the secret to resolving conflict


People have trouble resolving conflict.  Every marriage counseling session is, in part, trying to undo an unhealthy pattern of conflict resolution.  But I know a secret.  And if people used this one secret, I might lose half my counseling business.  Still, I share this secret with everyone, yet no one seems to catch on.  But you, dear reader, are different.  So I am going share it with you.

Here it is:

Don’t try to resolve conflict when you are hurt and angry.  Wait until you are just hurt.

“That’s it?” you say, “It’s that simple?”

“Yep,” I say.

“But if it’s that transparent,” you say, “then people would do it.”

“Ahh,” I say, “That’s exactly why people don’t do it.”

People try to resolve conflict by being anything but transparent.  We try to win the argument and not the other person.  We defend ourselves rather than offer ourselves.  We hurl arguments over walls of anger rather than build bridges of trust across hurt.

Conflict almost always involves both hurt and anger.  But most of the time, the hurt comes first and is more fundamental.  But because the anger follows so quickly, we don’t realize the initial hurt.  Sometimes, we don’t even know the hurt is there, so we react out of anger.  We say something (“Well, you do it, too!”) or do something (shut down, storm out) and then the other person is hurt and responds out of anger, too.  Then the arguments and the walls really get going.  Ten minutes later, we’re arguing about each other’s anger and we don’t even know how it started.

Here is where the secret helps.  If you stop and wait until you are more hurt than angry, then you can have the conflict about what really matters – the hurt.

But alas!  We don’t do this, precisely because it reveals what really matters. We don’t avoid the secret because it’s complicated; we avoid it because it’s vulnerable.

But as it turns out, you’re safer when you are vulnerable.  I know that sounds counterintuitive, but think about it.  Are you really safer when slinging arguments, criticisms, and blame?  Does it really make sense to force someone to tend to your hurt by hurting them?  No, you are safer when you are a safe person.  So when are you safe?  When you are injured and in full-bore fight/flight?  Or when you are brave enough to simply confess your injury?

Obviously this great secret isn’t a guarantee.  If you wait until your anger subsides to open your hurt, there is no guarantee that the other person will do the same.  This works best when negotiated.  But you can begin on your own.  Wait past (and through) your anger until you can confess your hurt.  The waiting will make you depend on God.  For extra credit, you can even practice looking behind the other person’s anger for their hurt.

To be really practical, I would suggest a minimum of 21 minutes:

  • 1st seven minutes: Breathe (oxygen disrupts the fight/flight/freeze cycle).
  • 2nd seven minutes: Notice that you haven’t died. Thank God for His presence.
  • 3rd seven minutes: Name your hurt (and wonder about theirs). Pray for guidance for the next step.

Here’s that secret again:

Don’t try to resolve conflict when you are hurt and angry. Wait until you are just hurt.




Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.


You might also enjoy:

Share this:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *