Conflict vs. Contention

If you have been here for a while, you probably know that I am a religious person. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I feel like my spirituality is one of the core foundation pieces for all that I teach in my coaching practice. I have had several clients who are not members of my church, but I would say that my spiritual beliefs provide a background for the concepts and principles that I teach. 

All that to say, in this post, I am going to be talking a little about some of my beliefs, specifically the teachings of the LDS church, but if you aren’t a member of this church, hang in there with me. I believe it will still be valuable to everyone.

So I want to talk about the difference between conflict and contention. 

I have talked to lots of women, some that are members of my church and some that aren’t, who have a really hard time with conflict. They want to avoid it at all costs. They believe that conflict of any kind is the opposite of peace. And in scripture, we are commanded to live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11), and that if we are following after Jesus Christ, we will feel peace (Psalm 85:8). 

We have a belief that if we are feeling conflict, or even worse going out and pursuing conflict conversations, then we are not being peacemakers as we are encouraged to be (Matt. 5:9). 

Here is the problem. 

Life is inherently full of conflict. We have world conflict, we disagree with people in our communities, on the news, social media, in our homes, marriages and — get this— even within our own brains! We seem to be surrounded by conflict with no way to escape. All the time. It’s everywhere. 

I see many of the women that I talk to that are feeling a lot of pain, confusion and fear because they are experiencing large amounts of conflict and feel that it is wrong. So they push it away, avoid it and even run away with it. They spend a lot of time, energy and even money trying to stop all the conflict that they are feeling. And in the process, they end up suppressing their own feelings, opinions, wants, and needs in order to “keep the peace,” which inadvertently only leads to more internal and external conflict. 

What in the heck, right? 

How are we supposed to be peacemakers when we are literally constantly surrounded by conflict and then when we try to avoid conflict, it only creates more conflict??

Here are some thoughts about this that I have found to be really useful and helpful in bringing more peace into my heart, mind and relationships.  

I believe that our Heavenly Father (God, the Universe, Higher Power, whatever you are inclined to call it) designed this world and our earthly experience deliberately to include conflict. It is a major part of the plan. Essential even. I don’t believe that anything has gone wrong when we experience conflict. It is supposed to be a major part of our learning experience here on earth. 

I think that Heavenly Father knows that conflict can be an incredible learning tool that we would need to work with in order to become more like Him. Even in our homes and in our marriages. I believe that we can feel peace in conflict. We can oppose another person and still love them completely and feel totally aligned with that person and God. 

Contention is a different matter. If conflict is the inevitable difference of opinions between any humans (or even within our own brains), then contention arises when we choose to indulge in thinking that essentially boils down to some version of “I am right and he is wrong.”

Conflict is unavoidable but contention is a choice that we have 100% control over. 

Here’s an example of what this looks like. 

My husband and I had a disagreement several weeks ago. He had just finished doing the dishes and was thinking that I should have helped him clean the kitchen. He felt pretty annoyed. 

When we talked about it, he brought up his concerns in a respectful way and I immediately started feeling defensive. I was thinking about all the times I had cleaned that he didn’t see, and that I was busy doing some others things at the time (couldn’t he see that?), and that he is so insensitive because he doesn’t see how tired I am. 

K so here’s the conflict: He wanted me to help him with the dishes and I didn’t want to. Neither is right or wrong, we just have two differing opinions. 

It turns into contention for me when I start thinking about all the ways that he is wrong and I am right. I start looking at his different opinion as proof that something is wrong with him, or me, or our marriage. I start using it as to fuel the hurt and ruminate about it in my mind and start imagining all the smart, sarcastic and cruel things that I want to say to him. 

I start believing in really sneaky ways that I am right and he is wrong. 

The conflict itself is neutral but the contention that I create in my heart is divisive, painful and is not going to lead to the kind of marriage that I am committed to creating. And it something that I have total control over. 

So I have a choice in that moment. I can continue to indulge in the unhelpful contentious ways of thinking, or I can choose to approach it in a different way. 

I decided to take a deep breathe and get curious. I asked him why he felt that way. And we started talking openly and honestly about what we both needed in that moment. We talked about how he had been feeling stress from earlier in the day that was probably contributing to his annoyance and I told him about all the work that I had done earlier in the day to clean a different part of the house. 

Ultimately, it turned into a really helpful conversation where both of our needs were met. He could see that he wasn’t alone in taking care of the house, and I felt he understood the work that I had been doing. 

The initial neutral difference of opinions (conflict) became a chance for us to connect in a meaningful way where we could both have our needs met and feel peace together. If I had reacted with the defensiveness that was my initial impulse, it would have turned into contention which would have pushed us away from each there instead of toward. 

Do you have any experiences of letting contention get the best of you? We all do (because we are all human)! If you want some help turning it around, I would love to help. This is the kind of work that I do with my 1:1 clients everyday. We walk through the things that are happening in your marriage and figure out together how you can change your thoughts in a way that meets your truest needs. To get started, just click the button below and schedule a free Consultation Call and we will start working together to figure it out for your marriage.