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Marriage conflict is a terrible thing. Or is it? Maybe the conflict is really about something entirely different than what you think it is! Find out what marriage conflict is all about and how it can change your marriage for the better.
How Does Conflict Change You?
Love sets off a series of events that alter the course of your life. Hopefully, it’s not a series of unfortunate events! 🙂 Loving is about interpersonal exchanges with someone who knows you more intimately than anyone else in this world. And it’s those exchanges that can make or break your love.
“I didn’t plan on falling in love with you, and I doubt you planned on falling in love with me. But once we met, it was clear that neither of us could control what was happening to us. We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created.”
— Nicholas Sparks, Dear John
I hate conflict. I just don’t want to deal with it at all. But as long as you can be calm, confronting that conflict head-on could be the best thing you can do in your marriage. One thing I love about the stories of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is the way he just unabashedly faced conflict with people. Whether it was with one of His disciples, the pharisees, lawyers, or government officials, He didn’t flinch. I think you can learn from that, how it’s better to deal with conflict than to not. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it, at least things are made clear and put on the path to become better.
Some married people avoid conflict at all costs. And sometimes I think marriage resources lead us to think that any conflict is bad. That is just not true. Resolving that conflict quickly is the best way to keep your love and relationship on track. People go for years without talking about things that bother them in their marriage, then when they finally reach the breaking point, everything starts spewing out and they ruin their love. I am saying that most of the time it’s better to talk about things than to let them go on. Although there are some things you can let go of. Don’t let those things feaster and build up to something you can correct together.
But learning to resolve that conflict can produce a change in you and your relationship. So conflict is an important part of your love. Learning how to love is loving through the conflict. The Bible defines love in I Corinthians. The word Charity is a translation of the Greek word Agape which means love.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.I Corinthians 13:4-7
Through Your Differences
God made two genders with different physical and emotional needs.
The big thing in American culture is to say that there are infinite genders and that gender is fluid.
Meaning, however you feel or think is your real gender, not necessarily biology. There are even some areas in the country where kids in public schools are being taught this and even given counseling about it without their parent’s consent. Some are even being fastracked to cross-sex hormones to attempt to change their biological sex. The sad thing is, these treatments have lifelong reproductive consequences. But happiness doesn’t come through gender identity contrary to what is being pushed on people today.
Is Gender Programed by Culture?
When I was in school there was this idea that you are born a biological male or female and gender roles are programmed by culture and experience. But God made male and female distinct in anatomical and emotional ways that are meant to match with each other. So it’s not just cultural influence that makes the genders different. And in reality, the whole transgender movement inadvertently reinforces those gender differences. If gender differences don’t really exist, then why would you need to take hormones or have an operation to change genders?
Gender differences will cause some conflict in marriage.
Your spouse is different from you. Those differences are probably what made you fall in love to start with. Once you have been married for a while you discover that those differences can cause you to have conflicts. You have to realize and accept those differences to reconcile the conflict.
Having said that, we also assign roles and expectations to gender that are not Biblical. For example, the idea that women are supposed to wash the dishes and fold the laundry while men are supposed to mow the lawn outside. So, it doesn’t make you less of a man to get off the recliner and help your spouse with the housework. And it doesn’t make you less of a woman to help with the yard work! In marriage, it’s best to communicate your expectation for each other. Sometimes when you say those expectations out loud, you realize how unrealistic they are!
The conflict of gender differences is a gift from God because learning to stay in love with someone different than you despite the challenges causes an internal change in you. So the conflicts of gender differences are not about your spouse at all, they are about you. And you becoming the person that God wants you to be.
Opposites attract. I personally think that God made us that way. Those things that are different are what generate attraction and interest. Author Gary Chapman talks about this in some of his books, how as he says it, “a babbling brook will often marry a dead sea.” It may not always be the case but I know from experience that it often is. I know my wife is different from me; I am the dead sea while she is the babbling brook. I am always cool, I mean ALWAYS. She, on the other hand, is always emotional! I have always found her bubbly personality attractive and I think she finds my cool personality attractive to.
Those different personalities can cause conflict. The fact that I am ALWAYS cool can be extremely frustrating at times. While the fact that she is ALWAYS emotional can cause a cool person to lose their cool! But it’s ok that we are different and that those differences can cause conflict because learning to love through that conflict is a part of the change that God is creating in our lives.
Here is what happens in marriage, one person is raised in a family with a unique belief system about gender roles, love, and marriage. While the other person is raised in a family with a different belief system about those same things. Not too different or you would not have been drawn together to begin with. Then those same people come together with their own set of expectations predicated on their belief systems. So each person brings their perspective into marriage.
