I recently joined a new Beth Moore Bible study on the book of Esther. She titles the series Esther: It’s Tough Being a Woman. The introductory lecture was full of hilarious references to hormones as well as significant thoughts on women’s emotional and social struggles. One line stuck with me. “It’s tough being a woman, and many times our problem is other women.”
Amen to that! As Sue and I researched our latest book, Leading Women Who Wound, we heard many personal stories of women who had been hurt by other women. We discovered research on the way women do conflict—did you know it’s different from the way guys go about it?
Every study on gender differences in the last thirty years concludes that women value connections, living in what is called “a web of relationships,” while men value autonomy and a hierarchy of power. Women see life through a relational lens, even making decisions on the basis of how that decision will affect people they love. Women often evaluate their identity and security in terms of their relationships. Consequently many women feel safest in the center of a web of relationships while many men feel safest at the top of the hierarchy.
As a result, to most women, conflict is a threat to connectedness, to be avoided at all costs. However, conflict is a fact of life. We can’t avoid it—but instead of openly discussing the disagreement, women tend to go underground with their conflict. Disputes are preferably settled without direct confrontation, in direct disobedience to Scripture.
Men and women’s differing styles of conflict go back to the playground. Studies on boys in conflict reveal a direct, in-your-face preference. They meet the problem head-on, and they are much more likely to become friends with their former opponent. Girls tend to personalize competition and conflict, and they generally have difficulty letting it go.
For many women, Matthew 18 presents a challenge to their ingrained tendencies to avoid direct confrontation. I can relate—when I know that a conversation with a friend or even an acquaintance is going to become a confrontation, my stomach cramps, I get slightly nauseous, and I want to run the other direction. Surely there’s another way, right? I don’t really have to talk with her face to face about this??
Yet Jesus was speaking to us—to me—as much as to men. We are called to obey, to discuss the problem one-on-one with the other person in efforts to reconcile. Thankfully, most of the time problems can be resolved at that first step, if only we take it. But obedience can be tough. The flesh must be beaten back and the Spirit allowed to reign.
When was the last time you confronted another? Were you direct, or did you maneuver around things to avoid that uncomfortable situation? How has your relationship with Jesus affected your conflict management style—or has it?