Why Conflict in Life is Terrific, and How to Change Your Attitude About It

Donald Miller

Just about every good thing in life has come to us because we were not satisfied with something else. Dissatisfied with debt, we created a budget, dissatisfied with loneliness we joined a community.

Conflict isn’t a bad thing, it’s a GREAT thing. Those who avoid conflict just create more and more conflict. Conflict avoidant people drive everybody around them crazy!

If we want to make a better life (and life is designed in such a way that we can MAKE it better) the key is to respond appropriately to conflict. Here are some suggestions for responding well to conflict:

1. Don’t play the victim and act like conflict wasn’t supposed to happen to you. Conflict is part of life, designed by God and it’s not going away.

2. Don’t give in to wishful thinking. There’s no use wishing the problem away. This is a waste of time. Instead:

3. Take action. What can YOU do to make the situation better? Do you need to make amends with somebody? Do you need to remove yourself from a situation? Do you need to finish a project? Whatever it is, make it happen. Take action.

4. Don’t be afraid to cause more conflict. Perhaps you need to end a working relationship or even let somebody down. Perhaps you need to finally tell the truth. Perhaps you need to pay for your mistakes. Whatever it is, be willing to create some conflict to finally move forward. You will have to do this eventually, anyway, it’s just that the conflict is going to be worse. Jump now.

5. Make a list of the ways the conflict is making your life better. Are you learning something because of the conflict. Learn it now and learn it well so you don’t have to repeat the third grade on this one. Is the conflict making you stronger, more empathetic, more self aware? Make a list of all the ways the conflict is improving your life and have a positive attitude about it.

There are many reasons conflict is good. In life and in art, you can’t tell a good story without conflict. Lets learn to love it.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Right on, Don. It’s weird that Christians often take the Buddhist approach to conflict–by that I mean we make elimination of suffering a priority. Is this the life Jesus told us we should expect if we follow him and pursue his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? Based on my interpretation of Scripture, no.

    • J

      I like your point of view, and alongside it might add that conflict is or should be a stepping stone of faith not an endless bog to wallow in.

    • Jesus did not come to make us happy, He came to make us holy…

      Thank you for reminding me to embrace the conflict in my life. I learn so much more from it than when life is smooth sailing. It’s awfully tough in the moment, but when I get to the other side, I can always find things to be thankful for.

      • Annie

        Jesus came to give us peace and a lot of times people confuse peace with no conflict. On the contrary, I would say that making peace is hard sometimes and can,like Don said, create a conflict in the process, but eventually will lead to

        • Danny

          The beautiful thing about God’s peace is that it is not contingent upon our circumstances. You can be in the middle of a conflict and have peace, it’s not only after the storm has passed. When things don’t look great from where we stand, choosing to trust God and His eternal perspective allows His peace to guard our hearts.

      • Gudnes

        Thats very true my dear….

  • Jen

    I really needed to hear this today… thank you!

  • I want to comment on this, but don’t want to offend anyone.


    • Nathan Bubna

      Fail. I’m offended by internet cowardice.


    • Lauren

      *two thumbs up* πŸ˜‰

  • Thanks for this Don! Especially applies in marriage for me.

  • Scott

    Sorry, don’t agree that conflict is designed by God. It is the result of sin and selfishness, but is going to happen in a fallen world and does need to be dealt with.

    • Tim

      It depends on your view of conflict. In a story, conflict is what unsettles the characters and moves them to action, right? In that case, conflict pre-fall could have been a simple as Adam getting hungry and moving towards finding something to satisfy his physical hunger. Likewise, Adam yearning for Eve (before he knew her) could also count as conflict.

      • Jim

        Agree, Tim. While its true that pain, misunderstanding, confusion, and mis-matched goals are caused by falleness. The conflict itself can be a Godly response assuming the people involved aproach it correctly.

    • Jolynn

      My interpretation of “designed by God” is that God uses the conflicts that develop in our lives and is constantly working things for our good and His even when we aren’t aware of it. He may not create the conflict, but He uses the conflict to bring us closer to Him.

  • I needed this one today!!!

  • can’t say that ALL conflict is designed by God. i think though, God does allow conflict to occur in our lives, (kinda like Job). but sometimes it’s us sinning and and straying off His path because of our selfishness. conflict can teach us to be humble

  • Susan

    Indifference is more harmful than conflict. Thanks for the great post.

    • Jodi

      Couldn’t agree with this comment more.

    • Karin

      Totally agree!

  • This is something I continually remind myself.
    Without conflict there would be no growth.

  • You mean I should stop wishing and praying for my money tree to grow in my backyard??

