27 Jul 2021
mercy effect causes of dysfunctional conflict gary petty

Dysfunctional Conflict: the Expectation of Others to Meet our Needs

This is the second blog in a series reviewing the five major core causes of dysfunctional conflict discussed in The Mercy Effect. In the last blog, we looked at one of the major causes of conflict which is our need to be emotionally healed. A second cause is based in our expectations to have others meet our needs and desires.

All of us desire to be happy, to please our senses, and to avoid both physical and emotional pain. These desires aren’t always wrong. God designed us to need and desire love and friendship, to enjoy the proper use of our senses, and to avoid stresses that make us physically and emotionally sick.

We naturally approach all relationships with expectations. When people don’t fulfill those expectations, we end up feeling disappointed, which can lead to conflict. The source of many marital battles is the feeling of deprivation. A husband and wife may feel deprived of emotional support or sexual fulfillment. Similarly, many office clashes stem from unfulfilled expectations for promotion or monetary rewards.

Problems arise when others don’t meet our expectations. When we perceive that others are blocking our happiness or pleasure, or when we see these individuals as a source of pain, then we put on emotional battle armor and prepare for hand-to-hand conflict.

The Bible teaches that the first humans had a peaceful relationship with God, but they chose their own standards of right and wrong. It says the tree of the knowledge of good and evil appeared “good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

These motivations aren’t evil in themselves. It is not necessarily a wrong desire to enjoy good food, nor is wanting to please the senses, or to seek wisdom necessarily wrong. The problem is when we go against God’s instructions, deciding for ourselves how we will satisfy our needs and desires. We seek gratification in ways that are rebellious toward God and harmful to us and to other people.

The apostle James wrote: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1).

One of the surest paths to unhappiness and constant frustration is to become obsessed with our own wants and needs. Selfishness is a root of dysfunctional conflict. Selfish motivations can feel so right, even when the resulting behaviors are destructive to our relationships and personal well-being.

Balancing the desire to fulfill our expectations with the reality of relating to and loving others is one of the challenges to emotional well-being. “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and you do not have. You murder and covet and do not obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever wants to make himself the friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God” (James 4:1-5).

Here James explains why there is so much conflict between people, and between us and God. Many times, it is because we are obsessed with getting others to fulfill our every desire. God is seen as a genie in a bottle whose main purpose is to make us happy by meeting our demands. Unless we accept God’s standards and give up this selfishness, we will continue to see Him as an enemy who is somehow keeping us from happiness. Think about it. Do you feel that obeying God will keep you from experiencing fun and happiness?

We are designed to experience an obedient relationship with God. At the same time, we want to maintain god-like control over our own decisions about right and wrong. We want to protect our rights, self-image, and emotional security by forcing others to meet our demands. We want to satisfy the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” without any personal accountability, and we do not want to suffer any negative consequences for our actions. With all these conflicting motives, no wonder we’re such a mess.

James writes that these incompatible desires create “fights and wars.” He goes on to state that many times we don’t receive God’s blessings because we don’t ask Him, and when we do ask He doesn’t grant our requests because our requests are selfish. In the final analysis, the apostle returns to the core problem—we fight among ourselves because we are in conflict with God.

God’s answers to the conflicts caused by our own desires are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). Jesus begins by explaining attitudes that are essential to becoming a child of God. He says that those who are the children of God:

  • are poor in spirit instead of self-righteous
  • mourn instead of acting with selfish abandonment and no concern for sin
  • are meek instead of arrogant
  • hunger and thirst after righteousness instead of being spiritually complacent
  • are merciful instead of being vengeful
  • are pure in heart instead of being hypocritical
  • are peacemakers instead of conflict makers
  • are willing to be persecuted for doing what is right before God (Matthew 5:3-10).

We can’t solve our conflicts with others until we resolve the conflicts within our own minds. In the Beatitudes, Jesus summarizes both the causes and remedies for human conflict with God and each other. Studying this list is the starting point for self-examination in any conflict we have with others.

A person once told me that a counselor claimed that internal conflicts stemmed from resisting natural desires and trying to obey the Bible. This secular counselor advised his client to give in to desires and to give up attempts to obey biblical instructions. The counselor claimed the internal struggles would disappear. This is natural thinking for a person in conflict with his Creator.

How can you have the power to work through your conflicted desires? The answer lies in how God heals our damaged human nature. This requires His personal involvement and our response known as repentance.

Next, we’ll look at an attitude all of us need to have towards God before we can deal with dysfunctional conflict with another person.


From The Mercy Effect, copyright © 2018 by Gary Petty

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About the Author

Gary Petty is a 1978 graduate of Ambassador College with a BS in mass communications. He worked for six years in radio in Pennsylvania and Texas. He was ordained a minister in 1984 and has served cong