By Sarah Logan, Contributing Writer
I am no expert on marriage, but I am experienced in the area of conflict management! If you are of the blissfully wed who really can’t relate to the idea of conflict – if you are a sweet, meek and humble, servant-partner, filled with joy even with the most challenging of circumstances, I suggest you skip this article and move on to another! I, on the other hand, have had my fair share of ups and downs in marriage and have had to navigate the course with prayerfulness and trust in God, who I believe authored our marriage.
Sam and I met in a crazy whirl of events where he needed a place to stay for a night in Hong Kong where I was temporarily living with my parents studying for certification in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). Someone gave him our contact info and he ended up in our guest room. That night, four burglars decided it was an opportune time to break and enter, and after a great scuffle Sam ended up needing stitches in the nearby hospital with me at his side – horrified that this should happen to the dashingly handsome house-guest I had just met! To make a long story short – five weeks later he proposed (as we had a lot of talking to do and getting to know each other in those weeks!). Six months later we got married. So, you could pretty much guess that we were still pretty new to each other and it was very much like marrying a stranger – though not entirely, since we’d had some months to get acquainted.
Entering marriage under such circumstances sounds incredibly romantic and exciting. The reality is however that it was very difficult at first. We were both headstrong and confident – sure of ourselves and our opinions – me probably more than Sam! It was so NOT what I had envisioned! Sam’s outlook on life – on a lot of things – came as a complete shock to me! I told him so quite forcefully and basically made it my agenda to re-educate him on all things to my way of thinking. Needless to say, this was NOT a great idea! (I don’t recommend it!)
I’m guessing most of you managed to learn a lot more about each other before getting married and thus paved the way for smoother sailing. But since we did navigate stormy waters perhaps you can learn from our mistakes so you don’t make them yourselves – and learn from our successes.
4 Steps for Relieving Marital Conflict
1. “Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph 4:26)
We held to this biblical admonition and for us this meant one of two outcomes: either we fought our way to the end or fatigue set in and gave us blessed new perspectives on the fight at hand. Note the verse does not say, “You must resolve everything before you go to bed.” It is basically advising against trying to sleep when you’re angry. God, in His great wisdom, knew that sleep is restorative when we’re in an emotionally calm state. Trust His judgement. Let your anger go – forgive with a will of steel if you have to! Conflicts can take years to resolve – fighting to the death – and exhaustion point is pointless. Sometimes you may need to shelve an argument for a while.
2. “Do nothing out of selfishness… – Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but… to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2)
Recently I heard about spouses who were divided over when to put up the Christmas tree – one wanted it done before Thanksgiving, the other wanted it up after. I don’t want to belittle anyone – but it was really hard for me to hear that this was a major conflict in a marriage. My advice to this couple would be: “Really? You are willing to sacrifice the love of your life over your preference on timing of a tree? Jesus died to redeem you and brought you together and you cling to your minor desire for control over a tree!!? When God has given you so much, why do you withhold your giving (and giving up of your selfish interests) from one who you’ve committed to give to the rest of your life?”
3. Forgive Each Other
Col 3: Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Easier said than done, right? If you struggle with forgiveness I suggest you do some heavy soul-searching and research in this area. Read every book you can find on the subject. Wrestle through your own need for forgiveness. It is a path – a journey – a climb – a hike – but reaching the summit yields such fresh air and freedom that until you find that peace that forgiveness brings – you will continue to battle cobwebs in your soul.
4. The Cost of Broken Relationships
Consider the Cost of Strife. I think of Joseph who had every reason to become a bitter old soul. His brothers mocked him. They basically ruined his life. They sent him into a miserable existence. And I believe he must have struggled with his anger, hurt, resentment and bitterness towards them. Otherwise, why would he have named one of his sons, ‘I forget’!? But it is obvious that he did forgive. However, it was many years before true reconciliation could take place. The conflicts between Joseph and his brothers, though God’s hand was in it all to preserve them, meant a loss of relationship for many years and grief upon grief for his family.
When his brothers sat in prison, they still had guilt in their soul and wondered if this wasn’t poetic justice for their misdeeds to their little brother. I marvel to think they lived life – year in and year out – having kids, raising livestock, growing into old men – with unresolved conflict on the back burner. Did you ever consider what your bickering, striving, jostling for rights, me-first attitude might be costing your marriage? The wear and tear may be less visible than sending a brother into slavery – but the cost is still there. Being a peaceable, agreeable partner is one of the best gifts to give your spouse. I’m not one to talk since I wasn’t, but it was such a new concept for me to consider being ‘agreeable’. We are taught, almost from birth, to assert ourselves, our will and we admire confident people. These are great in a certain sense. But being that way with your spouse can be tricky. It’s good to be confident and assertive. But sometimes these can overflow into argumentative and haughty. Tread carefully!
There are far more than 4 concepts laid out in Scripture for us regarding conflict – so perhaps this is just Part 1 – but it should get you started as you navigate sometimes stormy times in your marriage.