Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for conflict – it comes to you. Several years ago I was leading a group of students on an inner city mission trip in Chicago. Thinking it would be a nice way to relax after a long day of painting at a homeless shelter, I took the students out for a night run.
Minutes into our run, we were interrupted. We heard the car before we saw it. By the time we turned around, a well-dressed couple had spilled out of the back seat of a taxi –and as my mom used to say, “They were madder than a hornet.” It was the yelling, crying, and shoe-throwing kind of mad.
Honestly, I wanted to run away. Then I wasn’t sure who needed my help more – the guy or the girl. So I started walking toward both of them using my loudest and lowest dad voice. Internally, I was praying that Jesus would return before I stepped into this conflict. It must have been enough to scare them off. We didn’t resolve their conflict, but they did get back in the cab and leave.
Conflict is all around us isn’t it? We encounter disgreements with strangers, family members, our kids, and especially with our spouse. Marriage is certainly not immune to conflict.
In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Every couple deals with conflict. Disagreements are inevitable, even in the healthiest of marriages. So what do you do when disagreement comes your way?
The following is a list of ways to deal with disagreements in a more God-honoring way as you strive to “be at peace” with one another.
- Be quick to admit (confess) your own contribution to the conflict. Lead with “I” instead of “you.”
- Be willing to forgive – be careful of living in the past by holding previous wrongs over your spouse’s head (Matthew 6:14-15; Ephesians 4:32)
- Focus not only on what needs to be said, but how it is said (Ephesians 4:29)
- Seek to resolve disagreements sooner than later (Matthew 5:23-24)
- Avoid extremes or exaggerations – “You always….” “Every time…” “I never…”
- Don’t respond emotionally – learn to take time to listen and cool off before engaging in conflict (James 1:19-21)
- Be willing to overlook minor offenses (Proverbs 12:16; Proverbs 19:11)
- Watch out for avoiding necessary conflict – being passive can lead to bitterness, resentment, and further hurt
- Be specific – don’t expect your spouse to read your mind
- Ask questions – be careful of assumptions or drawing premature conclusions
- Try to focus more on the positive instead of the negative (Philippians 2:1-4; Philippians 4:8)
As a couple, take some time and discuss which of these is most challenging for you and why. When are the two of you most vulnerable for unhealthy disagreements? Write down and discuss the top two or three points of conflict most common for you and your family. What can you begin to do differently?