If you’ve been married for any time at all, you know that conflict happens. But, that doesn’t mean it always has to be that bad.
Here are 10 things to remember which have the potential to turn your conflicts around:
- God is up to something good – I know it doesn’t seem like it in the moment, but this is true EVERY TIME you experience conflict. Here’s how it works: The greatest good we can do in this life is love God. The most significant way we can love God is to love our spouse. In order for us to grow in love for our spouse, we have to become aware of areas we’re not loving well. Conflict typically reveals where two people are falling short in loving each other, thereby giving us God’s To-Do list for ways we need to grow in love. Conflict is actually an opportunity for two people to grow in love for God and each other. This is the “good” God wants to accomplish.
- You don’t have what it takes – Please don’t take this too personal. This is true of everyone. You, nor I, nor anyone, has what it takes to successfully resolve conflict. When confronted with conflict, our bent, our nature, and our inclination will be to withdraw, escalate, negatively interpret, or invalidate. We will be tempted to do exactly the OPPOSITE of what is needed to successfully resolve conflict. That’s the bad news. The good news? We have a much needed helper to change all that. When confronted with conflict, admit your need and ask God for help. You need it!
- Your spouse is not your enemy – Even though it might seem like it in the moment of conflict, your spouse isn’t your enemy. Regardless of how much they might be behaving like your enemy, the spiritual reality is your spouse is on your team. You are one-flesh with your spouse. You are no longer two, but one. You do have an enemy, but it’s not your spouse. Your enemy is Satan and he is doing everything in his power to get you and your wife to fight as opposing forces, as opposed to inseparable teammates. As Satan has been doing from the beginning of time, he is trying to deceive you into thinking that what God says about you and your spouse is not actually true. You are ONE FLESH with your spouse.
- You’re not the most offended person in the room – When you’re in a conflict with your spouse, there’s a good chance you’re going to be wronged or offended. You might be called a name, yelled at, falsely accused of something, or stonewalled. If you’ve been on the receiving end of any of these actions, you know it hurts! When we’re hurt, we’re tempted to hurt back because we take these actions personally. But is it possible to take things too personally? Yes. Why? When our spouse sins against us, they are first and foremost sinning against God. When we remember that our spouse is primarily sinning against God and not us, we can take the offense less personally and be more motivated to respond in love vs. retaliate in anger.
- Process > Product – I’ve mediated my fair share of marital conflicts and many times a resolution just isn’t clear. Even as a third party, I sometimes get confused. If I’m confused as a third party, how much more so might the two people emotionally involved in the conflict be?! Regardless of how clear the resolution might be, our focus should always be more on the process of resolution than the product of resolution. Process trumps product, and a good process starts with demonstrating godly character.
- Relationship > Resolution – Not only is the process more important than the product, the relationship is more important than the resolution. In some instances, resolution on a particular issue might take days, weeks, or even longer to achieve. If we allow the resolution to stand in the way of the relationship, we might never experience relational peace. Resolution isn’t required for peace to be pursued. Unity doesn’t require uniformity. Put another way, division on an issue doesn’t have to define your relationship. Conflict tends to shrink the size of our relationship to the issue at hand, but it doesn’t have to. Prioritize the relationship over the resolution.
- Your perspective is never perfect – I hate to be so blunt, but you need to know something about yourself: you’re blind. To make things even worse, you’re blind to your blindness! Of course not completely, but the point is this, there are things that are true of you that you don’t see that you need other people to help you see. This is true of all of us, and this truth is never more faithful to make itself known than in a conflict. When you’re in a conflict I want you to consider that your perspective might not be perfect. You might not be seeing things as they really are. Go into conflict asking yourself, your spouse, and God, “What am I doing or not doing that might be contributing to this issue?”
- Radical repentance will be required – Of all the marital conflicts that I’ve mediated, it has been the rare exception that only one person is to blame. Yes, there are differing degrees of fault, but typically both spouses have something to confess to each other and to God. Let me take this to the extreme. Even if you are only 1% wrong in a conflict, you are still 100% responsible to own your 1%. Real resolution is only accomplished when both parties practice extreme ownership of their contribution to the conflict. PRO TIP: Even if you feel your spouse is “more wrong,” don’t wait for them to confess first. ALWAYS strive to beat them to the punch of repentance.
- The timing of resolution could turn your conflict around – Some times are better than others to enter into conflict resolution. Right before bed…don’t even think about it. In front of friends or family…not a good idea. After three hours of unsuccessful attempts…take a break for crying out loud! Look, sometimes timing is everything when resolving conflict. Don’t take the famous passage in Ephesians 4:26 too literally, “…don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Sometimes a good nights sleep gives some much needed mental rest and clarity to be able to successfully talk something through more effectively. Pursue resolution quickly, but not foolishly.
- Lead in love – Waiting on your spouse to make the first move towards reconciliation is not wise. Be first. Always. Take a step towards your spouse, regardless of who is “more wrong,” and no matter how many times you may have initiated in the past. Galatians 6:9 says it this way, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Healthy conflict is a necessary ingredient for two people to experience an authentic, growing relationship with God and each other. It might not be fun in the moment, but working through it is worth it.
Don’t try to keep ALL these things in mind in your next conflict, but rather just pick one to start with.
Chances are one of these stood out as a new thought or something you’ve forgotten. Pick that one to focus on and proactively ask God to help you remember that the next time you’re in conflict and see what happens.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.