Again, picking up where I left off…
The next thing that my husband and I had to do was, simply put, to get comfortable with conflict. Fact is, when you’re two different people, you will have differences, and those differences will inevitably generate some sort/level of conflict that will occur somewhere on the range of “all the time” to “every once in a blue moon”. But regardless of the frequency of conflict, it’s important to keep in mind that conflict is not the end of the world. Now, this is something that has taken me a long time to really believe and hold on to, and I still wrestle with the temptation to despair and believe that my marriage is just going to fall apart at the seams at any moment. But, it is true. Having conflict is not the end of the world. And I want to share with you my own perspective on the various conflicts that my husband and I have worked through and continue to deal with when they arise.
I like to think of marital trials and conflicts as a fire that you have to go through. The fire of the conflict, while painful, is good because it allows you to test what you’ve built up and what you’ve built on in your marriage. I think this is similar to 1 Corinthians 3 when Paul talks about how they have to be careful with how they’ve built on the foundation of the Church because the Lord will test each man’s work by passing it through fire on the day of judgment. If their work makes it through the fire without being burnt up, then they will receive a reward. But if it does burn, then they will bear the sense of loss for laboring at something that has no eternal value, but at least have their lives.
Now, I know marriage is not the same as the building up of the Church, but I think that the Lord will, at times, send various fires our way to test what we’re doing. Obviously, we try our best to get out of the fire, but I think it’s a good time to assess and evaluate the work that you have done. And if it is falling apart in the middle of the flame of conflict, then it is probably best to work on things differently so that they will be able to last the next time.
I also think of this like building a house. We just purchased our first home earlier this year, and we visited the construction site often during the building process. But to get to the finished product of a home (or a godly marriage), you need to go through several inspections. Now, you hate to have to stop working on things in the home to go through the inspection process, and the feeling is even worse when you’ve failed an inspection and then have to re-do work that you thought was done well the first time. But, it is still good and necessary to get those inspections done. It’s even good to know that you’ve failed an inspection so that you can fix things before they become massive problems. It may be an inconvenience, a huge inconvenience, but the costs are minor early on, then to deal with massive overhauls later.
It reminds me of this show that my husband and I used to watch called “Holmes on Homes”. This Canadian guy would go to a home where the owner had a complaint, like a light moldy smell coming from the bathroom after a shower. Holmes would go in to inspect and find a whole bunch of stuff that the builder did wrong in the first place. So a moldy smell would turn into the bathroom being gutted, plumbing needing to be re-done in the entire house, a brand new drainage system needs to be installed, and a new ventilation system would need to go in the house…..it was crazy how much stuff needed to be done all over again just to fix what, to the eye, was just a relatively small problem! People would have to move out of their homes for 6 to 8+ weeks and would be so upset to find out that underneath the beautiful exterior of their home, things were just rotting away. Likewise, the same can happen in our marriages and other relationships when we fail to properly assess and address things when the signs of conflict arise.
And I know we’ve seen, heard, and/or experienced things like this within our church relationships. We try to brush off smaller problems, disagreements, and conflicts in the name of Christian love, which covers a multitude of sins only to deal with massive problems later on. However, Christian love is not a dismissal of conflicts and problems in efforts to “keep the peace”. Christian love requires work…honest work. Christian love will take a deep breath, put to death the pride the arises that says we shouldn’t even have to deal with this, and recommits to doing whatever is necessary to work this out so that, if it is at all possible, this conflict does not keep arising. But if it does arise, we can be mindful to humble ourselves, ask for forgiveness, forgive, and keep working at it.
So for my husband and me, we do two things to manage conflict in our marriage:
#1: We discuss the state of our marriage once a week.
We cover moments of strength demonstrated, moments of weakness, what we can do to improve during the next week, and what challenges may arise during the upcoming week. We obviously talk about external things that will have an influence on us personally (i.e. parenting challenges, monthly cycle, job deadlines, church responsibilities, etc.), but we also ask where we can, if possible, offer support or help to the other because we know by now, that even if something doesn’t seem actually related to the marriage, if it can affect one person, it can affect the marriage. Therefore, the more we can know about the other and other circumstances, the better we can orient ourselves to walk with one another in love through the upcoming week.
#2: We don’t hide or ignore conflict.
It’s all too easy to brush conflict and problems aside. Oftentimes, we’re tired, don’t have the energy to deal with it at the time, think other things are more important, or just put it off to some other time that we never reach. Whatever the excuse is, we recognize that we make excuses, and we should stop. So we don’t brush off those conflicts. We take those inner problems, irritations, and annoyances and discuss them openly with each other. We continue to discuss (literally, it has taken days at some times) until we can reach a point of mutual understanding. Now, that point of mutual understanding does not necessarily mean that we have reached a compromise that works for both of us (as a wife, I still need to submit to my husband’s leadership), but we do try to end things at a place where the respect that we have for each other is maintained and has not diminished because of the conflict.
Now obviously, how we respond during and after a conflict is over can either deepen our respect for one other or cause us to lose respect for one another based on the character and demeanor displayed throughout. How you handle conflict affects people’s willingness to discuss and resolve conflicts with you in the future. So, whether it is in your marriage, in friendships, on the job, in church relationships, or anywhere else, it’s wise to learn how to deal with conflict. But don’t be dismayed if you start off horribly. It takes time to develop (speaking from personal experience here as I am married to a man who loves to debate and argue), but it is worth learning because it will benefit you for the rest of your life.
Ultimately, what we’ve had to realize is that glorifying God is not an effortless process. You can’t bring glory to God being passive. Glorifying God and making the relationships in our lives glorifying to Him requires a lot of intentional work and effort on our part. The focus has to remain on the Lord, and we have to really consider whether our own actions, thoughts, and willingness (or unwillingness) to work through things will actually glorify Him at the end of the day. Conflict will always require diligence and patience to work through. Consequently, that means that we will always be dependent upon the grace of God to approach it, handle it, and work through it well for His glory.