5 Characteristics of a Lasting Marriage - Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution:  There are No “Sides” in a Marriage

As we develop true acceptance and authenticity with our spouse, conflict is inevitable. These days, the first sign of conflict in a marriage, leads to divorce, as we convince ourselves that this broken person must not be "The One".  You see, after the "honeymoon" period is over it is not uncommon to ask, “Who is this person, and why did I marry you?”[1] This question is a clear indicator that our spouse is not meeting the expectations that we brought into our marriage. Examining our expectations and reconciling this with reality are critical to truly building a strong marriage. Instead of the fairy tale, we must learn to really understand God’s truth of what a Christ - Centered marriage looks like.

If you are experiencing conflict with your spouse this is a GOOD sign- it means that you are past the façade of new relationship and are showing each other who you really are; imperfect people with struggles and personality differences. Tough conversations and conflict can make anyone uneasy but we must see conflicts as an opportunity to grow. Trust us, we know in the heat of discussion, hurt feelings and pride can sweep anyone into having difficulty working through conflict but the Lord has already given us a model on how to reconcile. Scripture tells us to,

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. Eph. 4:3-6

As God’s people, we are called to respond to conflict in a way that is remarkably different from the way the world deals with conflict. The world will tells us to pick a "side" when you are in a disagreement. Calling your girlfriends or family for support of your “side” is not only unhealthy, but it keeps you from accountability and destroys unity in your marriage. Viewing your marriage as a victim, removes you from personal responsibility, will hinder you from growing in future relationships and will lead you to seeking a perfect man/woman that doesn't exist. The only perfect person you will ever meet is Jesus Christ, and we must learn to love others in the same way he loves us: in spite of our sinful nature and imperfections.

The Bible challenges us to see conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, serve each other, and grow to be like Christ.

Conflict is fueled by our own desires or being upset by the decisions of others. As believers, we are called to depend on the wisdom, power and love of God’s truth. If we seek to obey the Lord’s commands instead of pursuing our own agenda, we can focus on developing a loving, merciful and forgiving attitude towards our spouse, longing more for understanding and reconciliation instead of self-righteousness, power and control.

Healthy marriages commit to responding to conflict according to the following principles[2]:

1.  Look at your own heart - Get the log out of your own eye (Take ownership of your part- even if they do not see theirs).

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

There are generally two kinds of logs you need to look for when seeing your part in the conflict.

First, you need to consider your own attitudes and biases.

Critical, negative or overly sensitive attitudes easily lead to unnecessary conflict.

Second, Deal with your sinful words and actions.

We are often blind to our own failures and we must have honest accountability who will help us take an objective look at ourselves and face up to our contribution to a conflict.  The most important aspect of getting the log out of your own eye is to go beyond the confession of wrong behavior and face up to the root cause of that behavior. The Bible teaches that conflict comes from the “desires at war within you” (James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18-19). Some of these desires are obviously sinful, such as wanting to conceal the truth, bend others to your will or have revenge. In many situations, however, conflict is fueled by good desires that you have elevated to a sinful place, such as an unhealthy craving to be understood, loved, respected or vindicated (1 Peter 2:23).

Any time you become excessively preoccupied with something, even a good thing, and seek to find happiness, security, or fulfillment in it rather than in God, you are guilty of idolatry. Idolatry inevitably leads to conflict with God. It also causes conflict with other people. As James writes, when we want something but don’t get it, we kill and covet, quarrel and fight (James 4:1-4).  Good marriages end over small offenses because one or both parties cannot humbly own their part in marital conflict.

2.  Keep short accounts. (Let the little stuff go)

We recently met a couple who are going on 45 years of marriage, when we asked them their best advice; they said “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.  A key to peacemaking involves an effort to help others understand how they have contributed to a conflict but, before you rush off to confront your spouse, remember that it is appropriate to overlook minor offenses (Prov. 19:11). As a general rule, an offense should be overlooked if you can answer “no” to all of the following questions:

• Is the offense seriously dishonoring God?

• Has it permanently damaged a relationship?

• Is it seriously hurting other people?

• Is it seriously hurting the offender himself?

3.  Go and show your spouse their fault. (Remember to be delicate with your spouse’s heart and be gentle in your approach)

If the answer to any of the above questions is Yes, go to your spouse. Yes, your spouse. Not your best friend, mother, father, daughter, son, or nail salon tech. The Bible tells us:

“If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15)

God commands you to go and talk with your spouse privately and lovingly about the situation (see Matt. 18:15). In our community group, we learned to see speaking into your spouse as if you were about to do surgery. A surgeon must be delicate in approach, seeking healing without leaving behind large damaging scars. So as you approach your spouse, remember to:

• Pray for humility and wisdom (1 Peter 5:5).

• Plan your words carefully–think of how you would want to be confronted (Prov. 15:1-2; 16:23).

