Speaking the Truth in Love

Conflict. It’s inevitable in marriage and our other close relationships.

When you love someone you’ll have misunderstandings, disagreements, and hurt feelings in that relationship. This is true for all kinds of people, including pastors and other Christian leaders and caregivers.

As it relates to conflict the mistake that we’re most prone to make is to avoid it. We walk on egg shells not to upset others. We ignore the elephant in the room. We cover up our hurt feelings with a smile or we distract ourselves with busyness. We stuff our anger, becoming depressed or resentful and eventually, perhaps, we lose our temper and speak harshly, causing more hurt to others and ourselves.

Probably we’re carrying on with patterns we developed as children. We can learn a better way!

What the Bible Teaches

But the Bible teaches us to “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). It’s difficult for many of us to balance truth and love. In the Bible God speaks the truth in love to us. More than that he takes on flesh in Jesus Christ who brings us the fullness of God’s grace and truth (John 1:14, 17).

As we grow to rely on God’s love and truth through Jesus Christ as our source of personal security and confidence it empowers us to be honest with others so that we can speak the truth in love to them as God does with us. “We love because [God] first loved us,” the Bible says (1 John 4:19). We need to learn how to take God’s love inside our person and learn to let it nourish us. (The first way we normally experience this is through Christ’s Ambassadors, as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:20.) Then with God’s help we can learn in our relationships to be honest and direct and yet also calm, gracious and respectful.

Ask for Empathy

In marriage counseling, as well as in individual psychotherapy, we show people how to resolve their conflicts by communicating in this way: “When you do A, I experience B.” For instance, a wife might say to her busy husband: “When you take cell phone calls during dinner I feel unimportant. It’s disappointing to have our time together interrupted. I feel set aside, like I don’t matter much to you.”

Notice that in saying, “I feel…” you’re not speaking about your perceptions of other people, but your emotions. Except for a brief reference to what happened (what he or she did to trigger your emotion) you’re not focusing on the other person’s behavior; instead you’re asking him or her to understand your personal experience. Take the posture of inviting the other to understand what it’s like to be you.

Being honest with others in a gentle way invites empathy, builds trust and bonding, and facilitates reconciling after a conflict. It’s not just a skill to learn — it’s the character of Christ to develop.

More Soul Shepherding for Relationships

You can take our short survey, “Do you Over-react?

Jesus Set Boundaries.” Learn from Jesus how to say no and to speak the truth in love.

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