A Foundational Reality
To start, let’s agree on one foundational reality; having a good marriage does not mean you do not have conflict. No matter how much two people love one another the truth is there will be moments of conflict to some degree or another.
Too often we view conflict as something to avoid. Or maybe we view it as a sign that the relationship is in serious trouble. While conflict is certainly a call for reflection and redirection, it does not necessarily mean the relationship is in trouble. A loving and healthy marriage will experience conflict. However there are some things to consider that can help your conflict have deeper purpose. As you consider each of these three principles, where might you need to rethink what means about your own marital conflict?
1. Know What You Are Fighting About
This is often where conversations get derailed the fastest. A conflict over where you want to go to dinner or what brand of toothpaste was purchased is rarely about those issues. In fact, most often, the things we argue about are not what is really upsetting us. Those are secondary issues that are easier to argue about but the real struggle lies deeper. The problem is we often don’t know how to talk about those deeper issues. Or, we don’t always like what those deeper issues reveal.
We are people of desire. In every waking hour our hearts are continually after something. Even right now my desire is to protect this quiet moment in my life so I can write this article. If someone or something blocks that desire I have a moment of conflict in my heart with my desire. How I respond to that will have varying results. We all are constantly desiring things. Some of those things are very good things and some can be not so good. It doesn’t always have to do with what we desire but simply how we respond when that desire is interrupted.
Scripture affirms that what we are fighting about has everything to do with our desires.
“What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2).
Consider thinking deeper the next time you have a conflict. Slow down long enough to see if you can determine what exactly you really are fighting about.
2. Remember Who Is Present
When we are in conflict with our spouse we can get caught up in the moment and it can be very easy to feel like there are only two people present. This is never the case. In some situations you may have other people around who are greatly affected by the conflict. Children are often the spectators to conflicts in marriage. This has significant impact on them. Even if you think they seem unfazed by your conflict they are processing what is going on. As a married couple you will disagree in front of your children but be responsible enough to hold heated arguments at bay when children are around.
Even if children or others are not present, conflict is never unobserved. We live before an ever-present, all-seeing God. It is far too easy for us to forget this. But God is present with us in our conflict. He is not just present as an observer but as a helper. Psalm 46 says he is a very present help in troubled times. Marital conflict qualifies as a troubled time. What would it look like to live in the light of this? Would we cry out to Him for help? Would we chose our words more carefully? The fact is every single one of our marital conflicts have been observed by our God. He cares about what we do and what we say (as we are reminded in Matthew 12:36-37).
3. Understand the Purpose of Conflict
This is probably one of the most important things we can do to make sure our conflict does not lead us to hopeless discouragement. Conflict is a negative word. It is viewed as negative because of the damage we often see and feel from it. However conflict is not always negative in its purpose and does not have to be negative in its outcome.
Conflict is an opportunity to know and understand ourselves better. Looking at what we desire as well as how we view God’s presence in the moment is an opportunity for growth and dependence on God. Conflict is an opportunity to see our need of Christ.
If we only view conflict as bad we forget the purpose in it. We would like to avoid many of our conflicts but often times they actually need to happen in order to bring about redemptive change in our relationships. Instead of resisting the conflict lean into it to understand the deeper issues. Respond to in light of God’s promised presence with you and then look for what God is doing in it.
(This post was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)