How To Respond When Your Family Doesn’t Get Along
Nobody has ever grown up in a perfect family. Sometimes I listen to the stories of families in conflict and I can’t help but wonder, “How did things get like this?”
I’ve realized that sometimes the person telling me the story is just as baffled as I am.
How Did Things Get Like This?
For instance, a young couple sits across from me. They’ve been married six years. She had an affair with his good friend. She is full of guilt and weeping. She says, “I don’t know how things got like this.”
Or, the man in his fifties has tears in his eyes as he explains that he and his son haven’t talked for years. His son won’t respond to his phone calls or emails. He says, “I don’t know how things got like this.”
Then there’s the sixteen-year-old girl who told me about her parent’s nasty divorce and how they only speak badly of each other. She says she never wants to get married. She doesn’t understand how things got like this.
As a pastor, I usually only see the dramatic conclusion to these scenarios. However, there are often signs along the way that indicate a relationship may be in trouble.
In our culture, millions of people have gone through the trauma of a broken family. This can result in two or more families coming together as one, also known as a “blended family.”
The term “blended family” didn’t exist during biblical times, yet David experienced this very dynamic in his own family. David fathered many children as a result of being married to different women throughout his life. It’s probably not surprising to learn that his family didn’t always get along very well.
In 2 Samuel 13, we meet two of David’s children, Amnon and Tamar. Amnon and Tamar were half-brother and sister. They shared the same father but each had a different mother.
Amnon was so infatuated with Tamar, that he ended up raping her.
David was so focused on his job that he was completely out of touch with what was happening in his own home. We read, “When King David heard all this, he was furious” (2 Samuel 13:21). He was definitely upset, but he failed to take any action.
One thing I’ve learned is that passivity is a big temptation for parents, and this is especially true for blended families. We tend to think it’s easier to avoid conflict and do nothing. You don’t want to be accused of showing favoritism or being harsher on some kids, more than others.
We tend to think it’s easier to avoid conflict and do nothing.
It gets even more complicated when mom and dad aren’t on the same page when it comes to discipline. Passivity is more comfortable now, but it only leads to heartache later.
Another of David’s sons, Absalom, who was Tamar’s full brother, heard about what happened. He knew his father wouldn’t do anything, so he took the situation into his own hands and had Amnon murdered.
Perhaps Amnon and Absalom resented David’s multiple relationships. Maybe David didn’t feel he had any moral authority over his children? This may be one of the reasons David was so passive.
The Bible tells us that David’s first relationship was with a woman named, Michal. Their marriage got off to a good start until an incident occurs in 2 Samuel 6.
King David’s men were bringing the ark of the Lord into the city. Everyone was celebrating so David began dancing in the street, wearing only his underwear. Naturally, Michal was embarrassed.
Later, after David went home, she pointed out to him, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
She used sarcasm to criticize David, so he responded, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.”
Notice, he immediately went on the defensive before the argument concluded. Then we read, “Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children to the day of her death.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying they didn’t sleep together again. In fact, we never read about Michal again.
Healthier Ways to Resolve Conflict:
Disagreements are typical in every family, so let’s look at a few healthier ways to resolve conflict based on David’s story.
IDENTIFY THE HEART OF THE ISSUE:
Take the time to ask, “What’s the real issue here?” Is it that your husband came home late again? Or, is that he’s not dependable? Is the issue that your wife told you to take out the trash, or you feel like she doesn’t trust you? Is the real issue that you felt rejected by her the night before?
Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” This can be difficult because it requires you to honestly express your feelings to each other. It also means you have to really listen.
If you are patient enough to express your feelings and really listen, it can put you on a different path.
FIND A GOOD TIME AND PLACE TO CONFRONT CONFLICT:
David came home from an exciting day at work, and his wife laid him out. Her timing wasn’t right.
Finding the right time and place is essential. When you first get home from work, it’s not the right time. When you sit down at the dinner table, it’s not the right place.
If you want the bedroom to feel like a playground, don’t turn it into a battleground.
CONFRONT CONFLICT BY STARTING WITH SOMETHING POSITIVE:
David was probably expecting praise so naturally, he was stunned when all he received was criticism.
Michal could have started by telling David she was proud of his accomplishment. If she did, I think things would have gone a lot differently when she questioned his decision to dance in front of other girls.
Start with something encouraging before you confront the issue. Make it clear that, while there is something you want to see changed, your perception of them is more significant than that. Remember, your relationship is more important than the issue.
STICK TO THE CORE ISSUE AND DON’T BRING UP OLD DIRT:
David made a classic mistake in his argument. He got defensive and widened the problem. He told Michal, “Hey, God chose me to lead His people, not your father or anyone from your family.”
What did that do? Immediately, it took the focus off the real issue. It put her on the defensive and nothing was accomplished.
David played the “I’m more spiritual than you” card and brought up the past. Old dirt is never a good idea. The Bible says to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, that it’s to our glory to overlook an offense.
I hate to admit this, but when my wife and I were first married, I used to quote Scripture to win arguments. Trust me…this doesn’t work!
AVOID PERSONAL ATTACKS DURING CONFLICT:
David made it personal when he attacked Michal. Too often, instead of resolving the issue, we try to “win” by calling names or raising our voice.
There once was an extensive survey done on young children. They were all asked, “What do you wish was different about your mom?” 98% of the kids said, “I wish my mom wouldn’t yell at me so much.” That answer was given fifty times more often than all other responses combined.
We try to deal with conflict by yelling, by going on the attack, thinking that will put an end to it, but it just makes things worse. It’s important to stay focused on the real issue, and not get personal.
Conflict is normal, and it’s not bad, you just have to handle it in the right way.
Perhaps your family isn’t on the path you hoped. Things aren’t turning out the way you imagined them. Maybe no one is getting along or understanding each other.
No matter what’s happened in the past, or is happening today, there is good news: The story of your family is still being written.
Better news: God specializes in rewriting stories. It’s not too late. God can take your story, even if seems like a tragedy, and turn it into a triumph.
Before he became the lead singer of MercyMe, Bart Millard suffered a painful childhood. In the I Can Only Imagine Church Resources, Bart shares his story and leads you on a redemptive journey to recall your past wounds, reorient your present identity, and reimagine your future. Reveal the heart of the God who loves you…more than you can imagine.
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