Those perspectives can cause some of the biggest problems. So here is a personal example, my family all go to bed early and get up early. Growing up my mom would get up early and I would wake up to the smell of hot breakfast with grits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. That was our big meal of the day. On the other hand, my wife’s family traveled and sang at church meetings and would get home late at night and sometimes early in the morning. So it was not unusual for them to sleep in the next day. So on my days off work, I am up early making breakfast, writing, and even working outside. It’s hard for me to sleep in and honestly to stay up at night! My wife is the opposite and sometimes I drive her crazy with it!
There are many more examples of differences that can cause conflict and some much more serious than my penchant for getting up early! These things are conflicts that are designed by God to produce a change in your life.
Points of Contention Between Husband and Wife:
Faith or not having faith is an important point of connection in a marriage and can trigger disagreements. And how important faith is too you can also factor in. A lot of people are what I call, Sunday Morning Christians which is a reference to how more people come to Sunday Morning service but don’t show up for anything else. What it means is that people don’t value their faith that much. I have even known people who are faithful to Church but still don’t demonstrate much faith in their daily lives.
This is something I have been trying to teach my children lately, that being a Christian is something you do every day not just on Sunday or at church. And the marriage relationship is this wonderful opportunity to learn how to be Christian every day. It is like the ultimate school for holiness. It is the challenge of learning to be holy by living intimately with each other every day. How far you are willing to take your faith can become an underlying point of contention.
But being a Christian in love is about dying to yourself and learning to live to serve the needs of someone else. The dying and serving part causes real problems in marriage. So you fight because you don’t want your own needs and desires to die. And you fight because you don’t want to serve the needs of someone else. So this internal battle with yourself turns into a battle with your spouse. The outcome of this battle can be either holiness or hatred depending on what you allow God to do in your heart.
Everyone has a story that involves how you grew up, where you grew up, how you were raised, and what happened in your life. That story makes you who you are and makes you unique from everyone else. Your story is the DNA of your life. But that DNA can cause conflict when it is paired with another one.
My wife and I were both raised in Christian homes but under different circumstances. Those circumstances make us see the world in different ways. My family has always picked on each other and we never think twice about it. But my wife takes things like that personally. Which treating people with respect is probably more helpful than laughing at them! So you see how something small like that can play a big role in creating disagreements and conflicts.
I am sure there are many things in your marriage relationship that you bring in that can cause conflict. I know that we have discovered many of them in ours. But these differences that can cause strife are nothing more than instruments of change that God has brought into your life to teach you how to become more like Jesus. They are there to change you and understanding this can bring an end to the contention that the conflict brings.
I talk a lot about how different my wife’s personality is from mine. When I was in school I was the quietest kid in class. I even got awards for best behavior at times basically because I was so introverted that I was like invisible to my teacher. My wife on the other hand, constantly got in trouble for talking in class! She even tells stories about having to take notes from her teacher home! So the pensive loner marries the bubbly talker! And they lived happily ever after! Well most of the time anyway!
Our personalities can cause some major conflict in our marriage. Sometimes the spaghetti western Clint Eastwood loner in me gets under her skin. Because she wants some meaningful conversation from time to time. And sometimes I don’t want any talk, I just want to be quiet and think. You can see how this can be a problem! But learning to live with each other through these differences can produce positive change. I think that is what being a Christian in love is all about.
It’s funny how people see things differently. The newspaper used to have this picture in the Sunday edition that appeared to be random blocks of colors but if you focused your eyes a certain way you could see an image in it. I never saw the image though! We have all seen the “what color is this” pictures on the internet where some people see blue while others see green or both! I am sure there is some sort of physcological explanation for that. But we all have our own perspective on things
The Glass Half Empty/Full Test
I am by nature a glass half empty person. I have a tendency to be like Eeyore on the Winnie the Pooh. With this dark cloud following me around! I have the inanant ability to see all the bad in situations and notice all the bad in people. But my wife is by nature a glass half full person. She has this amazing ability to see the good in people and things. God has used her to help me see the “half full” of life instead and so I try my best to see things that way. Sometimes I just pretend to see the “half full”!
This can cause conflict in marriage when you both have different ways of seeing things. Maybe God made your spouse see things different to challenge and change your way of thinking. Maybe you need to learn to see things from someone else’s perspective.
