Connection in Relationships
Picking up their conversation from last week, Dan and Cathy turn their attention to uncovering the roots of conflict in relationships and how we can move towards true connection. Oftentimes conflict arises because we cannot name what we truly need, or we cannot see past our own contempt—ultimately there is something keeping us from seeing the other well. Redemption is possible, but we must be willing to engage our conflict in a way we’ve not experienced before.
- Purchase access to the recording of the one-day conference “From Conflict to Connection: A Conference for Couples”
- Listen to a podcast that introduces the archetypes of orphan, widow, and stranger: “Calling and Character: Prophet, Priest, King”
- Listen to a podcast episode titled “Reconnection in Marriage with Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Steve Call”
Dan: Well, we’re back talking about conflict! Cathy Loerzel, thank you for joining me again, and again, let me just say: it’s so lovely to have you be on the podcast! And you know, we recently did a marriage conference, which we’ll talk about toward the end. But we were addressing conflict in marriage, conflict in larger relationships. And one of the things that we underscored is look, there is no way that we can escape. It’s inevitable. It is the reality that conflict exposes the disparity of desire, that we all have different desires, different levels of intensity of desire, and those desires wage war. And what we spent a good portion of time talking about last time was: we kill. We covet. So you know, you’ve got a week from that last conversation. What thoughts have you had about your murderous and jealous heart?
Cathy: Yeah, you know, what I left our last conversation thinking about was just how difficulty need and desire is for any of us. I think oftentimes there’s a difference between what, like you said in the scripture passage, what do we think we need versus what do we really need? And I think so much of my conflict comes from the fact that I am not always really connected to what I truly need, because it’s so risky. And so much of what I was taught, You know, growing up in my family of origin was, you know, be fine. You need to be fine. And any real complex need cannot be handled within our family. And so, figure it out. Like we love you. We’ll take care of you. But your complex emotional needs do not have space within our home again. Not out of cruelty, but just out of a sense of we don’t know how to handle them. So please figure it out on your own. And I’ve carried that into my relationship with my husband and, you know, colleagues and all of us. And so there’s just such a sense of a separation between what is actually true about the small parts of my heart and my true desires and my true needs for care and connection versus what shows itself on my external exterior, right? And I think so much of my work has been to bring those places closer to meet. And I found that my journey to bring that external part of me that’s able to actually articulate need or desire and then allow that to get closer to my true vulnerable need has really been a process of vulnerability, of compassion and out of really listening and risking. To be exposed. Because I think when you really recognize what you truly need, it exposes something of need and vulnerability that if you’re taught that that’s not okay, that’s very difficult to kind of override and overcome and bring into the light.
D: Oh, I love that word because it’s so crucial to hear: conflict is not just inevitable, but it actually can be productive. There actually can be good that comes by engaging conflict in different ways than what we were speaking about last time. Being shrill and loud and petty. The fact is, if we will allow the conflicts that exist to open our own eyes to the reality of what our war is, and how the war is being fought, there’s a degree to which what we’re trying to underscore is that if you can come to this not with a plan to avoid conflict or to compromise and mitigate it, but actually to say, let’s engage it, let’s engage it well–we’ll talk about how to do so very soon, but more importantly, can we begin with the assumption that there is an exposure? But in that also an invitation, you will be seen. And not always for something lovely but potentially something really beautiful in your desire, as long as you’re willing to look at something broken in the midst of your desire. But even that is exposure. But in that invitation to a new level of humanity, a new level of understanding grace, and why you need grace from one another and from the living God of the universe, conflict can radically redeem and transform. But it’s going to require an engagement that’s different than what we have tended to do in the past. So when you, again, think about ways that you look at your own life with Will, with others where you go, Oh! This is such a deep pattern so woven into my being. But I also know this isn’t what I want to be. This isn’t what I want to do. What do you find yourself in that–in one sense, in that bind in the middle of conflict?
C: Yeah. I mean, I’m someone who when I get into conflict, it’s really easy for me to be pretty defended and self righteous. [laugh] Dan’s laughing, you can’t see him, but he’s laughing right now because he’s been in relationship with me for a long time. So I think part of my work, I agree. I think conflict has an incredible ability to bring us closer to what’s true about our own hearts and actually open us up in a way that actually allows us to be more connected to human beings around us and more connected to God. But in order to allow conflict to actually be more of a crucible for us, we have to let it tell us something about ourselves, and I think for me, I’ve had to really learn like oh, I’m defended right now. What am I actually feeling? What’s the threat that’s underlying this conflict, that is forcing my smaller parts, my younger parts to shut down and just be defended? And the question of what’s the threat has really been important for me. And so often I’ll realize, oh, the threat I’m feeling right now is that I’m not loved or I’m not understood or, they don’t really, like I’m going to get rejected. If this thing that they’re saying about me is true, then something about my goodness, about my being is under attack in a way that I need to defend it. And as I learned to hold those spaces with more openness and really be able to say, what is this conflict trying to tell me, what is this person trying to tell me? It’s opened me up to radically difficult aspects of myself that I would have never gained access to unless I had let the conflict speak.
