We all know how to have unhealthy conflict. Below are a few tips on healthy conflict:
Avoid Reacting to Conflict: All of us are going to find ourselves at a place in our marriage where we are tired, depleted, tense, and we are going to say something that hurts our spouse. It doesn’t make it acceptable, but it is going to happen and often times when it happens we can just react. When we react in conflict we are mirroring the offense that was made toward us. It becomes like a tennis match going back and forth. It starts with a comment, then a slamming door, then walking out, then crying, then yelling, and then throwing things. It is exhausting. Sometimes it goes back and forth so much that it just becomes a tangled mess of Christmas lights that you just want to throw away at the end of the year.
When we are in the midst of conflict we don’t want to mirror conflict, we want to mirror Scripture. It’s hard not to react to the conflict because we feel violated, offended and take it on as our moral duty for their offense to be held in judgment, but listen to how Scripture describes conflict.
1 Peter 2, “23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Peter is describing Jesus’ work on the cross and as people walked past Him, called Him names, yelled at Him, He doesn’t respond to the conflict. Can you imagine Jesus on the cross being spat upon and then spitting back saying, “I am up here right now, but when I get done, I am going to take you outside and open up a can!”
Some of us are going to push back at this point and say, “Yeah, but that’s Jesus.” Scripture tells us He was tempted in every way and what allows Jesus to not return insult for insult is ultimately because He knew the love of the Father. This is the gospel. He knew He was completely loved by the Father.
For many of us we feel alone, we feel neglected, and we live in constant defense mode ready to spring to attack. Like a little landmine waiting to blow up! As soon as someone triggers us we attack back. We have been beaten down by life and we feel alone, empty, rejected, and it is all up to us.
However, the gospel tells us we are not alone. The gospel teaches us we are loved by the creator of the universe. The gospel teaches us that He chased after us, even when we were running away from Him, that He died for us even when we were spitting on Him. The gospel teaches us His love is so deep, so wide, and so high that it fills every crevasse, every nook, every crack of our soul and we are completely loved by Him.
What slander could I say that is greater than the love of the Father? What names could I call you that are greater than being named a child of God? What offense could I cause that is greater than His protection? Jesus knew He was completely loved by the Father.
It will be difficult. My wife and I got to experience it this week, but in the midst of conflict we can cling to the gospel and resist the temptation to react to the conflict.
Resolve to Resolve: In our relationships we tend to cut and run pretty quickly. We don’t like to resolve conflict, but avoid conflict. Our words are like giant swords just swinging around taking shots at people and we are cutting off each others legs, arms, ears, toes, and instead of helping them pick up their toe we just cut and run. Sometimes, in our culture, at best we will offend, our swords will come out and just start cutting off limbs and instead of resolving the offense we just resolve to not talk for a period of time. If it is just a small wound then we take a week or two off. If it is more serious then we take longer and then we return afterwards and never talk about it. We walk around each other with missing limbs, toes, and ears and never talk about it. We just act like it never happened. As a result we are just a bunch of people hobbling around trying not to lose another limb.
When it comes to our marriages we have to resolve conflict. When God calls out to Adam He is looking to resolve conflict. When Jesus enters into human history he is resolving conflict and in our marriages we can’t take 2 weeks off, month off, we can’t pull out the silent treatment, we can’t move to different sides of the house. We have to learn to resolve conflict and experience peace in our home.
Proverbs says it like this, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred.” When our children hear our conflict they don’t know what to do with it. I can tell you if we want to wreck our kids emotionally then remove all peace. Let them see us conflict, let them hear our tones, call names, slam doors, in some cases see physical abuse, and never let them see it resolved so that they just grow up in a house of tension. I have worked with 20 year olds for the last 15 years and it doesn’t matter if they went to a great school, if they had sex before marriage, drank alcohol, their group of friends, type of music they listened to…what mattered was the type of relationship their parents had with one another. What mattered was the peace they experienced in the home and if we resolve to resolve we can experience a peaceful home.
Scripture teaches us our peace comes through the blood that was shed at the cross and it is a peace that is described in Genesis 2 before this cosmic conflict. It is what Israel refers to as Shalom. Israel used this word to explain how the world should be when the messiah will come and restore creation to what it was intended to be. It is at the cross that our conflict is resolved. It is what allows us to have healthy conflict. It isn’t overlooked, it isn’t ignored, but the holy offense in Genesis 3 is resolved at the cross and all of us who place our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross are in a right relationship, which is healthy and loving and it is what enables us to have healthy and loving relationships with one another.
We may not be able to resolve it in the moment, but we are committed to processing, praying, and coming back to resolve the conflict.
Look Inward: We apologize in the midst of conflict. Scripture teaches us that he who humbles himself will be exalted. The fool sees sin and mocks it but the righteous look within for their own transgression. When we have conflict in our marriage we are so quick to blame and point the finger, but in any relationship it takes two people to have conflict so before we point the finger we need to look within. How did I create confusion? How did bring disappointment? Husbands need to set the pace in this area and humble ourselves to our wives and take the responsibility. Notice when God enters into the cool of the garden He calls out to Adam. Husbands need to take responsibility and lead in this area. Just as Christ humbled Himself and took the responsibility for our sin, not His but ours, Scripture calls us to love our wives as Christ loved the church and it means we don’t talk our way out of conflict.
Sometimes in our marriage I will miss this and Holly will come to me and tell me that I hurt her feelings and instead of listening, instead of accepting responsibility, I talk my way out of it. I find myself saying things like, “Oh you just heard it wrong, you are probably just tired and more sensitive than usual, you are reading into things, and I am just responding to what you said.” In my worse moments by the end of the conversation I will turn it around so that she feels like it was her fault and she is apologizing to me. That’s wrong. When we do that to our wives they don’t understand and it will create a wedge in our marriages and they will start to pull away. We need to look inward, apologize, and seek repentance. Repentance is really the key to all of conflict.