; but my mom was a little bit afraid of conflict. I noticed what that did and how that built me, and I don't like conflict!
Ann: Oh, I was going to ask: “Who are you?”
Michelle: I would rather run from it. I avoid it—and I keep going—“I'll just pray about it,” “I'll just pray about it.”
Ann: What does that mean?—like you'll just pray about it.
Michelle: God is going to work in my heart and in that other person's heart, and we can just not ever have to talk about it.
Ann: Oh, wouldn't that be awesome? [Laughter] Wouldn’t that be nice?
For me, I'm a winner. I was raised in a home where we would just talk about it; we would fight about it. We would verbally put it all on the table—and there was a security in that we loved each other, and it was okay to voice what you felt—you would be loved no matter what. So I thought, “This is the perfect way to do it.”
But the bad part of a winner is you will bring in all of your evidence, and you will prove that you were right—probably your dad could have done this—I don't think ours was as sophisticated as what a lawyer would do, because we could be mean.
Ann: And the bad thing that a winner can do is they can be verbally cruel—not always; I wasn't that—but a winner will do anything they need to win the battle/to win the argument. They will say anything and bring in evidence to prove they're right; that's a winner's mentality.
I had that with Dave—I don't think I was cruel—but I was like, “Let's talk about this!” And my tone would get big, and I would get fierce. I think that scared my husband to death because he grew up in a home, where there was alcohol; there was abuse. When voices would start escalating, then abuse would come into the picture. So Dave saw any kind of conflict as bad, and he would run out of the room and hide with his sister.
Michelle: So what would he be? You're a “winner”; so what's he called?
Ann: Yes, Dave would be a withdrawer.
Ann: So he withdraws from the situation. Someone that withdraws can withdraw physically, but they can also withdraw emotionally and just shut down. We would be in this argument; and I'm like, “Okay; alright! Here we go!”
Ann: And he would just—boom—shut down, which made me even more mad—so I am like getting up with him, walking out of the room with him. [Laughter]
Michelle: I think I've heard you guys talk about this! [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, my gosh, Michelle! I would say things to him like, “Come back and fight like a man, you chicken!”—[Laughter]—and now, he's running. [Laughter] That was not a good way to approach that. So that's one: you've got the winner; you've got the withdrawer.
Then you have one that's called the yielder. That person will just yield for the sake of the relationship, meaning they may not agree with what's happening, but they'll yield; because they'll think, “It's not that big of a deal. I may not agree with them, but I'm just going to yield for the sake of the relationship.”
And the last one is the resolver. They'll just do what it takes to sit down and resolve the conflict, no matter what. I wish I could say that that would be the way we would always approach it, but it's not. And I think, sometimes, we have to bring a third party in when we can't resolve things.
Michelle: Now, the resolver: is that the type of style that we all need to be?
Ann: Yes, I think. I don't know if it's a style as much as a resolution, of like, “This is who we're going to become: we're going to become people of peace, who will pursue resolution no matter what.”
Now, can that happen in every single relationship? I'm not sure that it can, because you have to have two people that are willing to go there.
We need take a break; but I want to continue this conversation, and I want to talk some practicalities. We'll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill, and I'm in the studio with Ann Wilson. Thank you so much, again, for joining me and helping to clarify some things on conflict; because I always have conflict with Keith Lynch.
Michelle: I always have conflict with my boss and co-worker.
Ann: Is he a really hard person to deal with?
Michelle: [Whispering] He really is. [Laughter] So you're helping me understand how to work with my co-worker.
Ann: I like it!
Michelle: So I thank you.
Ann: You’re welcome.
Michelle: Before the break, we talked about the different styles of conflict—of those who are winners—you are a winner; your husband Dave is a withdrawer.
Michelle: I'm a yielder. I want to win!—like bring out a board game, and I am as competitive as you get—[Laughter]—but when I have to really sit down and talk about relationships, that's when I'm going to yield to make peace.
Michelle: I'm going to stuff it.
Ann: Well, I think that's the difference. A yielder is a good thing—unless you stuff it—and it just kind of—
Ann: Here's when you know you stuff it—later, it will boil over—but if I can yield and let it go, that's a good resolution to the conflict.