D: Oh, and having been in a few of those moments with you, it’s not pleasant. But the reality is: I know your heart’s desire to become like Jesus. So there is this, like the unpleasant reality of when you just power up, and it becomes something where you go after being with someone, you know what their face looks like, what their voice changes to be. And, you know, you’ve said to me: you’re backing off, you’re shutting down. Will you step in? Because you know, I could just go. I don’t care anymore. I’m done with this conflict and I’m not stonewalling. I’m not afraid. I’m indifferent. And that call back in that kind of, can we name our face and invite the other to, in one sense, see, as we see? Without having to defend or justify, explain or hide. But can we actually hold shame in the moment of desire broken, desire disappointed? Can we hold the shame well enough, with enough care and attunement, enough containment to actually say I think we’ll make it. I think we’ll make it. And I do want to resolve this. I want us to grow through this, and I think that’s true. And business professional, personal, deeply relational marriage. So if we can keep coming back to this question, how now do we move to become people who can utilize conflict, whether it’s political, whether it’s relational, whatever it is we’re talking about, how can we engage conflict in a way that does not lead to the DMZ departure, and then evil taking that ground, sowing seeds of division. Or explosions that end up creating, you know, splintering debris that wounds everybody, including the one who becomes enraged. So when you begin to think about what is at the core? What is it?
C: You know, Dan, you’ve said several times over the last year. You know, again, you and I have had our conflict over the years. But, I was watching a movie a couple of years ago, A Wrinkle in Time. And, I won’t get into the details of the movie, but they’re kind of fairy godmothers who give the little girl who’s the hero of the story gifts and the last the last fairy godmother gives the little girl the gift of her fault. The gift of her fault. And in the end, it’s the gift of her understanding fully her faults and being able to not be afraid of them that saves her. Because the power that evil has over us is when it traps us by saying, See? Told you! You are fill in the blank. You know, you are cruel. You are petty. You are, you know, whatever the accusation is. And so I think part of what I love about the opportunity for conflict to speak to us is if we’re not afraid of what’s true about us, but not in a self degradation sort of way, in a way that brings freedom and that brings life. But also knowing that when people are actually trying to accuse us that we can differentiate between accusation and then truth.
D: Yes, I love that. Again both the book and the movie come to mind. And I think she is describing the very nature of Luke 7 of do not judge, do not judge. And then the next sentence is: But address the log in your own eye. And we normally think of the log as where we’re bad. But why would we do that? Because there’s nothing fundamentally about the log or the plank that is essentially bad. It’s basically what is blinding you, what is keeping you from being able to see. You are judging and in doing so, you blind yourself. So you know, in so much conflict, the initial stance is to kill. Which in this case means to judge. Well, you’re a Republican. Oh, you’re a Democrat. Well, you voted for Trump. Well, you voted for a socialist. And the moment we judge, we have lost the ability to actually see the way God intends. And that question is what’s your log? It isn’t just where you’ve sinned. It’s also the nature of what keeps you from being able to see well. And that can be, you’re so afraid of conflict that you’ll do anything in the world to escape it, including eating it and then turning it against yourself with your own self contempt. Can we deal with your log? You grew up in a home where you were constantly criticized. And you joined that criticism as a means of just surviving. It’s blinding you. What is keeping you from seeing what needs to be seen for us to actually engage one another well? And that, indeed includes the fact I’m a murderer and adulterer, But I’m also hurt. I’m also scared. And I love the use of the phrase. There are young parts of me that even as a 68 year old man must be attended to when I’m in conflict with anyone. Because they roar up and want to, well, come in hot. And instead of just shouting at them, those very young parts need to be engaged in a way that often don’t. By me or by others. So one of the things that I wanna bring us to is that the two of us have–I’ve had a phenomenal privilege of writing a book with you. And another day, we’ll talk about the contents and the nature of the book. But, the title is Redeeming Heartache, and you can look on Amazon. It’s there. It will not be published until fall of this year, but we dealt with three categories, particularly of: we’re all orphans. We have young parts of us that feel like we have lost place and parent. And we’re strangers. We feel like we have lost the ability to be in friendships, in a community, and were isolated. And the reality is, trauma widows us. So we’ve got three categories, and what I want to do is sort of turn back to you and say, how do you see naming our log where there is covetousness, lust? But there’s also anger and murder. What do we need to face about our own heart as orphans and strangers and widows?
