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How Conflict Serves

My first husband and I never really learned how to make peace. We costumed our relationship to avoid hard conversations. We kept our issues packed away so they were left unreconciled while we moved forward, covered in conflict’s residue. Perhaps, if we were measuring, the greater sin committed in our marriage was not his adultery, but our dishonesty.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Family Issues found that conflict remains relatively the same over the course of a marriage. In other words, the level of conflict you experience today is likely indicative of the level of conflict you will experience 5, 10, even 20 years from now. That’s great news for low-conflict couples, or those who know how to resolve conflict, but what about the rest? What about the couples who find it difficult to resolve minor disagreements, much less overcome major blow-ups? What about those couples whose conflictual interactions have enough of an edge to them that others become uncomfortable?

We are a curious lot; perfect in Christ, yet being made perfect by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. In right standing with God through Jesus Christ, yet fighting against our sinful inclinations until we see Him face to face. Therefore, until we do, conflict is inevitable. And the resolution of conflict is important to our Father. Matthew writes in Matthew 5:23-24

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Emphasis mine)

God deals with the root; uncovering and addressing the issues lodged in our heart. Outward expressions of obedience are not solutions to friction in God’s family. His command to us is to do the hard work, get it right, talk it out, make peace, resolve the conflict. Then we can freely offer our gifts to Him. This is especially important in marriage.

There is a disruption of peace in my heart when Jonathan and I are in conflict. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often. Nevertheless, when it does, I am tempted to return to old patterns of behavior that provide relief from the disharmony without providing conclusion to the conflict. But I’ve been down that road before, and the destination leaves much to be desired. It’s a trip I never intend to take again. I had to learn how to do conflict well in order to disrupt those destructive patterns; how to make the conflict serve rather than destroy my marriage. I want to give you 5 tips to help you do the same:

  1. 1 Corinthians 1:10 "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." Realize that your interests are aligned. You and your husband are on the same team. If you win, he wins. If he wins, you win. If you both win, your family wins. Save your hostility for your true enemy, not your teammate.

  2. James 1:19 "Remember this my dear brothers: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." When emotions are high it is easy to let the first words that enter your thoughts fly out your mouth, no matter how hurtful they may be. Always wait a beat before responding to what’s being said. And speak your intentions, not your anger.

  3. Proverbs 18:2 "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." You will never get to the “what” if your interests lay in proving your point. Practice active listening; listen with an intent to understand. Ask thoughtful questions that will move the conversation towards resolution. Gain clarity on the words your husband is speaking as well as the intention behind what he is saying. Slow down and get a bead on how he’s feeling.

  4. Isaiah 43:25 "I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins." When we repent for our sins, we are forgiven completely. When we come back and repent for that same sin God forgives us again, without dredging up the past. Isaiah 38:17 (b) reminds us that God casts all of our sins behind His back. Stay focused on the issue at hand. If you have something from the past you wish to address, do that at a different time.

  5. Colossians 3:12 "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." If you find yourselves at an impasse, back down. Take a time out and pray. Pride and impatience are oxygen to conflict. Smother the flames of disharmony by remembering Whose you are and turning to Him to help you.

Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resolving conflict. Yet, these

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

principles, along with others, helped me grow in peacemaking; not perfectly, but persistently.

Don't run from the inevitable. Embrace conflict when it occurs. Take the opportunity to overcome a challenge that has the potential to improve your relationship in unexpected ways. Conflict uncovers and reveals. Conflict evokes honest conversation. Conflict causes us to put on humility in order to bring it to an end. Conflict helps us sharpen our ability to listen and discern what is important. Conflict can make a bad relationship good, a good relationship great, and a great relationship better, if we let it work for us.

For more tips and deeper discussion, join our private, online quarterly meet-up at The Refuge, on Wednesday, March 23rd. This quarter’s topic is: What To Do When Hubby Doesn’t Understand


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