PALESTINE — Question: I am related to a man who is in constant conflict with someone. Anyone who is with him on a regular basis usually gets dragged into verbal warfare. It seems he knows just what to do and say to incite people to anger and suck them into a verbal fight. Over the years, he has dragged me into several verbal altercations. Finally, I decided I was tired of it, and I have started keeping a significant distance on him. I'm at peace about this, but I have some relatives who are telling me that if I've really forgiven him then I'll stay in a close relationship with him. I feel like I have forgiven him; but I also know I am really enjoying the peace of not having him close. What are your thoughts?
Answer: The description of your relative's behavior sounds characteristic of a cycle of conflict. A cycle of conflict is not to be confused with occasional conflicts that occur in even the healthiest relationships. Rather, a cycle of conflict is like a perpetual, relational tornado that keeps everyone in its path in constant turmoil. There are a variety of factors that may cause a cycle of conflict. But many times, those who are emotionally ill will act out negative behavior because they are in continuous, internal chaos. This may very well be the case with your relative.
Whatever the cause, the resulting friction and upheaval make having a relationship with such a person a miserable prospect. When dealing with those trapped in a cycle of conflict, sometimes it comes down to making a choice for peace. We often think of peace as a gift from God. Indeed, peace is a gift: “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people…” (Psalm 85:8a). However, peace can also be a choice: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
Unfortunately, some well-meaning people often confuse forgiveness with a willingness to be the other half of a dysfunctional relationship. Forgiveness is the spiritual state of releasing an offense to God and having no vindictive desires. Forgiveness does not mean that we are required to enter back into a dysfunctional relationship and allow a person to wreak havoc with our lives and destroy our peace.
While it can be healthy to erect boundaries against such a cycle of conflict, be careful not to build walls. If you are a close relative to this person, there may come a day when he needs you and is willing to receive help. If your boundaries are healthy and your forgiveness is firm, then the doorway for your positive influence may one day open.
I don't recommend that you continue in a close relationship with this person who is destroying your peace. But I also know that God loves this man; and one day he may want to show his love to him through you. However, your present choice for peace will give you time to pray for your relative and wait for the right opportunity to minister to him.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org