Ann: However, if I yield—but it continues to come back up over and over—I need to talk about it. That's when it gets hard; right?
Michelle: Is it ever too long/have I ever waited too long before I need to bring it back up?
Ann: I think, if it comes back up and it has continued, I think you go back to that person and say, “You know, I thought I could let this go, but it continues to come back up,” and resolve it.
Michelle: Yes. That brings us to the last type—and that's the resolver—and that's where we all want to be; don’t we?—right?
Michelle: Ah, but that takes work to get there!
Ann: It does take work, but it's so worth it; I think that's the thing. Every time I have a conflict with a friend—every time—maybe it's with my kids, or with Dave, or a co-worker—my attitude is this: “If we can get through this, we're going to be better; we're going to be deeper; we're going to be closer than we ever have been”; because isn't that true about a relationship?
Michelle: That’s true.
Ann: If you go through something together, and you get on the other side of it, you feel like: “Well, I know you better; I know what makes you tick,” and “I know that you've forgiven me”—or maybe [you’ve] hurt [me], and I've forgiven you—but man, we're closer now.” I think that's always my perspective in looking at the future; because it's kind of like, “Am I ready to go through this?!”
Michelle: Right; and well, then comes the trust.
Michelle: And almost—there's this extra layer of bonding that happens—where you're bonded to that person.
Ann: Yes; right. I think we guard our hearts; you know? Especially, if you’ve been hurt in the past, we tend to guard our hearts and not want to go there with a person; because we're afraid of how they'll handle our hearts.
Ann: That's true in every relationship when we've been hurt. This is going to sound so crazy, but I remember teaching this Bible study with the Detroit Lions’ wives. You know, in a lot of relationships, there's trust broken. There are hearts that have been hardened. There are a lot of hurts in all kinds of relationships. There are girlfriends and wives [of football players] in the room.
I actually brought out a heart; I got one—this is so gross!—I got one from the store.
Michelle: —like a real one?
Ann: Not a real person's heart, but it was like a chicken heart/a turkey heart. Have you ever seen those?—you know, when—this is so weird. [Laughter]
Ann: I put it on the table; and I said, “When your heart has been hurt, what do you want to do?” Then I took this little cagey thing, and I put it around. I said, “You want to cage your heart. You want to protect it; you want to guard it from being wounded again.” And I said, “I think we all—that's just a natural tendency that we do to protect ourselves—it’s called self-protection. The sad thing is that people no longer get your heart.”
I said, “Wouldn't it be cool if we could put that heart in Jesus’ hand, and we ask Him to protect it? We say, ‘Jesus, I give You my heart first; and I'm going to be safe with my heart in Your hands, but I'm going to always keep it there. Then I'm going to give it to people, knowing that I'm going to give it; but it's always in Your hand first, because You're the protector of my soul. You're the One who loves me. You're the One that sees me. You're the One that's cheering for me: “Go there; go there in this relationship.”’”
Michelle: —which is just a great reminder—because, for me, when I enter conflict, I am scared to death of either being hurt again or of losing parts of that relationship that I'm in conflict with. If I walk in, going, “But Jesus, You're holding me; You are holding my heart. I need to trust in You for parts of that conversation or for all of that conversation.”
Ann: I think a great step would be for people to think, “Why am I so scared? What happened in the past?” Because I honestly think we all carry baggage from our past into the present, especially in conflict. “What has happened in the past that's making you so fearful of the present-day situation?”
Then the next question is: “Have I dealt with that past hurt and pain?” You know, “Have I offered Jesus my heart? Have I forgiven that person? Have I walked through that, and am I free from it?”
I think, so often, we're carrying this ball and chain of hurt from the past. Jesus says, “I want to set the captive free!” He's talking about our soul and our spirit; but I think, emotionally, He wants to set us free so that we're the people that He created to be; free in relationships too.
Michelle: Yes, so that we are truly living.
Ann: Yes! Yes.
Michelle: So we are whole.
Ann: Yes, and we're not fearful.
Ann: Now, I'm going to say, of course, we need to put boundaries in our lives for people that aren't healthy or people that continually hurt us. We're going to keep them a little more at a distance, but we're going to still love them. We're just going to make sure that there are parts of us/that they're not going to get all of us.
