Few couples like to admit it, but conflict is common to all marriages. In fact many of my friends and people I know like to pretend that all is rosy at home and things are so perfect. The reality of marriage is somewhat different according to my experience. My wife and I have had our share of conflict and some of our disagreements have not been pretty. We could probably write a book and we will on what not to do!
Start with two selfish people with different backgrounds and personalities. Now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable.
I have personally found that it can be triggered by anything. A sny comment, an irritation, misunderstanding or something that one is not really happy about. Now the issue for me here is that do we all have an appreciation of our differences as individuals, and do we have the skill sets to be able to manage and resolve conflict.
One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented individual marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at breakneck speed seem to end up with spouses who are slower-paced. It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did. Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before. My wife and I are so different but we have some common interests. For example, I prefer putting my ideas in my phone, and she prefers to write in a notebook, my wife washes her hands a lot and me, not so much, my wife has a great attention to detail and follows through with her tasks to the letter, whereas, I am a great starter and pioneer, but need help with follow through all the way to the end. Perhaps the biggest difference is that my wife and I are from two different parts of the world. We literally come from two different countries with totally different traditions, heritages, habits, and values. The differences became apparent early in our marriage. Its amazing how different peoples mannerisms and habits are formed as a result of cultures. This formed part of the basis of some of the conflict we had as there has always been a likening to what we both already know from our respective cultures.
It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Just as Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept His gift to you. God gave you a spouse who completes you in ways you haven’t even learned yet.
All of our differences are magnified in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict—our selfish, sinful nature.
The prophet Isaiah portrayed the problem accurately more than 2,500 years ago when he described basic human selfishness like this: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are all self-centered; we all instinctively look out for number one, and this leads directly to conflict.
Marriage offers my wife and I and many other marriages tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. We are definitely far from being where we need to be but we have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives, and we’re still seeing it work daily. We have not changed each other; God has changed both of us and we are still seeking wisdom to change more. The answer for ending selfishness is found in Jesus and His teachings. He showed us that instead of wanting to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must serve. Instead of trying to save our lives, we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves. In short, if we want to defeat selfishness, we must give up, give in, and give all.
Living peaceably means pursuing peace. It means taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take the first step.
To pursue the resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness. It means not losing heart. When it comes down to it, I am fighting with the person I care the most about. Why? My challenge to you is to “keep your relationships current.” In other words, resolve that you will remain in solid fellowship daily with your spouse—as well as with your children, parents, coworkers, and friends. Don’t allow Satan to gain a victory by isolating you from someone you care about.
Confronting your spouse with grace and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility.
- Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?
- Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Don’t hop on your bulldozer and run your spouse down. Approach your spouse lovingly.
- Check the circumstances. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children. Also, never criticize, make fun of, or argue with your spouse in public.
- Check to see what other pressures may be present. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now?
- Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify viewpoints.
- Be sure you are ready to take it as well as dish it out. You may start to give your spouse some “friendly advice” and soon learn that what you are saying is not really his problem, but yours!
- During the discussion, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once.
- Focus on the problem, rather than the person. For example, you need a budget and your spouse is something of a spendthrift. Work through the plans for finances and make the lack of budget the enemy, not your spouse.
- Focus on behavior rather than character. This is the “you” message versus the “I” message again. You can assassinate your spouse’s character and stab him right to the heart with “you” messages like, “You’re always late—you don’t care about me at all; you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” The “I” message would say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t let me know you’ll be late. I would appreciate if you would call so we can make other plans.”
- Focus on the facts rather than judging motives. If your spouse forgets to make an important call, deal with the consequences of what you both have to do next rather than say, “You’re so careless; you just do things to irritate me.”
- Above all, focus on understanding your spouse rather than on who is winning or losing. When your spouse confronts you, listen carefully to what is said and what isn’t said. For example, it may be that he is upset about something that happened at work and you’re getting nothing more than the brunt of that pressure.
Lets learn the skills to resolve conflict and preserve our marriages.
Will Frank Chaniwa