By HEATHER COFER & GUEST WRITER
Conflict is a natural and normal growing pain of any maturing relationship. When two people — often two very different people — live together as husband and wife, differences and opposing opinions are bound to poke their heads out at some point. Conflict is not a problem, nor is it a sin. The way we settle it, however, can quickly become both if we allow the flesh to be in charge. If you’ve spent any time reading pre-marriage counseling books, you are no stranger to the overabundance of advice for couples on the topic of conflict resolution. Yet so many of those voices advocate a very self-focused mindset when approaching the issue of conflicts within marriage. God wants to use marriage to refine us, not as a means for us to always have our own way, even though many “relationship experts” would have you believe just that.
There is a way to navigate through rough waters that is honoring and edifying and that ultimately draws us closer to Christ. Developing healthy habits does not happen overnight, but it can happen when we allow Christ to be at the very heart and center of our marriage — in sickness and health and for better or for worse.
Elsje says. . .
While it might be very tempting to exaggerate your spouse’s contribution to the argument (while at the same time diminishing yours), the road to healthy conflict resolution is paved with humility. There is never a time when we are excused from the command in Philippians 2 to think of others’ needs above our own. A humble spirit does not mean taking the position of the doormat; it simply means a ready willingness to place your husband’s needs as higher priority than your own, with Christ’s glory as the highest objective. Acknowledging your wrongs instead of defending them might feel like a defeat, yet the goal of resolving conflict in a God-honoring way should be to build the marriage, not your ego. Don’t make room for “I told you so’s” and “you never’s,” as such statements reek of pride and is not the pattern that Christ set for us.
Expecting the Best
Heather says. . .
In the midst of settling a conflict, it can be easy to misunderstand words that are spoken or things that are done. Often it is misunderstanding that can lead to conflict. Our flesh wants us to believe that the other was being purposefully inconsiderate or unthoughtful and to dwell on that, but usually there are other factors that we don’t know about. Before going to the other with a complaint, it is always good to stop and ask the Lord for His mind and heart, for humility and patience, and to be able to see things from the perspective of the other person.
Each of us knows just how easy it is to make mistakes. And each of us knows how we would hope the other person would approach us. We would desire that they not be accusatory or harsh, but that they would humbly and patiently work through it with us, expecting the best of us. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
When we count the other person as more significant than ourselves, we naturally expect the best of them. Our desire is not to pick apart every one of their bad decisions, but to grow closer to one another and to honor the Lord through it.
Keeping a Calm Spirit
Elsje says. . .
I remember a neighboring couple in our little cul-de-sac having a very heated argument one night. Back and forth they bantered, with more than a handful of unpleasant, crude words being exchanged, with outside voices to boot. I’m not entirely sure how long this little drama continued, but it was clear that this situation was entirely lacking in self-control. The Bible compares a man without self-control to a broken-down city, without any walls (Prov. 25:28). If we think about what walls around a city represent, we quickly realize the importance of keeping a harness on our words and emotions. Back in the Bible times, the walls around the city served as the protection against all enemy forces. Anything and anybody that sought to harm or harass the people was kept out by the big, strong walls surrounding the city. If the walls had any breach or if they were torn down, it meant easy enemy access to all the inhabitants. Self-control, especially in the midst of conflict, stands as a strong and mighty wall of defense against hurtful words and irrational outbursts of emotions that only hurt and harm the marriage. A calm spirit does not just happen right in the heat of an argument; it flows from a self-controlled, Spirit-led life. Allow God to build and fortify the discipline of self-control in all areas of your life. Whether it’s a greater harness on your emotions, more restraint in the area of relationships, or greater moderation when it comes to food, living a life that consistently bears the fruit of the Spirit is the secret to maintaining those qualities in difficult and trying situations.
Heather says. . .
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
When my husband and I were in a relationship, there were those who voiced concerns that we had never been in a fight with each other. Now, it is true that even to this day we have never had a fight. Conflict, yes. But fights, no. We decided at the very outset of our relationship that we would never allow ourselves to get to the point of raising our voices at one another, especially since that is often an indication that the flesh is beginning to take over. We always strive to talk through things in a way that helps us keep a calm and composed frame of mind, and in a way that honors the other person and glorifies the Lord. This has proven over and over again to “turn away wrath,” and throughout the whole process of working through the issue, there is a sense of clarity and peace. When either of us begin to show signs of becoming uptight, we have given each other the freedom to gently and lovingly remind the other to keep this kind of quiet spirit.
Find Virtue, not Fault
Elsje says. . .
There are few things that frustrate a man’s aspirations toward godly masculinity than a nit-picky, fault-finding attitude in the woman he is trying to prove himself worthy of. And it’s never easier to be critical and demanding than in moments of disagreement with your spouse. Leslie has often said that our words can either build or break our husbands. I have to be reminded of this often! It sometimes feels like we can tote around this giant, super-sized Mary Poppins-esque bag. Every time our husbands do something wrong in our estimation, we safely tuck it into our hulking bag of resentment. It’s then, right in the middle of a conflict situation, that we unleash the fury captured in the bag in the form of “you never do…” or “you always” or “if only you were more…” and the like. What if we chose to carry around recollections of our husband’s virtues instead? And what if we used those, especially when dealing with conflict, as reminders of his godly character and why we fell in love with him in the first place. Prayerfully ask God to show you how you can use even the conflicts you face within your marriage not to tear your husband down, to build him into a mighty, strong, and courageous man.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The next time you are tempted to seek the faults in your husband’s life, think on the things that are true, pure, noble, just, lovely, and of good report in his character.
Extend and receive forgiveness; forgive and forbear.
Heather says. . .
One of the most deadly things for a marriage or any relationship is harboring unforgiveness toward the other person. Often divorce comes about not by one single thing that someone does against the other, but because of years of holding grudges and being unwilling to forgive. How easy it is to justify being unforgiving when our eyes are turned onto ourselves. The smallest of things, when mulled over and left to fester in our minds and hearts, can become something that creates bitterness and resentment.
Colossians 3:13 says, “…bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Mathew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Forgiveness is something that isn’t optional for a Christian — it is mandatory. Jesus gave His very life that in Him we might have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14). When our eyes are fixed and focused on Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf, realizing what He has saved us from, choosing to withhold forgiveness from another will not even be an option in our minds. We cannot extend true forgiveness in our own strength. But Jesus has given us all that we need to forgive any and every wrong done against us.
There may be days when forgiveness must be asked for and received many times over. But when there is a spirit of forgiveness toward the other, peace and humility are what mark the relationship.
First and foremost, we are to treat one another as Christians. Being in a relationship or marriage doesn’t give us any license to speak to them or act toward them in a sinful, selfish way. We are to strive to treat them with honor and respect in every circumstance. Then, even when working through conflict, we will have a relationship that radiates with the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and the world will look on in awe!