C: You know, I love these categories because they give us, you know, larger versions or larger stories that we can kind of tap into that could help explain parts of our own heart that are often difficult to explain. But when I think about orphan and how do we covet and how do we kill? You know, the core of orphan is that sense of there’s no one coming. So it’s up to you. And so I think an orphan, I had a dog that I adopted from the pound when he was three. He was abused, and he did what they called resource guarding. And so he would get food in front of him. And he would gobble it up really quickly. Because in his body, he didn’t think that, he couldn’t trust that there would be another meal. And so he couldn’t enjoy what was in front of him. He couldn’t, you know, slow down. And he never, even though I had him for way more years than he was abandoned, he never got to the place where he could trust that I was going to provide for him. And so there was always a sense of, if it’s in front of me, I’m going to gobble it up. So there is no slowness. There is no delight. There is no play in it or joy. So I think I think that’s the sense of orphan where the covetousness is, a sense of I will not be empty.
D: Oh, and therefore, if you can say it, the way an orphan kills is to say I will not need you. Yes, I will be independent. I will stonewall. I am sufficient. I’m not sufficient. But I’m sufficient in myself because I will not depend upon you. And so the idea of asking you that orphan heart, will you begin to tend to the fact that you do cut people off? But there is so much loss, so much loss that you had to suffer that put you in the bind of, in many ways, refusing to engage conflict because conflict was only going to leave you emptier and more alone. What about the stranger?
C: Yeah. So, stranger, there’s–for strangers. They see so much of the world that’s true. There are prophets, right? But nobody likes a prophet in their hometown. No one actually wants the prophet to name. And so oftentimes, strangers are the ones who will have been the secret tellers of their world. They expose. So when there’s a sense of how they covet, there’s a sense of, like, you said like, I will not care. I will be indifferent. And so that’s a different sort of feel because in conflict, that’s the sense of again you haven’t disengaged. But you’ve told me through your face through your mind through your body that you’re not doing me the favor of leaving me, but you no longer care about the conflict anymore.
D: Yeah, I’m gonna make you leave! The reality is the orphan is afraid to be left and in so many ways, the stranger is afraid you’re not going to leave. And in that regard, it’s easier. And I look at that and go I know I have an orphan heart. But my heart’s more strange, estranged. And where I get caught. Oh, my gosh, no one has born my wit, wicked wit, my mockery, my super silliness than my wife. Because that’s how when I feel most desperate, my violence comes out with that sharp sentence and it’s pairing it, say I’m going to cut you with my sword. I know you’re not gonna fight. And because she does stonewall, I even feel more justified for being left alone. Not only am I to blame, but nobody can bear me. So it is this dark dance yet indeed! That the reality that you already said is the stranger is meant to become truly a prophetic voice that invites people to hear where we are meant to desire. So the desire in the heart of a stranger having been cut off and isolated is just huge. Well, what about the widow?
C: Yeah, I mean, widow is going to covet by just avoiding loss. [laughs] I mean, I’ve loved, I’ve now been left. I’m left to pick up the pieces and, you know, to bring my world back in order. You will, like, I’m not gonna offer my heart again. It’s too painful. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t risk the vulnerability that love would bring again.
D: Well, to underscore, my goodness, we’re not just talking about people who have literally lost a spouse. Including them. But you can be single and live like a widow where you felt betrayed, where love has been lost. And there’s a sense in which I will never risk that level of loss again, which then leaves you deeply in what we’ll call the killing portion. Deeply committed to control, making sure that your words, your power, your gifts organize the world so no one can, in many ways, leave you ever again. Or that you will need to actually have people stay. So what we’re looking at, it’s a hard beginning, and that is to say, look, what happens when you, as a widow are married to a stranger? What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen when you, an orphan married to a stranger or to a widow? It’s going to bring unique conflict. And that’s part of the dance. You’ve gotta name the dance. You’ve got to begin to name the log. What’s keeping you both from seeing what’s keeping you from being able to see yourself in your brokenness? Your beauty? What keeps you from seeing your spouse, your friend in that same light? And now, again, I know it’s too simple, but I do want to begin to say what’s required? Just at the most elemental level. If we begin to name the log in our own eye, what’s what, at least to say the phrase: What’s next?
C: I think you have to start with that sense of what’s keeping you from really understanding your true desire? And so you know, from my perspective, that’s typically, there’s shame underneath that. There’s shame. There’s fear. There’s disappointment. There’s loss. You know, what’s underneath that’s keeping you from feeling like you can engage? Um, you can connect with someone else? And you know, if connection requires compassion and vulnerability and a porousness and a tenderness, what’s keeping you from that posture? And do you understand something of your defensive structure that has both kept you safe, but now needs to be engaged and healed in order to allow you to be in relationship in a different sort of way?