Michelle: Right. Okay, I want to get a little bit practical now. Help us understand how we enter some of those conversations. Like my cube-mate loves tomato soup, and boils the tomato soup in the microwave every day at noon; and it's driving me insane!
Ann: Are you saying that it splatters all over the microwave?
Michelle: No, the smell! [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, so you're wondering, “Do I let that go?” or “Do I talk about it?” “Do I yield it?”—right?
Michelle: Right, exactly!—for the sake of the relationship.
Michelle: I mean, we can go on and on—you know, friends who like to fix problems or something—how do you enter those conversations when, in some ways, it feels like it might be a petty thing; but it is something that is sort of weighing on you.
Ann: Yes; I think the question is: “Does it continue to bother you?” And so, if it's like five days in row, the tomato soup smell is just like, “I can hardly do this! I might need to move! [Laughter] You know, then you think—here's one of the things I would do—go to God first, and talk to God about it first: “God, should I bring this up?”—and then, I think the next thing is: “How do we bring it up?”
Michelle: Exactly! How?
Ann: Right; you don't bring it up in an accusatory tone. If we come at it like: “You are driving me crazy!”—[Laughter]—you know, it's just like we put people on the defense so quickly.
Ann: This is where I think there are just simple, practical tools: when you bring it up in a loving way, and you start it with, “I'm feeling…” These are just simple things that a counselor will teach us, but there are tools that we don't have in our pockets. So that could be the first one: “This is what I'm feeling lately…”—that's what I mean.
I would bring it up like: “This is going to sound like the dumbest thing to you, and it probably is dumb—but that smell of the tomato soup—I'm feeling sick. I don't want to bring it up, because it seems so petty—I'm sorry for that—but this is what I'm feeling.” Then you can ask the question, “Do you think that's so dumb?”—which, now, [they’re] like, “Oh, gosh!”; you know?
Ann: I think you bring it up before it becomes so big.
Dave and I were in a situation, where I had asked him a simple little thing: “Hey, hon, I'm going to do this speaking engagement in a month; and the headlight’s out in the car. I'm wondering if you could fix it before I go on this trip? It's a five-hour drive.” He said, “Absolutely! I'm going to fix that for you.” Days keep going by, and Dave hasn't fixed the light. So every day—not every day, but once week—I would say, “Hey, don't forget about the headlight/to fix that headlight.”
Well, it's the day before I am leaving. In the meantime, Michelle, I am doing all these things to get ready for this trip for him—[Laughter]—like I'm making all these meals; I'm getting things ready; I'm doing all this stuff—we had kids that were little at the time. I'm making all these special notes for him, [with] Scripture. Then I say, “Hey, I'm leaving tomorrow, and you haven't fixed the headlight.” I'm trying to be really nice—right?—you know, the way I'm saying it and all that stuff.
He pulls into the driveway—and I have my suitcase in the driveway—this is the day of. He had promised me that he was going to fix it on the way home from meetings. He gets in the driveway, and I put my bag in and give him a kiss. I'm like, “Hey, you fixed the headlight; right?” He goes, “Oh, Ann! I totally forgot.” And I looked at him, like, “Are you kidding me?!—like seriously?” [Laughter]
Because what does this say to me, as a woman?—like, “I don't care about you”; you know?—and so I am so hot! I get in the car, and I can see him. He's chasing me down the street. He's yelling, “Ann! Wait, wait, wait! I'm going to follow you to Kmart®! I'm going to change the light there.” I am so mad, Michelle—[Laughter]—that here's what happens—I'm on my way, driving; and I start venting out loud: “I do everything around here!”
And this is what I'm going to say with conflict: Think about what you're thinking about.
Ann: So often, what's going on in our heads—we’re piling up things, man—you know?
Ann: This is where it starts: in our heads. I'm like:
“I do everything around here!”—and take that thought, and I stuff it.
“He doesn't do anything for me!”—I take that thought, and I stuff it.
“He doesn't even think about me during the day, because he's so busy with his life—because it's so important—and my life is nothing!”
