Handling Conflict

This week I want to explore some ideas that will be helpful in dealing with conflict in marriage and preserving unity.
Conflicts are a natural part of life because everyone approaches life a little differently. So, first of all, I want to dispel the false idea that conflict means that you married the wrong person and the solution is to go out searching for the right person. This is a very prevalent idea that is destructive and very wrong. When two people live together sharing every aspect of life in a lifelong commitment, conflicts will arise. The solution is not the fantasy of a life that is so ideal that conflict is absent, but rather learning how to handle conflicts constructively.
Have you noticed that conflict between married couples is a major topic of comedy in our culture? Stand up comics like Tim Allen have made a fortune from talking about marriage conflict. My goal this week is to help us learn to approach conflicts in a more healthy way.
When we distill most conflicts down to their basic form, we find two people who have opposite ideas about something and each is convinced that their idea is best and that the other idea is not best. This quickly transforms into a debate over which one is
smarter or most qualified to make the decision … a competition is born. Each one is emotionally charged about proving that they are the superior one. Somewhere along the way, this self promotion turns into the dangerous practice of explaining how inferior the other is. We even stoop to name calling and reviewing lists of past mistakes. Before long, both are feeling hurt, insulted, and offended. Remember, this was all over some decision… what car to buy, how much to spend on a birthday party, what color to paint the living room, or something like that. Now, we have allowed that decision making process to to become a wild raging monster that is threatening the future of our family. Failure to resolve conflicts effectively can do great harm to our families that reaches far into the future. We need to determine how to navigate these rough waters!
At the core of most conflicts is a desperate desire to put self first. Today, I want to interject a passage of scripture that is helpful in dealing with marital conflict: Colossians 3: 13&14 – “Bear with each other and 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.” I hope you will memorize this passage, but we need to focus on the context in the rest of the chapter. We are first told to put to death a list of sinful qualities like: rage, anger, slander, filthy or hurtful speech, and selfishness. Then, we are commanded … because we are God’s children … to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. During times of conflict, which set of qualities most describes the way you interact with your mate?
Today, I want to encourage you to clothe yourself with better qualities especially during times of conflict … after all that’s when these qualities are most needed!
I hope you will take some time to read and reflect on Colossians 3 especially verses 13&14. Chapter 3 gives us a series of commands that apply generally to how we conduct ourselves with everyone, but has special significance in how we treat our mate. The fact that this is all in the form of a command tells us instantly that it is possible and that it requires a choice on our part. We are told to put to death things like rage, anger, selfishness, hurtful talk, among others and clothe ourselves with things like kindness, compassion, humility, patience, and other similar things.
Then we are told to bear with each other. Let’s think about that, bearing with someone includes: valuing them so much that you don’t want to hurt him or her, understanding that he or she may struggle from time to time, but you are there to encourage and help him or her, being patient, and respectful. Bearing with someone requires thinking the best of someone always. Bearing with someone requires that we are ready to forgive them and continue moving forward together. You might be thinking that this is a tall order that you might not be willing or able to fill, so we are reminded that the foundation for this willingness is our acknowledgement that God is bearing with us every day.
The first key in resolving conflicts is to choose to conduct ourselves in a loving manner. When conflict is brewing, rush to your spiritual closet and put on the jacket of love and kindness. Make sure to get rid of selfishness. Put your mouth on high alert commanding it to filter out any hurtful, insulting words. Now, you are ready to start talking about it.
The next step in approaching conflict is to ask yourself a series of questions. The first is, “What do I want?”. I have been embroiled in conflicts that were tense, difficult, and lasted for hours only to eventually realize that I didn’t even support my own idea. Many times I realized that I didn’t even care. I remember one time I put a real damper on an anniversary trip over washing the car. My wife is a person who is a stickler about a clean car. I, on the other hand, was raised in the country at the end of a one mile dirt road so a clean car means little to me. Our celebratory trip was marred by an argument over something trivial. I have found that many people choose to become deeply entrenched in their fight for something before they really decide if that is what they really want.
The next question is, “What is best for us?”. By now, I have an idea of what I want and why I want it, but as one part of a marriage partnership, love requires that I factor in what is best for us. Many decisions are not always right or wrong. Often, we want good things that might not be best for our mate and thereby not best for us.. In marriage, “Us” must always come before “Me”!
Now, I want to introduce the idea of learning the importance of deferment. Marriage is a partnership between two people – a man and a woman. They have agreed to journey together through life in a relationship that is helpful to both. Deferment is the recognition that one person might be more qualified to take the lead in this particular decision-making situation. Deferment is a true team concept. Deferment is wonderfully displayed by sports teams. Let’s take a minute to think about it. One thing that happens every time a team is assembled is that each player is evaluated and his or her strengths are identified. Then, the coach places each player in the position that best utilizes that player’s strengths for the benefit of the team. All of the players recognize the importance of each other’s abilities and strengths for the benefit of the team. The team that falls apart is the team that focuses on the negatives, promotes self, and is critical of the other members.
Now, let’s think about this in a marriage setting. Have you taken the time to notice the strengths of your mate? Are you so focused on the ways they disappoint you or fail to fulfill your ever growing list of wants that you have overlooked the many ways he or she has helped you? Your mate is a special person who has both strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses might irritate, disappoint, or hurt you, but don’t forget that you have weaknesses also. In order to have a healthy marriage, especially during times of conflict and stress we need to stay focused on our mate’s strengths and bear with them in their weaknesses being ready to forgive quickly!
