What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. James 4:1-2a
No matter how much you love your spouse, or how compatible you are, you will have conflict in your marriage. Don’t expect it not to pop in for a visit. The goal is to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way, one that draws you closer together and closer to God. The Bible is full of instruction to help!
Speaking the truth in love; we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:15
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… James 1:19
How do you and your spouse handle conflict? I’ll be honest here; Mr X and I did not handle it well for most of our marriage. He never saw it or saw it dealt with in his home. I saw it, and it was not handled well; my dad spoke harshly and my mom quit talking. They ended up divorcing after 35 years of marriage. I learned that problems not talked about do not go away; they just get bigger and nastier. I didn’t want any elephants living in my house, so I was determined to talk everything out! However, Mr X could not be convinced to reciprocate. Finally, God got hold of him and now he will ask, “Is there anything we need to talk about?”
Our Art of Marriage seminar has a chapter on conflict and communication that has some wonderful guidelines:
First, talk to God. Figure out why you are upset. Most of the time, we feel like our rights have been violated or our expectations haven’t been met. Maybe our spouse has said or done unkind things. Maybe he or she HASN”T done what you think needed doing. To resolve the conflict in a healthy, Godly way, the goal must not be I WIN, but the MARRIAGE wins. You must both be committed to oneness.
If either of you has an anger or temper problem, remember these tips:
- Step back until you get yourself under control. Tell your spouse what you are doing and ask them to pray for you. If you think it might take an hour, let them know that. Remind them that you love them and your anger is YOUR problem, not their fault.
- While in “time-out,” breathe deeply and slowly. This will lower your pulse and blood pressure, and stop some of the physical effects of anger, which will help you think clearly. Pray about the situation and calm down.
- When you get back into conversation with your spouse, speak softly. A soft answer turns away wrath. Proverbs 15:1 Remind yourself and your spouse that you can find a win-win resolution.
- Make sure your body language speaks love and respect: Look each other in the eye. Don’t cross your arms or clench your fists.
- Watch your language. Escalating words: never, always, can’t, won’t, don’t, shouldn’t, and YOU statements. De-escalating words: Maybe, sometimes, what if, it seems like, and I statements.
- Ask questions. Don’t assume motives behind actions or statements. (You said “xyz” so “you hate me,” when it might be “you had a headache.”)
Some conflicts in marriage aren’t worth a fight. Let them go. Love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 But if something is hurting your relationship, it needs to be dealt with. When preparing to confront, remember these tips:
- Examine your heart and your motives. Get any logs out of your eye before you address the speck in your spouse’s eye. Matthew 7:4
- Pray for the situation, your spouse, and your marriage. Ask for wisdom in dealing with the problem.
- Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and choose your words carefully. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
- Choose your timing wisely.
- Sometimes writing a letter is a good way to handle a difficult situation.
- ALWAYS keep in the forefront of your mind that restoring oneness is the goal.
(Adapted from The Art of Marriage couple’s manual, page 86; FamilyLife Publishing)
What have you learned about handling conflict in your marriage?