D: So well-said. To me, the core of that is to say, can I address shame? But I’ll never address shame until I let down contempt. I’ve got to make a decision. And I’ve gotta make it politically, and I’ve gotta make it with regard to the current issues in our world and country, let alone my marriage and friendships. Will I operate with contempt? Or will I operate with a heart that is open, that is caring, compassionate and honest? Again, we’re not talking about avoiding conflict. We’re talking about entering conflict without the shield and weapons of contempt. So where you’ve got self contempt, you’re gonna be blind. Where there’s other centered contempt, there’s blind. So if you are referring to the other political party as an enemy, you’re already blind. Because contempt has put you in a position where you have turned against another human being. Even if you differ with them profoundly. Your contempt is isolating, it’s justifying, and ultimately it’s empowering you, but not in a way that is built on the fabric and foundation of love. So I think in some ways, what we’ve got to make deep decisions about as a country: Will we tolerate politicians who violate the ninth commandment and slander other human beings? “That’s just part of the way politics are.” It doesn’t have to be if you say it doesn’t have to be. So where you join in any form of contempt against another human being, you are participating in the kingdom of evil, not the kingdom of God. And when I think about that with regard to my marriage, our friendship, self contempt, other contempt is keeping us from growing the goodness and creativity where our differences can engage and we can argue. Frankly, we can fight. But it’s a fight for goodness built on mutual trust, commitment to learning and honoring, but not bound to being right. So where those categories are at play, I can guarantee you, your conflict is not leading to good.
C: I think we have more choice to bring honor and to bring safety than we know. And I think part of how conflict becomes synonymous with contempt, especially nowadays, is that we don’t actually realize that we have power to bring a different outcome. And when we actually are bound to honor more than being right or kind of bringing our point across, kindness and mutuality opens up doors within conflict where people are actually changed by being in a relationship with one another. And I think that’s been so important for me, I often get bound up into this place of–I was on, I posted something on my Facebook page a couple weeks ago around the election and the inauguration, and it was, you know, lots of people were on there. It was very kind. It was gracious, and someone kind of dropped a bomb onto my feed. Something just kind of nasty a clip, you know, comment. And I looked at the comment and I was, like, furious, ready to engage, ready to go after him, ready to kind of be, like, how could you say that? And all of a sudden I was like, wait a minute. I have a choice here of how I’m going to engage this. And so I stopped and thought about it and just wrote him back and said, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in 20 years, you just dropped, you know, way to come out swinging, but I’m not going to engage with you around this on this platform or with that tone. Thank you.” And then all of a sudden, you know, his tone shifted as he responded. And then my tone shifted. It was fascinating because so many people were watching our engagement, and I got emails afterwards saying, thank you. Like you were kind and gracious. We ended up in a conversation about his family and the loss of his wife and all of a sudden we’re connecting, right? And I’m like, I’m happy to talk to you about this political position if you want to have a conversation with me. But this isn’t how we’re going to do that. So you have a choice of how you want to bring honor and create safety, in regard to how you’re doing conflict. I think that’s very hopeful. But we forget. We forget.
D: Well, if it’s true through Facebook, in a relationship you’ve not been engaged in for 20 years, then how infinitely more risky but possible that is, between my wife and I. Between you and me. We can have conflict that does not necessitate turning into enemies, turning to opposite corners, but actually staying in it long enough to hear, to care, but also I want to keep coming back to this word. To create. Conflict can open the door to, in one sense losing your view, the other losing their view, not creating a compromise, but creating something that’s new that we would not have thought about without the interplay. And I honestly have seen that as we’ve written this book together, as we did the marriage conference together, there has just been so much of the material we’ve developed where if we weren’t in tension, we would not have seen the creativity bring us to a kind of, oh, that’s far closer to what I want to say that I would have been before. So all I can do as we end is to say thank you, Cathy, for staying in conflict with, apparently at times at least, a petty, shrill, loud man. And because of that, as we’ve dealt with one another, I think we both can say, there’s more of Jesus in our labor and our lives. And that’s what we most want through conflict. That exposure, that invitation, and in many ways, the play of creativity.
C: Yes, thank you, Dan.
D: Well, we had a significant conversation with a bunch of folks about marriage and conflict. And, how is your conflict with Will? After we did the conference?
C: I left the house immediately and went by myself for two days. [laughs]
D: That’s hilarious. I literally escaped from Becky for a couple hours, but honestly, I think we were both more tender. She listened to the material, loved what we were engaging and just said, You know, there are a couple things that, as a result of what I heard, we need to step into. And I felt this moment of going No, no, no, no! But it was really — She took notes, which is really weird. To have your wife take notes about your own conference, but we used those notes to begin the process of engaging the things that she wanted to address. So, look, we want to tell you that this event we hosted on February 6, which we called Conflict To Connection, it really is a conference for couples but beyond couples. And if you missed it, you can still access the recording if you register by April 6, so you can go to theallendercenter.org/marriage for details, if you want to learn more about dealing with conflict!