    I don’t know…I’ve heard that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective…just sayin’. πŸ˜‰

    Great blog.

    Facing conflict matures, grows, and disciplines the ones willing to walk through it.

    A great reminder for me.

  • Great ideas, thanks! Reminds me of a surprising indicator I read the other day, after seeing “Smart Marriages” on a bumper sticker http://www.smartmarriages.com/divorcepredictor.html “The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.” Presume this applies to families sticking together, too. My family is open, loud and honest. We love deeply but often have opposite views and interests. I decided the other day to see my sometimes traumatic time with family as training – like the Green Berets, or Navy Seals. Uncommon trials bring sensitivity and courage not given to those who avoid the drama of testing.

    • Bill C

      Thanks, Elsie–Don’s post along with your story propel me forward to take courage amid a conflict laden family environment. Maybe it hasn’t completely wrecked the kids.

  • TRUTH. So well said.

  • I love #3 the most – take action. We need to look at the tools that God has placed in our hands and put them to use instead of just sitting on our hands, playing the victim card. I am always inspired by the widow in 2 Kings 4, who under the direction of Elisha, went out to collect jars of oil to pay off her debts. She had a very real conflict on her hands, but she did something with what God had given her to bring about a solution. Thanks for sharing this post!

  • Jump now.

  • To be clear, I don’t believe that he is encouraging us to argue or pick fights with people. I think he’s saying, instead of avoiding something and pretending like everything’s fine when it’s not, to just deal with our problems and disagreements by facing them head on.

    There will be times when the best thing to do is walk away from a situation. But I would say that most of the time it is important to address our concerns and and the things that bother us. How else would we grow? How else could we have healthy relationships?

    For example: Your significant other spends too much time with a member of the opposite sex and that bothers you. You can either avoid it and suffer in silence (enabling jealousy and/or resentment to build and ultimately damage your relationship), or you could bring it up (creating conflict) and discuss the problem and how it makes you feel, and hopefully come to some form of understanding/compromise/solution. I believe that is the key to relationship growth, as well as personal growth.

    Great post!

  • Dave Schultz

    Bad reasoning. Bad results. Conflict, while sometimes unavoidable, is NEVER a good thing. As much as is within me, I live in peace with all people. That’s drawn from Scripture, isn’t it?

    • Jim

      To answer your question. But look at the life of the man who said it.

  • Rob Lagerstrom

    Bingo! It is our attitude that conflict is a bad word/action/thought that is what is actually negative, not the conflict itself. When God first separated the light from the dark, heaven from the earth and water from land He may have created conflict, but He didn’t call it that, he called it good. WE call it conflict.

  • Holly

    what do you do when the person is your mother in law and she is very judgmental, opinionated, and hardly ever admits shes wrong. And you have a longstanding history of her trying to sabotage your relationship with your (now) husband (before you were married). But she did this by saying things to him not to you and the only reason you know what she said about you is because he told you. And you can’t really say anything now because you “get along” now even though youre secretly bitter towards her. And you don’t want to cause conflict by saying something because you know it will come out angry and it will prolly make your husbands life hell.

    • Saradays

      Oh, I feel for you. The things that come to my mind are to pick your battles from now on if it is all truly on a path towards a new day. Then if the attempts to sabotage your relationship were truly in the past and not continuing, one helpful task I have taken on is in writing “The Unsent Letter.” In it, I pour out all my hurts and beefs with that person and then burn it. There is a difference between conflict and just not liking someone. It seems that conflict seems to at least have the integrity of two people involved in an issue that needs some sort of resolution. But in your case, it sounds like your mother in law is just who she is. The only one you can control is you and your reactions to her. She doesn’t have to have any input into your opinions if she is so judgmental that she has proven she is unsafe to engage in attempts to grow close, which usually includes sharing what we really think. Perhaps you can let most of what she has to say go and keep your feelings and opinions to yourself. For the unresolved bitterness, I like Lewis Smedes and his excellent books on forgiveness (available at most libraries) or _I Thought We’d Never Speak Again_ by Laura Davis. All were very helpful in binding up my wounds and giving me practical words and strategies to deal with difficult people in my life. Bless you. I know it is hard.

    • Karin

      #1 then #2 and then #3. Get rid of the bitterness. Allow God to fill your heart with compassion for this woman and take every action to show her God’s love. Pray for her. Don’t be jealous of the love he has for his mother – encourage it. Don’t make him take sides. Been there – done that – it worked! Then #4 – When you share how the discord between the two of you hurts you, talk about specifics and not the whole general situation from the past.

