God's Value System

Chapter 4: Conflict is resolved by agreeing on values


Since all conflict in relationship is conflict over value system, the only way to remove conflict is by agreeing on values. Not all conflict over value system is relationally destructive. Usually only moral issues and excessive indulgence in non-moral desires have a negative impact on relationship. But where the conflicting values are hindering or damaging a relationship, only a change of value can restore and improve the relationship. Until one or both people change and agree to live by a common value system there will continue to be conflict.

There are four steps in resolving conflict and repairing damaged relationships. Both parties involved in the conflict must participate willingly because the steps are shared between the people involved. The four steps are like the wheels on a car: if you want a smooth ride you need all four in place.

Resolving conflict requires agreement on value system, so each step involved relates to a change in values. The value producing the conflict must be altered, and there must be agreement on how each person should now act toward the other. Furthermore, problems created by the previous value system must not be allowed to hinder the progressing relationship.

Step 1: Confession: Admitting your fault

People need to admit when they are wrong. Unless at least one person is willing to admit that he made a mistake or was acting in a way that was damaging the relationship, there will be no progress in improving the relationship. Without verbal acknowledgement that an action was wrong, there will be an obstruction in that area of the relationship.

Admitting fault is a declaration that the relationship cannot be built around a conflict-producing value. It is the first step in coming to an agreement on value system because it is an acknowledgement that my particular value was wrong and yours was right. When I admit my fault, I am admitting my value caused the problem and that my value needs to change in order to resolve the problem.

Sometimes we do realize that what we did was wrong, and we may even try to change how we live. However, if we do not express that to the person we mistreated, our relationship with him accumulates negative emotional pain that is not removed. Only by admitting our fault can we bring relief and positive emotion to the one we have hurt.

It is humbling to admit we were wrong, but we gain greater strength to change once we openly admit we were the one at fault. Humility makes us stronger, and we need that strength to build a stronger relationship based on better values.

Step 2: Repentance: Replacing your values

Confession is verbalizing the problem, whereas repentance is changing the value that produced the problem. When we repent of a value that has been harming a relationship, we change the way we act so that we do not hurt the other person again in this same way. Without change, the conflict will reemerge because the difference in value system has not been resolved. Only an agreement on values brings two people together and prepares for a future without ongoing conflict in this area.

Repentance is a promise to live by a new value in the area that was producing conflict. It is a living admission that the value and the relational damage it produced are interconnected. New values bring hope that the relationship will be better than it was before. The genuineness of repentance is always demonstrated through permanent change.

Step 3: Forgiveness: Removing the relational consequences of the offence

Once the person (whose actions were the source of the conflict) has confessed and pledged change, the person who was hurt needs to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise you make to the one who has hurt you that you will not punish him for what he has done. Of course, this forgiveness is for the betterment of the relationship.

With forgiveness, the relationship receives a new starting point subsequent to the conflict. Because the person's value that produced the conflict has now changed, the forgiver must not treat the person according to his previous value system. In a sense, the old person is gone and a new and better person is there to love.

Forgiveness is not an issue of how we feel since it operates independently from our emotions. However, once a person has truly confessed and repented, the forgiver will have an easier time recovering emotionally from any grievance. Until the feelings of hurt diminish, we need to act according to a value that loves, forgives, and is glad the other person has changed. When we forgive we must not recall memories of an offense in order to harm or punish the other.

Forgiveness is treating a person according to his new value system and not his old one, although some deeds may have consequences requiring further action. Yet, in terms of relationship, both people are no longer at odds. Seeking forgiveness is always about the desire to have a relationship restored; it is never merely a means to avoid punishment for what one has done.

In order to truly forgive someone, you must not seek to get even with him before he asks for forgiveness; instead, you must wait for him to repent. Taking revenge on someone makes true forgiveness impossible--for you have already made that person pay. Revenge contributes to the destruction of a relationship and proves that you also have values that need to change. Any harm you bring against another person before or after he asks forgiveness will require you to confess and repent of your wrongdoing.

It may be necessary to discuss the issue with the other person so that he understands how his actions have damaged the relationship. However, gently focus on values rather than on emotions or desires when attempting to produce change in the other person. Otherwise, he may have a tendency to feel attacked and resist hearing what you have to say.

Step 4: Reconciliation: Restoring the relationship

The last step in resolving conflict is restoration of the relationship. Even when people have changed and forgiven, sometimes it is difficult to “go on” in the relationship. Sometimes this is because of embarrassment and sometimes this is because of a history of many painful experiences. Whatever the reason, people often prefer to turn away from one another rather than have the relationship improve. This is most unfortunate because they are now at a turning point to experience a better relationship than ever before.

Reconciliation between two people who previously experienced conflict is the fullest sign that they understand how important their relationship is. Instead of dwelling on the past painful conflict, they recognize that a closer relationship can now form because they now have more agreement on their values. All relationships are based on common values, and one of the deepest values two people need to share is the importance of pursuing relationship even beyond the difficult times.

Let me illustrate this process with a story. Imagine I am in the habit of leaving a mess in the kitchen and I expect my wife to clean up after me. Of course, she finds this frustrating; and, since she has told me numerous times not to do it, it is negatively affecting our relationship.

It is not enough for me to simply stop leaving a mess. Rather, I first need to acknowledge that my behavior has been wrong and selfish. Doing this will alleviate much of the tension my wife is feeling toward me. I then need to ask her to forgive me for reducing her to the role of a maid. The reality is that I had not valued her as I ought to have.

If I am sincere, I will now change my value system from one that permits me to leave messes for others to clean up to one that cleans up after myself. However, if I do not change, then my words were merely a ruse to avoid conflict. I may even fool myself into thinking I really meant them, but how I live proves the real values I hold. Confession without repentance only artificially removes the conflict and results in greater damage later.

Once I have confessed and asked for forgiveness, my wife can now tell by my words that I recognize the values that were producing the problem. Furthermore, my promise to work at changing them encourages her to forgive me and not to treat me according to how my old values deserved. Rather, she will treat me as though I have always picked up after myself.

My response to this beautiful gift she has given me is to thank her and do my best not to fail her. Our relationship is better because I have changed and we now agree on a common value, but also because she has forgiven me and will not punish me in some way for my previous actions.

A long-term relationship that has gone through struggles of change and openness can produce two people who have deep commitment and love for one another. They also learn to have freedom and openness in sharing their values, dreams, and desires. People whose relationships fall apart because of conflict never experience this deep joy.

If this process of resolving conflict does not make the relationship stronger, then some portion of it has been left undone: one of the steps has been avoided. Even as you would not like to drive your car if it were missing one of its wheels, so also each one of these four steps must be accomplished. Both people must be involved and committed to the relationship. They cannot quit out of embarrassment, resentment, or fear. If the relationship diminishes it is ultimately because someone still does not share the common value of how important this relationship is.

Continue reading:
Chapter 5: Sacrificial love as a value system