Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dealing with Conflict in Marriage

Preparing for Battle
Marble Floor in Siena's Duomo
Photo © 2013 Kelly Grace

The smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, so let's talk about marital fights.

Recall the last time you and your spouse had a fight.
Was it in the evening, or worse yet, late at night?
Was it a completely new issue or were you having a new fight about an OLD issue?

After a recent and thankfully rare fight, Gary and I started our own joint list 
of rules and restrictions pertaining to disagreements.

These are uniquely designed to address our own weaknesses as individuals and as a couple.  
They are custom tailored to fit us and our relationship.
Each one is intended to help THE US prevail over THE ME.

Why am I sharing something so personal and unflattering as a marital spat?
Because this morning I read the following in my Bible reading:

2 Kings 13:25
And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz recaptured from the hand of Ben-Hadad, the son of Hazael, the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war.
Three times Joash defeated him and recaptured the cities of Israel.

Fighting the same battle over and over again means just one thing.

You didn't finish the job properly in any of the previous campaigns.
  • Maybe you both were so exhausted by the effort you just left the field of battle to nurse your wounds.
  • Or you created a sort of DMZ (that's a De-Militarized Zone for any under 50 readers) to keep a safe distance between the combatants  and prevent further hostilities from erupting.
  • Possibly one of you gave up the battle, but the two of you didn't sign a peace treaty with fair terms that brought a solution to the problem.
As believers we have a responsibility to do the hard work of maintaining the high ideal of a Christian marriage that reflects the relationship between Christ and His church.

Gods' intent is that two individuals are to love, encourage, strengthen, and support one another.  It's a tough assignment because we each still possess a sin-nature that constantly wants to put self first.  

After almost 30 years of marriage it's obvious that God has used our marriage in His work of conforming us each to the image of Christ.  (Romans 8:29)

Clearly we aren't there yet!  
But we press on---together.  
Marriage, Christian marriage, is bigger than the sum of its parts.
This thing is bigger than the two of us.

I don't know about you, but I suspect that you're not so different from me.
I hate covering the same ground over and over.
Having the same disagreement, responding in the same destructive way, and never resolving the CORE issue(s).
It's exhausting, discouraging, and maddening.

I want to grab the marriage remote and change the channel.

Let's face it.  There are certain areas that are universal in their potential for strife.
  • Money
  • Sex
  • Children
But if you peel back the layers you find that:
  • Fights about Money are struggles for Control
  • Fights about Sex are struggles with Intimacy
  • Fights about Children are struggles over Heritage

Here's our List.  We should have done this years ago!

1.  Do not begin any discussion of a difficult topic after 2:00pm.  
I'm reminded of the famous quote by Mark Twain, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day".  
Gary and I are morning people.  We have higher energy and thus better coping skills early in the day.  By afternoon and evening we both fray at the edges.  This means we have to do our frog eating early in the day.
You may remember that Ephesians 4:26 says, Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.
We remember it also, but we have agreed not to "nurse the hurt" or "feed the fire", but just to let the emotion dissipate and our calmer better selves discuss it in the morning.

2.  Be truthful with yourself and your spouse about the REAL issue.
This requires some soul searching and plumbing the depths of our own murky waters of emotion.  
Ask yourself, what about this really hurts me?  
Then give it a name.  
This feels like:  rejection, dismissal, isolation?
The most powerful emotional triggers are (1) not feeling loved (2) not feeling important and (3) not feeling connected.
We all know that the fight about who does what chore, or what car we buy are not really fights about those things.

So, if you don't want to keep having the same fight over and over---get to the CORE of the conflict.
I know it makes you feel vulnerable and maybe wimpy, but if you don't acknowledge the real problem and share it in love with your partner, you'll keep fighting the same fight, taking the city and losing it again only to have to fight another day.

3.  Remember your spouse is not the enemy.
Recently I spent 5 weeks teaching on marriage and family in Africa.  Teaching the same truth over and over in a concentrated time frame really etches the truth deeply into your heart and mind.  Proverbs 31 is an EPIC chapter for wives.  We all have a love-hate relationship with this exceptional woman.  One thing that stood out to me over and over is the simple statement in verse 11,"the heart of her husband safely trusts in her".
This woman is always "with" her husband.  She's not "against" him.
His heart is safe with her.
There is an enemy, but it's not your spouse. 
The next time you have a conflict look at your spouse and remind yourself, "This is not my enemy".  Take a deep breath and let your RESPONSE TIME slow down.  This is especially important if you're a hot reactor.  
You may have a short fuse, but you don't have to put a match to it. 
In The Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis' creates the novice tempter, Wormwood, who is tasked with causing upheaval and engendering sin in the life of a christian.
It's fiction, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.
Ask yourself if there might be something or someone else behind the episode.

4.  Have some pie.
That would be Humble Pie.
Proverbs 13:10 Only by pride comes contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.
Pride---that stubborn concern for my self, my way, my wants, my priorities, me, me, me.
Pride is at the root of so many of our conflicts.
I don't feel loved, but I'm too proud to tell you that.
I don't feel valued, but I'm too embarrassed to say anything.
I don't feel connected to you, but I'm not going to ask for your attention.
Wise up.  None of us are mind readers.  All of us have a tendency to think others feel as we do and therefore know what we feel.  News Flash:  they might not.
You need to participate in Show & Tell
Show some humility and tell them your need!

5.  Remember the Love.
How do you think any conflict might be changed if you and your spouse immediately quoted 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to yourselves?
You know what would happen; it would vanish like fog on a sunny morning.
If you haven't memorized those verses---do it today.
Two phrases especially apply.
Love, is not easily provoked.
Love, thinks no evil.
Learn to think the best of your spouse.  
Believe in the purity of their motives and the sincerity of their actions.

James 3 should be required reading for anyone contemplating marriage.
Is it possibly time for a refresher course?
It's all about taming the tongue and the fruits of wisdom.

What about you?
What has God shown you that has helped you handle conflict and nurture a more blessed union?


  1. Thank you for sharing something so personal. xoxo (Going off to read James 3)

  2. Greg Laurie used to say relate don't reveal.
    I don't know anyone who's married that can't relate to the need for improved strategies for conflict resolution!