      May the Lord strengthen you, give you joy and use you as a peacemaker! May this conflict teach you empathy, increase your verbal skills in conflict, grow you in kindness and fill you up to overflowing with God’s love for all kinds of people – including a monster-in-law. Hugs!

    • Mike

      Holly, if I were in your shoes I’d address the issue with my spouse — they need to stand up for you. Good luck!

  • Saradays

    As Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, “Conflict is the price you pay for deeper intimacy.” That is, since we are all different people with varying attitudes and backgrounds effecting our points of view, conflict is inevitable if we desire to live honestly and be truly known. Just getting along doesn’t bring peace, but brings a sort of faux peace. The trust and courage involved with actually entering into conflict within a relationship- whether it be marital, extended family, work, or friendships- has the potential to build such significant intimacy between people that they may end up being actually thankful for it for they never would have gotten so bonded without the catalyst of conflict.

  • Often people say to me, “I’m not like you, I don’t like conflict.” I don’t agree with their assessment — I don’t think there are people who like and don’t like conflict. I think there are people who are scared of conflict and those who are willing to walk into things to make them better. I try to be the second kind more than the first. Not always successful!

    • Adrian

      The same thing happens to me. Just because I deal with a lot of conflict doesn’t mean I *like* it, simply that I won’t run away from it like everyone else seems to. Running away solves nothing, the problems will still be there.

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  • Again, this one is great! I may have to copy it and put it up in my office. Thank you for sharing! I shared it in our “Saturday Sampling”: http://www.stonewritten.com/?p=3700

  • Penny

    God creates conflict?????? No I do not beleive that is true at all! If he is a God of love that wouldn’t happen. Don’t blame God for the action or inations of people. Sometimes taking action doesn’t work when things are out of your control it doesn’t matter how positive you may be. You may have to accept it but you don’t have to like it.

    • Don

      I hear you Penny, but God does create conflict. Adam was conflicted without Eve (couldn’t find a helpmate) and there was pain in childbirth before the fall, just more after. You are assuming conflict is bad, it isn’t.

      • Penny

        Once angain what you’re saying is just as I put it above. The actions or inactions of people…They were told what would happen but they did it anyway. So you can’t put it on God it’s still people. Through the actions of people I have had to pull us back up so many times from a downward spiral I don’t know if it makes me a better person but I sure as heck am stronger for it. I don’t have to like it and there is no way to feel positive about it you just keep going. Because in the scheme of things we don’t matter. If we were all gone tomorrow the sun would still come up and life would go on.

        • Penny, one of my favorite scriptures as I went through years of surviving one trial after another was Rom. 5:3-5. “We also have joy with our troubles because troubles produce perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope…and that hope won’t ever disappoint us because God has poured it out to fill out hearts.”

          Somehow, walking through the fire, persevering, and building character brings joy in God’s economy…we see a hope as we trust in Him though the conflict and that hope transcends all else and transforms our hearts.

          Often times the process is not fun, brutal even…but God’s kindness pierces that darkness still.

          PS – You DO matter! Yes, the sun will rise, but you matter to all those around you!!

  • Penny

    I have noticed I haven’t received a responce. This one probably won’t go in your book, uh? Not looking to quarrel just pointing out truth.

  • james c

    i love you don

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  • Don. You suck. You were looking over my shoulder weren’t you? Wow. I needed this. Thanks.

  • Justin

    Have been thinking about this lately. This came just at the right time. πŸ™‚

    We’re called to fight the good fight of faith.

    I believe conflict is all about fighting for what you believe.

  • Good stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and just published a blog post with my thoughts on how important it is to be (and say that we’re) angry. Which goes along with this (re)post of Don’s.

    Conflict is not inherently bad. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s necessary to address. God uses conflict in our lives to create godliness in us. This radically changed my view of conflict, of which I tried to avoid my share and consequently found myself in marriage counselling, angry at my husband, angry at my parents, angry at God. And I realized: it’s okay that I’m angry. It’s okay that I say that I’m angry. Now, what do I do about it?

    It changed my marriage, it changed my relationship with God, and it changed my parenting, which is what the post I previously mentioned is about.

    Rock on, Don.

  • Aubrey England

    Don has a way of framing ideas and difficult topics in a way that just works! This kind of information is particularly helpful for those of us who deal with dependency and codependent relationships. Thank you Don for being helpful and constructive.

  • Tulip73

    Ignoring external conflict creates internal conflict. The latter is far worse as it eats away from the inside – but in takes courage to both see and change this.

  • Tulip73

    Also, there’s an awful lot of comments on here about christianity. That isn’t how I persoanlly read the post. Perhaps the author meant god not God??