I used to think conflict in marriage was a bad thing. So much so, that I used to do whatever it took to get rid of it.
Whenever Star and I had conflict during the first 2 years of our relationship, I thought the best way to deal with it was to overlook her “stuff” and move on. I stuffed Star’s “stuff” in a place never to be talked about again and thought God would do his work and make it all magically disappear. Boy, was I wrong. Take it from me, stuffing is the last way you want to deal with conflict. You can only stuff for so long before you start to spew.
Every time I stuffed a conflict away (big and small), I placed an imaginary brick between Star and I. After only 2 short years of being married our wall of unresolved conflict was 20 feet high and 50 feet thick. No amount of love could possibly break through.
I hope your wall of unresolved conflict isn’t anywhere close to as big what ours was, but even if it is…there is Hope. God helped us take down the wall brick by brick and he can help you as well.
The only way to keep a “small wall” between you and your spouse is to make sure you experience REAL resolution to your conflicts. Many of the couples we talk with in counseling think their conflicts are resolved, but after digging in we often discover more resolution needs to take place.
How can you tell if your conflicts are really resolved? Here’s a short acrostic using the word REAL that you can use as a checklist to make sure your conflicts are actually being resolved:
R – Receive Your Spouse
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”
The starting point for working towards REAL resolution is to approach each conflict, hurt, or issue with an internal commitment to receive your spouse throughout the entire process of resolution. Don’t work towards resolution so that you can receive your spouse, but rather receive them to create the best possible environment for resolution to take place. Resolution works best in an environment of proactively receiving each other.
Don’t go into a conversation about an issue with an attitude of, “If he doesn’t say this, admit this, do this, then I’m not going to…”. Rather, have an attitude of, “Regardless of how he responds, what he says, what he does, I’m going to look for ways to continue to pursue resolution and receive him the very best I can.” When 2 people are committed to receive each other unconditionally, it paves the way for the most difficult of conflict to be successfully resolved.
Receiving each other is the foundation of REAL resolution.
E – Express Authentic Thoughts and Emotions
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.“
The goal of communication between a husband and wife is to be completely transparent with each other. This is especially true when talking about a conflict or issue that needs resolution. In other words, you need to tell the truth about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking related to the issue in order to experience REAL resolution.
But, don’t just tell the truth. Tell it in love. This isn’t license for you to tell your spouse off, tell them like it really is, to make threats or demands, etc.. It is a chance for you to share the extent of how you feel and what you’re thinking in a way that helps them understand how their actions affected you.
The “ditches” to avoid are stuffing and spewing. Don’t go silent, but also don’t vomit everything. Go middle of the road and speak the truth in love.
A – Admit Your Faults
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Talking through a conflict or issue will typically reveal areas that need to be confessed by the both of you. REAL Resolution isn’t just being willing to confess, but searching for opportunities to confess to each other for how you contributed towards the issue…regardless of who is more at fault.
L – Learn From Yours and Your Spouse’s Mistakes
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”
I like to say that conflict is a key ingredient of a healthy marriage because of what it reveals and what it can produce. Conflict reveals our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of our spouse. And when handled correctly, conflict has the opportunity to produce growth in character. When we experience REAL resolution, we should walk away knowing ourselves and each other better so we can respond differently to similar situations moving forward.
REAL resolution should lead us to know our spouse’s weak spots so we can be more sensitive to them. REAL resolution should lead us to start to be aware of our own character flaws so we can work on them more intelligently. REAL resolution should lead to creating a better pattern of resolution for future conflicts and also lead to our conflicts becoming fewer and far between. REAL resolution should help us to see conflict as an opportunity for growth and intimacy, as opposed to something to be avoided at all costs.
Lastly, experiencing REAL resolution will help you and your spouse keep your “wall” small and thereby removing everything standing in the way of you experiencing the marriage of your dreams.
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.