Consider the Love Balance illustration. All these things are constantly pulling and pushing each other. Marriage is a war of differences but winning that war is not about getting your way. Instead, it’s about allowing God to change you. Sometimes one person in the relationship lets the other win. Like the wife with a strong personality and the husband who doesn’t want to fight. Or the husband who just selfishly pushes the wife around expecting her to submit to everything he wants.
One of the most extensive and direct instructions for marriage is found in Ephesians 5:21-26. Where the husband is compared to Christ and the wife is compared to the Church. The husband is to love and lead as Christ while the wife is submit and love and as the Church. This is also one the most grossly misinterpreted parts of the Bible. The husband wants to lead and be submitted to without dying like Christ did. The wife wants to be pampered and taken care of like the Church without having to serve like the Church serves Christ. But when you understand that marriage is a life of give and take (more give than take BTW) it produces change.
Everyone wants to get things out of love, but love is about giving. And the giving changes you.
Marriage is a balance between all those differences. If you handle them right, they are all balanced on the scale of love. That is when love changes you as a person.
Through marriage you learn how
- Practice humility
- Love unconditionally
- Trust in someone completely
- Believe in a person without reservations
- Serve another person
All these things work to make you more like Jesus. God is using your marriage to change you.
Through Your Reconciling
All these conflicts in your marriage force you to reconcile with the person you love. It’s the only relationship you have on earth that you have to reconcile. If you have a conflict with a friend, a pastor, or a coworker, you could avoid that person without having to reconcile any differences. But God gives you a spouse with a commitment that means you have to reconcile in some way to move on. I think that reconciliation may look different for different couples but it is something that has to happen.
The Things You Give Up
The reconciliation that occurs forces you to give some things up:
You must give up your pride.
Marriage forces you to become humble towards your spouse. It’s a humility that strips away your arrogance and assertiveness. In order to make things right in your relationship, you must concede your pride in some way. I don’t have a problem saying I’m sorry but some people just don’t say it, but they show it in other ways. My Dad has always been one of those people, I never remember him saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry” but he always showed us he was sorry by buying us ice cream or taking us somewhere. What are some ways that you express that you are sorry to your spouse?
You must concede your point of view.
This is a big one. I have known people in my life that just cannot do this. They just can’t concede that you were right and they were wrong. Even if you were both wrong in some way, they just can’t make themselves vulnerable. In every other relationship, you can get away with that except marriage. If you don’t concede to your spouse your marriage relationship will not survive. It will end in divorce, separation, or just digress to marriage with two people living together. I think this happens to a lot of Christian people, they don’t have divorce as an option, so they live in a miserable relationship with each other.
You must deconstruct yourself emotionally.
Reconciling with your spouse forces you to deconstruct everything about yourself. It forces you to take apart things about yourself and examine them. This type of vulnerability is what makes marriage such an instrument of change. With each reconciliation, you lose something about yourself and find something completely new in your spouse. I think this is why making up with your spouse feels so good. There is this rush of emotion in conflict, then a deep emotional revelation of yourself, followed by acceptance by your spouse. It’s like you become vulnerable and show a side of you that is completely hidden from everyone else, and when your spouse accepts that side of you, it gives you this incredible rush of love.
The Things That Reconciling Change
Why is there conflict?
Some couples don’t argue because of their personalities or backgrounds. Maybe they just don’t like conflict so they avoid it, or they were taught to not argue so they seek ways to avoid confrontation. But whether you fight about it or not, the conflicts are still there and if you don’t deal with them, your relationship will suffer. That’s why I think talking about those conflicts and facing them are better than not.
Over time, as you deal with conflicts in your relationship and you allow God to use them to change you, you will have less disagreements. It’s crazy when you see a couple that has been married for 20 or 30 years still at each other’s throats. Obviously those couples did not allow their conflicts to change them!
But what if the conflicts in your marriage are never given the opportunity to adjust your love? If your love balance is never calibrated, there will always be underlying problems with yourself and your relationship. If your love stays off balance, it’s like a time-bomb just waiting for the opportunity to detonate. Sometimes, I think this is what happens to couples who serve in the ministry. They feel like they can never argue or dissagree and all those conflicts never get addressed. It’s like they feel like they are in a glass house and can’t have problems, much less resolve them. When things finally fall apart, they can’t understand what happened because they didn’t deal with the conflicts in their relationship.
Not dealing with the conflicts is harmful to your relationship growth. Not only are you not letting your relationship change you but you are not allowing your love to change and grow with each conflict. Clearly from passages like Ephesians 5:21-33 and I Peter 3:1-12, God intends for the conflicts of marriage to change you. But the change is a process that occurs over time.
