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Marriage: Made in Heaven? Part 10 “Resolving Conflict”
In the first few weeks of this study we talked about some of the key components of marriage, then we covered the wife’s role and submission. Last week I shared a video by my husband Mike. His explanation of biblical decision making has helped many couples understand how to honor God in an area that can be difficult.
Mike uses a 4-way stop intersection to explain both the husband’s and wife’s roles and the responsibility each of them have to not allow differences to escalate into conflict.
But what happens when couples don’t seek to resolve problems biblically? And why is it so hard, even when we know what we should do? Look at James 4 for a minute:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask (Jas. 4.1-2 NASB).
Lust isn’t just about sexual desires. It can be the result of any strongly held desire. When we lust sexually, we’re so controlled by the desire for sexual pleasure that we’re willing to sin by going outside of God’s ordained will to obtain it.
When we lust after other things, we fight and quarrel, rather than resolving problems biblically. The things we want have become controlling desires and we, too, are willing to sin to get them.
Lustful desires might be having the house we want, spending money on a certain purchase, being in control, spending holidays or other times with our biological family, raising our kids a certain way, or a host of other things.
Even good things can become lusts if we’re willing to sin to get them or to hang on to them.
Sometimes, when conflicts arise we go on the attack, verbally or physically.
Sometimes, we put up the “do not enter” sign. Our spouse learns that attempts to discuss the matter lead to anger, withdrawal, tears, or various forms of withdrawal. So conflict goes unresolved.
Sometimes, one spouse or the other is a controller. He or she may control through manipulation (tears, anger, withholding sex or affection) or fear and intimidation. It’s “one way, my way.”
Husbands may use Scripture passages about submission as justification for ruling with an iron hand while completely ignoring God’s call to love their wives sacrificially (Eph. 5.25) as Mike talked about last week.
Wives may neglect to obey God in the same area, either out of ignorance or by outright refusal.
When both try to maintain control, they end up of in a vicious cycle of arguments and unresolved conflict.
When couples stay in this no-win cycle long enough, it leads to other sinful responses like gossip, anger, bitterness, and, even, divorce.
So, how can we avoid falling into these damaging patterns?
Or what if our spouse is an unbeliever or simply refuses to see their part in the problem? Can one person make a difference?
The short answer is … YES!
And the good news is that we’re only responsible for ourselves.
Resolving conflicts doesn’t mean simply avoiding them. In fact, denial and an unwillingness to deal with issues is a sinful response to problems. The other is to go on the attack. Neither one leads to any real resolution.
Instead, we need to commit to God’s way of solving disagreements. That may look different depending on the situation.
Overlooking an Offense
Sometimes, the best way to resolve a conflict is to overlook an offense.
Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs (Prov. 19.11).
This isn’t the same thing as denial or sweeping things under the rug. It’s a choice to forgive, in spite of what was said or done, whether it was a selfish decision or a harsh word. It’s a choice to let love cover.
Reconciliation & Loving Confrontation
But sometimes, an offense or issue is too big to let love cover. The relationship is damaged or there’s an issue that must be resolved. First, we need to look at our own part in the problem (Matt. 7.3-5). If we’ve sinned, either by commission (something we did) or omission (something we didn’t do), we need to take responsibility for our part by humbly confessing it to God and the other person and by seeking forgiveness.
We’re to take responsibility for our part, even if we believe the other person has the greater blame. If we see their part as 95% of the problem, we’re to take 100% responsibility for our 5%. We need to be less worried about who is to blame or how much and have a bigger desire to please God (2 Cor. 5.9).
We should go to the other person, humbly, without any “if’s,” “but’s,” or “maybe’s.”
“If I hurt you …”
“I was wrong, but you …”
“Maybe, I shouldn’t have said …”
And without blame-shifting or minimizing our sin.
“I was wrong, but you shouldn’t have pushed my buttons. You know that upsets me!”
“I shouldn’t have yelled, but I was just tired (or it was that time of the month or I was stressed out, etc.).”
But there are, also, times when we need to lovingly and respectfully go to the other person because of some sin in his or her life.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother (Matt. 18.15).
Before we do, we should first make sure we have examined our own hearts and motives, and that we have taken responsibility for our part in any issue. The Word of God is a sharp two-edged sword (Heb. 4.12), so when we bring it back to use on others, it first ought to get more our blood on it than anyone else’s.
We should, also, go tentatively (“What I think you mean is …”) and gently. The goal is restoration.
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (Gal. 6.1-2 NLT).
And we should, always, have an attitude of forgiveness.
Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Col. 3.13).
When We Need Help
What if you and your spouse can’t seem to resolve some major conflict? Or what if conflict has become an all too familiar occurrence? You may need to seek out godly counsel.
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Matt. 18.16).
Check with your pastor or church leadership. Look for marriage mentors. Or look into biblical counseling. The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors has a website where you can locate a biblical counselor near you.
When to Involve the Church
If you have taken the other steps I’ve talked about here and there is still a serious pattern of sin (drunkenness, substance abuse, infidelity or other inappropriate behavior), you may need to go to your church’s leadership and seek their help (Matt. 18.17).
It bears repeating that if there is physical abuse and you or your children are in danger, you need to contact the civil authorities, as well.
Living with Another Sinner
We are all sinners.
As believers, we are just forgiven sinners. No two sinners are going to agree on everything.
Sinners sin. When we do, we need to be quick to repent and seek reconciliation. And quick to forgive others.
But, as believers, we should be growing and changing (Eph. 4.22-24) to become more and more like Christ. We’re to prefer one another as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2.3-4). We’re to love one another and submit our selfish desires to one another (Eph. 5.21). We’re to do our part to live in harmony (Phil. 1.27).
In future posts I’ll be talking more about the husband’s role, good communication principles, intimacy and more.
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