And by the time I'm driving a mile down the road, I am stuffed full of the angriest, meanest thoughts. And here's what I feel in that minute: all of a sudden, I feel like God is saying, “Ann, take all that out. What are you doing?”
You know what I do, Michelle?
Ann: I turn on the radio as loud as it can go, because I don't want to hear God. I want to just bask in my stuffing; you know?
Michelle: Right, because that feels so much better!
Ann: And I feel like I'm right. And sometimes, it just feels good to be right.
Michelle: Yes; right.
Ann: And so we're just kind of—do you know what that stuffing is?—it’s ammunition for later.
Ann: I don't think we realize the potential and the danger of what is going on in our minds and our hearts.
So we get to Kmart, and Dave runs in. I'm sitting in the car; I say, “God, I don't want to take this out, because he deserves all of my wrath,”—and it doesn't matter—and I feel like God is saying, “Just give it to Me. Give it to Me first,”—so I'm telling God everything. I love that God can take that.
Ann: I say, “God, do You see what's happening?”
I think this is another piece of conflict: “Was the issue the headlight?”
Ann: No! I didn’t care about the headlight. What did it communicate? I think that's another part of conflict: “What's the deeper issue? What are you really mad about?”
For me, it was—this is my pet issue that continues to carousel in my life—with Dave, with friends, with co-workers—is that it hurts me most when I'm not seen, or valued, or made a priority. That's a wound that I have from growing up; because I felt like, in my home, I wasn't seen, or valued, or made a priority; so that always triggers me as an adult.
I confess that to God, like, “God, I feel like he doesn't see me—I feel like he doesn't care; I feel like I'm not a priority—and I give all of that to You. I lay it on the throne to You, God.” Then when Dave came to that window, he goes, “Okay, so are we okay?” [Laughter]
I said, “I'm okay.” And he was so relieved, like, “Okay, good! She's not going to throw all of her ammunition on me”; [Laughter] you know? “She's not going to bullet me!” But I said, “I still need to talk about it, because I need to talk about what it made me feel.”
If it had been me, in my first response, I would have lambasted him with all of my anger/all of my hurt.
Ann: But because I had taken it to God first—and of course, this doesn't always turn out picture-perfect—but because I had taken it to God first, it allowed me to go deeper into what I was really feeling. So instead of talking about him not taking care of me, or meeting my needs, or fixing the headlights, it was more of: “I think I have a wound in my past that I feel like I'm not a priority.
Ann: “And it hurts me, and it makes me feel unseen and lost.” Dave can respond to that in a better way than [me saying]: “You're an idiot!” and “Why aren't you helping me more?”
Michelle: Yes; well, and it sounds so much like the humility that you had in your heart—to go back and talk to him—very similar to the humility that you just coached me through in the beginning of a conversation of tomato soup—or roommate or whatever—going and saying, “Hey, this might seem to you like it's a small thing; but this is how I feel.
Michelle: “And it may sound like totally crazy, but this is what is inside of me.”
Michelle: Ann, thank you so much for joining me today. I am excited to have you on our team, here, at FamilyLife.
Ann: I’m excited to get to know you better!
Michelle: It will be good; yes, me too.
Ann: Girl power!
Michelle: Yes! [Laughter]
Well, I feel like we've barely scratched the surface of looking at conflict—and maybe I'll have to have Ann back on—what do you think? I'm really looking forward to Ann and Dave Wilson being a part of our team and being hosts, along with Bob Lepine, on FamilyLife Today. You may have heard that announcement this past week, but Ann and Dave will officially take over as hosts, along with Bob Lepine, coming up on March 4, . If you would like to hear the interviews on their book, Vertical Marriage, go to our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that's FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Next week, Christopher Yuan is going to join me. Christopher is a professor at Moody Bible Institute and has done quite a bit of research around relationships. We'll be chatting about singleness, but it will be a different kind of conversation than what you've probably heard before. So whether you're single—or married and know some singles—you’ll want to join in on the conversation next weekend.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with the co-founder of FamilyLife and my friend, Dennis Rainey. Dennis, thank you—to you and Barbara—for the incredible, rich legacy that you've left for all of us. I want to thank the station partners around the country. And a big thank you to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Bruce Goff and Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today®, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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