You get married because of the way your spouse makes you feel but it doesn’t take long to realize that there is much more to marriage. The following chart outlines the Love Progression
It’s those last two steps that last the longest and are the most critical. As you allow the changes to occur in your relationship there becomes more change than conflict. That is what being happily married means, it means you allow the inevitable conflicts of your relationship to not only change your marriage but you.
The final product of reconciliation is the change that occurs in your heart, it’s the person that
God is trying to turn you into. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or easy ways to get there. It takes time, patience, and love.
One of the most universally loved Bible verses of all time is found in Romans 8:28, but it’s the first line of the next verse that puts everything into perspective.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,Romans 8:28-29a (Bold added for emphasis)
Marriage is a part of the “all things” of Romans 8:28. And it is a special unique part that works through a mutual covenant to change you as a person. If you ask someone why they got married, no one will say, “so that God can use our relationship to change me.” But that is what actually happens.
Conflicts come from different sources.
This is what we have been mostly talking about. It is inevitable that conflict will occur in a marriage relationship. Being together and living together exposes you to both the good and bad parts of your spouse. Maybe even things that you could have otherwise NEVER seen. And all those things cause conflict in your relationship. Every couple will respond differently to those conflicts but those conflicts are there whether you have confrontations about it or not.
Do you remember your first argument? I think most of ours have been over things that really didn’t matter but it’s crazy how intense arguments about trivial things can become. Sometimes, my wife and I try so hard to make each other happy that we overthink it and end up getting upset over it!
Do Christians Argue?
Early on in our marriage, I remember getting upset with each other on the way to Church! Then when we got to Church, we just had to put on a happy face until we were able to make things right. We have just learned over time how to prevent those types of conflict. But Christians aren’t supposed to argue! While it’s true that being filled with the Spirit will keep you from arguing, the intimate relationship of marriage is going to lend itself to conflict in one way or another. The key is in how you allow that conflict to define your love.
People who are not Christians can learn and change from the conflicts of marriage too. It’s because God designed marriage as a relationship that forces you to realize and confront your differences. And this process changes you. For the Christian with a relationship with God that process draws you closer to the truths of the Gospel. The conflict is designed to fundamentally alter your perspective of the Faith in Christ.
What Do Christians Learn through Conflict
These are all things you also experience through the Gospel. So marriage can give you the ability to share the Gospel from more of a personal understanding. Knowing how to experience these things through interpersonal exchanges makes you better at sharing those truths about your experience with God.
How Is Your Vision?
Growing up, I remember the chalkboard always being blurry in school. But I thought that it looked that way to everyone else too. I would even try to guess the answer to a problem on the board if my teacher called on me. It never occurred to me that something might be wrong, until at age 15, I went to get my learner’s permit at the highway department. The clerk had me look into this machine and read off some random numbers and letters. Unfortunately, I was not able to get my permit because I could not see those letters and numbers. I guess it is important to be able to see the street signs while driving! 🙂
So I had to visit the eye doctor to get a prescription for glasses. Putting those glasses on changed everything even though I didn’t really realize before that I needed them. That is the way that marriage changes you towards the Gospel. I didn’t know I needed to see the Gospel this way until God showed me through my relationship with my wife! And everyday my “prescription” gets a little stronger. At the end of the day for the Christian marriage is about the Gospel.
This is when conflicts can get more difficult. You don’t just marry a person, you marry their past, their family, their faith, and their friends. (or frenemies, those people who you are friends with but seem to be in competition against you) My teenage daughters taught me about that one! And you create new relationships together. All these things play into the conflicts of your marriage. It’s not as simple as just getting along, it’s merging all these things together while still learning to love and treasure each other.
Marriage isolates you from your family and friends but in this odd way it pulls all of those relationships together. The moment you say “I do” your relationship becomes the most important one in the world. So in the intimacy of marriage you are alone on this island together. But outside of that intimacy are all the other relationships that you had before you were married. The challenging part is maintaining that intimacy while balancing all those outside relationships against it. You can’t allow those outside relationships to break up the intimacy of the basic Bible premise of two becoming one.
I think the biggest example of this are children. Your love creates new lives with a whole new set of relationship challenges. I talked about this before in a lesson entitled How You Can Have a Great Marriage after Having Children. You can find it at fixeruppermarriage.org/children. Adding children creates a whole new dynamic into your love life. It makes it harder to keep loving each other. Especially when you have the demanding needs of a newborn. Or the developing needs of a child. But it’s just another force that is pushing you towards change; inching you closer to where God wants you to be.
