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How to Resolve Conflict in Relationships

by PeggySue Wells

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3–4

Saturday, my teen groused around the house. I tried to cheer her with tea and her favorite pancakes.

My efforts fell short of improving her attitude, and I quickly reasoned the problem must be me. Doubtless, my daughter thought that I stink as a mom, and she would rather spend Saturday with anyone else.

Feeling rejected, I was tempted to dish back negativity by giving her the silent treatment. Simmering internally, eventually I might choose to vent my hurt with a barb. How easy to say, “Is your homework done? You gotta keep those grades above C level.”

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Paul instructed in Romans 12:18 (ESV). If we’re doing our best to live peaceably, why does conflict escalate between those we love, neighbors, community members, political parties and world governments?

The Root of Conflict

As families, coworkers, church members and fellow residents of planet Earth, we’ve become proficient at the 5 Rs. The process goes like this:

  1. Something happens or is said, done, not said or not done that results in me feeling rejected. My attempts to cheer my daughter were ignored.

  2. Rejection feels lousy, so I become resentful about feeling rejected. In my resentment, I made up a story in my mind about why my teen acted unhappy.

  3. Resentful, I resist relationship with the person I feel resentful toward. This showed up when I gave my daughter the silent treatment.

  4. Resistance becomes action when it leads to revenge. Verbal attacks about my daughter’s homework were designed to hurt in the way I felt she hurt me.

  5. Repeat. Unresolved, this cycle repeats automatically until a relationship is damaged beyond repair.

My daughter did not engage with me, so I disengaged from her, so she distanced herself from my barbs, and I kept a wall between us, and the pattern continued. These are the 5 Rs that spell destruction to relationships: rejection, resentment, resistance, revenge, repeat.

Families have a long history to continually practice until the cycle becomes expected, as people unthinkingly play their parts. Think of the aunt perpetually offended by someone in the family. The relative who plays favorites. The sibling who pouts when he doesn’t get his way. This is the foundation for holidays where folks gather to emotionally abuse one another, and have pie.

Practice Makes Permanent

Becoming aware of the active presence of the 5 Rs is the first step to interrupting this destructive pattern. When you find yourself in one of the 5 Rs, here are steps to immediately place the relationship on positive footing.

1. Resentment is negative emotional reactions to what you think was said or done, or not said or done. Resentment shows up as drama words in your vocabulary: need, perfect, should.

“He needs to . . .”

“I’m not perfect, but . . .”

“She should . . .”

You are stuck in resentment when you are stuck in drama. Solution: Shift to gratitude.

“I’m grateful he . . .”

“What fun to . . .”

“I’m thankful she . . .”

2. Resistance is cutting off communication and connection. Avoiding eye contact and giving the silent treatment are shutting down emotionally and relationally toward another.

Solution: Engage. Make eye contact, have conversations. Clear the air by saying, “The story I’m making up in my head about ________ is _______________.”

3. Revenge is taking advantage of a situation or setting up an opportunity to hurt another. If you are saying something like, “Now he will know how it feels” or “Serves her right,” you are in revenge.

Solution: Extend generosity to the person you feel revengeful toward. Does the person deserve generosity? Probably not. That’s why it’s called grace.

Perhaps the person who hurt you is not safe. In such situations, be generous elsewhere; but be generous or you’ll become bitter.

4. Repeat. A toxic pattern is to believe that because you are hurt, you have the right to be unkind and hurtful. Then you hurt someone, and they hurt you, and you are offended, and they are offended, and in that offense both parties dive deeply into the 5 Rs.

Solution: Release others from your expectations of how they should act or behave.

“Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult” (Proverbs 12:16).

Fact Versus Fiction

The moment you feel rejected is your most powerful opportunity to choose. Step into the familiar yet painful cycle of the 5 Rs, or choose grace, joy and health. The life-giving, life-changing solution comes by sticking to the facts and letting facts stand for themselves.

To my grousing teen, I said, “The story I’m making up in my head right now is that I stink as a parent, and you’d rather be anywhere than here with me.”

My teen responded with a baffled expression. “I just learned the boy I babysit has leukemia.” (Note to self: Most folks are not even thinking about me.)

Truth Bomb

Most things people say or don’t say, do or don’t do, accidentally do or don’t do hardly ever have anything to do with you. (Yes, that’s a lot of do-do.) We’re doing our best to live as well as we can. And the best we can do has everything to do with

• sticking to the facts

• being graciously generous

• practicing gratitude

• not taking ourselves or others too seriously

Occasionally those closest to us do reject us. Rejection, like pain, is nobody’s favorite. But if we are breathing, rejection is part of life. We have something to learn from both pain and rejection. What’s vital is how we respond, and the 5 Rs are the antithesis of maturity, healthy relationships and good adulting.

Without the 5 Rs, family and group gatherings can resemble heartfelt scenes from Hallmark greeting cards. We leave down our defenses, freely cheer on others, celebrate our beloveds, enjoy relationships and laugh until milk comes out our noses. These gatherings are none of the emotional drama and all of the pie.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Solo mom of seven and founder of, she is the bestselling author of 30 books including The Ten Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Patent. Find practical tips and tangible helps in The Ten Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make by Pam Farrel and PeggySue Wells. Solo mom and parenting resources are available at


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