Are you willing to recognize the life situations that need the talents and experience of your mate? When you face a challenge, do you think, “Hey this is what my mate knows all about! I’m so glad to have him or her on my side! Honey, we need you to take the lead on this one!” Can you follow that up by offering to help? It is counter – productive to try to insist on taking the lead on a decision that we know nothing about. Why fight your mate over something that you know little or nothing about? This is a sign of selfishness and a lack of wisdom.
Once you have recognized that you need to defer to your mate in this situation, are you willing to acknowledge their contribution? Many times, when it’s not our time to shine, we are tempted to overlook our mate’s contribution or minimize the situation altogether. That reaction is hurtful and brings coldness into a marriage.. A high five to your mate shows respect and appreciation and motivates him or her to keep bringing their strengths to the journey.
God has placed great things in your mate and you are the one who can reap the benefit of it… if you learn to work together! Marriage is not a competition where one dominates the other. Marriage is a team effort where both work together to lift each other up!
I want to offer some ideas that will be helpful in the actual back and forth of decision – making. I want to start by reminding you that this decision is about something less important than your mate. After all, it probably has to do with a house, a car, a job, money, or something else that will probably be completely changed in a year or two. So, decide up front to express your ideas and preferences in a respectful manner. Remember that you are not the only person involved and your mate has important ideas too. It is just as important to listen to and understand your mate as it is to explain the details of your ideas and preferences.
If you feel yourself becoming angry or tense, remember that you have a pressure relief valve. Here is how it works. First of all, remind yourself that a final decision does not have to be made right this moment. Then, since you are unsure of what you want right now, invite your mate to share his or her ideas and listen carefully asking questions as needed to help you understand their ideas more fully. You might decide that your mate has a good idea and easily decide to give him or her the thumbs up. You might decide that you don’t have strong preferences about the issue. You might decide that this is very important and you need some time to prayerfully consider the matter. In that case, calmly ask your mate for time to think about it and schedule a time to discuss it later. This is so much better than rushing to defend a position without really taking time to consider the options. Avoiding the knee jerk reaction is always helpful and protects the love you share with your mate.
Another helpful idea is to try to remove the personal aspects from the process. Remember, this is a decision for what seems to be best for your family, not a competition with a winner and a loser. I find it helpful to lay out all of the possible options, even the ones I don’t like. As we consider and discuss each one, we can agree to discard the ones that are obviously not best. This process removes the conflict and helps us work together to find the right solution. Finally, we can agree on the best option and both of us can commit to it because we worked together to find the solution.
Sometimes, important decisions and conflicts take time to resolve. Also, sometimes we make decisions and have unity but things don’t work out like we planned. I want to encourage you to decide to keep these things between you and your mate. One of the most destructive things couples do is to involve friends and family in their decision – making and conflict resolution. Ventilating our feelings with others always turns into tearing down our mate. The reality is that after you and your mate have worked it out, your confidants will continue to remind you of all you said and keep influencing you negatively about your mate. Keep it between you and your mate! Most of all, don’t share this stuff on social media.
So far, we examined Colossians 3 which tells us to put to death certain harmful qualities and clothe ourselves in opposite Heavenly qualities and to be prepared to bear with others and be ready to forgive and move forward.I suggested that before we start taking a stand for something, we should ask ourselves some questions to help us decide what we really want and why. Then, we should ask ourselves what is best for “Us” because in marriage “Us” is always more important than “Me”. We also thought about the value of deferment to the one with the strengths required for this particular situation.
I want to wrap this up by leaving you with a list of ideas that might help prevent and resolve conflict. Sometimes opportunities for conflict arise suddenly and by surprise so the best defense is to decide ahead of time how I will relate to my mate.
Remember that your mate is a great gift to you, plan to be kind and helpful.
Remember that your mate has strengths to help you. Recognize them and lean on them when necessary. Remember to let your mate know how much you appreciate him or her.
Before you take a position on an issue, take time to figure out what you really want and why. Then consider what is best for your family.
Remember that your mate is your friend, not your enemy. Respect him or her enough to listen to their opinions and ideas rather than insulting him or her and trying to force your opinions and ideas to the top.
Make a point of putting the needs and preferences of your mate ahead of your own to show him or her how much you love them… especially on issues that are not life altering like what color to paint the living room or what kind of birthday party to have for your child.
Choose to work together to make it through life rather than having an attitude of winning at your mate’s expense.
Be willing to confess that you don’t know everything and are prone to making mistakes … then ask for your mate’s input and help.
Once a decision is made and a solution is worked out, make sure to stick with your mate to the end of the matter. Every solution has bumpy spots that look like maybe the wrong decision was made. The important thing is to resist the temptation to accuse and belittle your mate. Helpful input and encouragement is always better than criticism.
So, let me ask you:
Are you locked in gridlock with your mate?
Do you know what to do to overcome the gridlock? Will you do it? If so, when?
Plan to start learning to handle conflict better…TODAY!
Before I go, I want to recommend I Still Do, A guide for the marriage Journey. This relationship devotional was developed to strengthen your marriage. Order yours today at nolareallife.org or at I Still Do on Facebook.

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