It’s all conflicts that God coded into marriage to push you toward that change. If you can learn to maintain your love and intimacy through these things, you can learn to maintain your love and intimacy with God. And learning that changes everything!
There are these things that happen to everyone. When things go wrong. When you are dating or in the honeymoon phase of marriage, you just think, “what could possibly go wrong?” But you soon discover this relationship law, that uniquely challenging things happen to everyone. Things do go wrong, and those things can cause conflict and derail your relationship if you let them. Or they can change you for the better. The following is a list of things that can go wrong:
Most wedding vows include the words, “in sickness and in health”. But no one really thinks about it at the time. I’ve thought a lot lately about marriage being a give and take relationship but most of the time you have to give more than you take. This is one of those areas where you HAVE to give more that you take. Marriage is a partnership but if your partner can’t do their part, you have to temporarily or permanently take their responsibility for it. This is a conflict in marriage and it’s a conflict that has the potential to bring about big change in your personal life.
By giving yourself to care for your spouse and loving them through these types of things, you experience a type of love that is like the love that Jesus has for us. It’s like your marriage becomes a living example of Gospel love. Loving and giving only to get the person you love.
Money doesn’t matter when you first fall in love. It’s like you don’t need anything but each other. But as you move along in your relationship, money starts to matter more. And money problems can lead to big relationship problems. I do have a recent podcast episode about this entitled 11 Ways to Keep Money from Destroying Your Marriage. You can find it at FixerUpperMarriage.org/money.
We have learned in our marriage that even though money is important, it doesn’t have to affect our love for each other. You try your best to handle your money right and be wise but at the end of the day, loving each other is more important. Love doesn’t pay the rent, but you can still love each other when you are having trouble paying it. Realizing this changes your marriage and it changes you.
These are the things that you can’t talk about to other people. Those problems in your lives that cause conflicts that are so intimate that you only share them with each other. You don’t have to face them alone when you are married. That is one of the awesome things about marriage. These things pull at your relationship. But if you allow God to help you through them, they will change you.
It’s like I said earlier, in some ways marriage puts you on this private island together. It forces you to use your love to work through things together. Every life and marriage is different and faces different types of problems, but the problem is not as relevant as what you do with it. They can pull you apart or they can draw you closer together. It’s a conflict that every marriage has to face.
Most people get married with some level of self-centered motivation. Maybe it’s how the other person makes you feel, or the happiness that marriage could potentially bring. After all, you get married and live happily ever after, just like the Disney movies right! Marriage is not a destination, it’s a journey. And the great part is you get to take that journey with someone you love. When that journey strips away the selfish reasons that led you to marriage in the first place, you learn how to really love each other. Learning how to love that way is what changes you.
Another point of conflict comes from family dynamics. Maybe it’s problems on one side and not the other or both sides. Ultimately the side you should be on is your spouse. Even though those family relationships run deep. There is this old saying that “blood is thicker than water”, and I think there is a lot of truth in it. Most of the time people side with their blood family. Really at the end of the day family is with you for life so I get it. But your spouse is more important than your family. So this type of conflict brings you to this conclusion and a deeper understanding of love and commitment.
For a Christian, church problems are the worst kind of problems. After all, Christians are not supposed to struggle or have problems. So every Christian to some extent puts on a church mask when they go. And when that masked slips off, it’s hard to accept. Maybe your friends leave and it puts in you in a weird place or a church leader makes a mistake!
Several years ago my wife and I discovered a problem with our view of other Christians. We treated some people that we looked up to in our church as being on a higher level, or as we say “pedestal.” It wasn’t really fair to them or us. One day something happened and we realized that they struggled with some of the same things that we did. It was shocking! We didn’t just plan on putting them on a pedestal, it just happened. And when they fell off it, we had to readjust our thinking. Now we try to treat everyone with the same respect and level of understanding that at the end of the day everyone is only human.
Church problems are some of the hardest problems to cope with. But those conflicts are there to change you and together in marriage you are able to process those changes together. Anytime you deal with people, there is going to be conflict and church is no different. Learning to deal with these things changes you.
Conflicts Have a Reason
For a Christian that reason is clear.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.James 1:3-4
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:I Peter 1:6-8
God is using the things you are facing to produce change in your life and when you are married you get to experience those changes together. Are you allowing God to change you?
Podcast music by Dan Lebowitz