• Anticipate likely reactions and plan appropriate responses– rehearsals can be very helpful (Prov. 20:18).

• Choose the right time and place–and always talk in person whenever possible (Prov. 16:21; 27:12).

• Assume the best about your spouse until you have facts to prove otherwise (Prov. 18:17).

• Listen carefully (Prov. 18:13).

• Speak only to build your spouse up (Eph. 4:29).

• Ask for feedback from your spouse. (Prov. 18:2).

           • Trust God (Psalm 37:3).

4. Go and be reconciled.

One of the unique features of biblical peacemaking is the pursuit of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. Even though followers of Christ have experienced the greatest forgiveness in the world, we often fail to show that forgiveness to others. To cover up our disobedience we often use the shallow statement, “I forgive her – I just don’t want to have anything to do with her again.” Just think, however, how you would feel if God said to you, “I forgive you; I just don’t want to have anything to do with you again?”

Praise God that He never says this!

Instead, He forgives you totally and opens the way for genuine reconciliation. He calls you to forgive others in exactly the same way: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12-14; see also 1 Cor. 13:5; Ps. 103:12; Isa. 43:25). One way to imitate God’s forgiveness is to live with these actions and attitudes when you forgive someone:

          •I will not dwell on this incident.

          •I will not revisit this incident or use it against you.

          •I will not talk to others about this incident.

          •I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

We pray that the Lord will help you to reach reconciliation through these biblical steps. But what if you have gone through these steps and your spouse will not seek reconciliation with you in return, let’s explore how God asks us to respond to a spouse who will not reconcile relationship.

What to do when the Road Gets Rocky - Be Prepared for an Unreasonable Spouse

Whenever you are responding to conflict, you need to realize that your spouse may harden their heart and refuse to be reconciled to you. There are two ways you can prepare for this possibility.

First, remember that God does not measure success in terms of results but in terms of faithful obedience.

He knows that you cannot force your spouse to act in a certain way. Therefore He will not hold you responsible for their actions or for the ultimate outcome of a conflict. All God expects of you is to obey His revealed will as faithfully as possible (see Rom. 12:18). If you do that, no matter how the conflict turns out, you can know with a clear conscience before God, that His appraisal is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Second, resolve that you will not give up on finding a biblical solution.

If a dispute is not easily resolved and leading (or has lead) to separation/divorce, you may be tempted to say, “Well, I tried all the biblical principles I know, and they just didn’t work. It looks like I’ll have to handle this another way”– meaning, the world’s way. A follower of Christ should never close the Bible. When you try to resolve a conflict but do not see the results you desire, you should seek God even more earnestly through prayer, the study of His Word and the counsel of His church. As you do so, it is essential to keep your focus on Christ and all that He has already done for you (Col. 3:1-4). It is also helpful to follow five principles for overcoming evil, which are described in Romans 12:14-21:

• Control your tongue (“Bless those who curse you.”See also Eph. 4:29).

• Seek godly advisors (identify with others, and do not become isolated).

• Keep doing what is right (1 Pet. 2;12, 15;3:15b-16).

• Recognize your limits (instead of retaliating, stay within proper biblical channels).

• Use the ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (John 3:16; Luke 6:27-31).

At the very least, these steps will protect you from being consumed by the acid of your own bitterness and resentment if your spouse (or ex-spouse) continue to oppose you. And in some cases, God may eventually use such actions to bring your spouse to repentance (1 Sam. 24:1-22). Even if your spouse persists in doing wrong, you can continue to trust that God is in control and will deal with them in His time (see Psalms 10 and 37). This kind of patience in the face of suffering is commended by God (1 Pet. 2:19) and ultimately results in our good and His glory.

Seeking reconciliation with our spouse no matter what (through separation, divorce, financial hardship) is not what the world informs us to do. For lesser issues, we treat our marriages like a new fad, getting rid of spouses when they are no longer agreeable or we find someone else “less broken”. Radical love calls us to love when we are rejected and humiliated. We see that Christ received the ultimate rejection and was hated by this world, but he died for us in spite of that. He loves us when we reject Him. He loves us when we seek our own way. He loves us in our brokenness. Pursue your spouse and love them as Christ loves us. [3]

Stay Tuned.  Next week we will dive into Part III: Communication – The Key to Connection in Marriage

 

 

[1] http://www.watermark.org/media/the-biblical-role-of-a-wife/559/

[2] Communication/Conflict: Stanley, Scott M., and Markman,Howard. Fighting For Your Marriage. (©1994 Jossey-Bass Publishers)

[3] Conflict: A Constant Opportunity, a message series by Todd Wagner, Pastor of Watermark Community Church

(Go to www.watermarkradio.com to watch or listen to series).

Material adapted or borrowed from Ken Sande whose generosity in sharing his excellent work on conflict in

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Copyright © 1997 made this material possible.