Destructive Conflict: Recognize It. Stop It.

By Mary J. Yerkes
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Focus on the Family
Where there is destructive conflict, you will often find cruelty, neglect, deception, control, indifference and even abuse.

“Danger. Pesticides. Keep people, especially children and pets away from the area being treated,” read the signs posted along the path. I swung wide to the left, being careful to lead my dog away from the toxic environment as we continued our afternoon walk. For the remainder of the walk, I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if people came with warning signs, too? ‘Danger: Toxic Person.’ ‘Warning: Destructive Conflict Ahead.'”

In a sense, they do. Destructive conflict flows from unhealthy people and relationships. Where there is destructive conflict, you will often find a pattern of cruelty, neglect, deception, control, indifference and even abuse in the relationship. What differentiates destructive conflict from healthy disagreement is that it involves a pattern of unhealthy communication. Destructive conflict flows from individuals who consistently fail to admit their weakness, lie, rationalize, deny, apologize instead of changing their behavior, blame others instead of “owning” their part of the problem and who are defensive instead of open to feedback. Similar to ingesting poison, a steady diet of destructively conflict can kill you—emotionally, spiritually and even physically.

Just ask David .

Destructive Conflict

He is still working to overcome the damage caused by destructive conflict. Raised in a home where conflict deteriorated into emotional, verbal and even physical abuse, he grew up thinking the way he was treated was “normal.” “While in college I accepted Christ,” says David. “He helped me to forgive my abusers and brought healthy relationships into my life. Unfortunately, my abusers didn’t change; and for years I could not deal with the emotional fallout.” To overcome the damage caused by years of unhealthy conflict, David attended anger management classes at a local church, worked with a mentor, and continues to see a Christian psychologist, who is helping him apply biblical truth to his sense of self and his relationships. “My abusive family members haven’t changed,” says David. “I have.”

How to Deal with Destructive Conflict

Leslie Vernick, licensed clinical social worker and author of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It, works with individuals like David. She identifies three steps, based on Matthew 18:15-17, we should take when dealing with destructive conflict:

Speak up. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matt. 18:15 NIV). “God calls us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers,” points out Vernick. She says pursuing peace might mean risking conflict in order to bring about a genuine peace (Ps. 34:14; Heb. 12:14 NIV). Speaking up is very different from venting, which can have negative consequences. We should speak the truth to someone in love after we have spent time praying and preparing for our time together. Approach that person in gentleness and with humility (Gal. 6:1 NIV).

Stand up. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16 NIV). God calls us to stand against sin, evil, deception, abuse and wickedness. When others are blind to their sin, God calls us to enlist the help of others. With a supportive person or church by your side, say, “I will not continue to live in fear,” “be lied to” or “be degraded.”

Step back. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matt. 18:17 NIV),” says Jesus. In biblical culture, Jews did not have close, personal relationships with pagans and tax collectors. Vernick says when someone refuses to respond to our concerns, the relationship changes. “You cannot have fellowship with someone who refuses to respect your feelings, doesn’t care about you, won’t respect you and who isn’t honest.” When we step back from the relationship, it helps minimize the damage and gives the other person time to reflect on his behavior and the relationship. It sends a message that a pattern of sinful, destructive behaviors is unacceptable to us and to God.

She points out that even when we find it necessary to step back from a situation, God calls us to love. The apostle Paul says, “We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us” (1 Cor. 4:12 NIV). And in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm (NIV).”

As we learn to identify destructive conflict and apply God’s Word to our situations, we can minimize its damage in our lives. What’s more, we move from victim to victor, honoring God in even the most difficult of circumstances.

Copyright 2008 Mary J. Yerkes. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.