Resolving Conflict in Marriage

Every marriage has conflict, even mine, where Sherry and I have never fought or raised our voices to each other in 42 years of marriage. We just do conflict in different ways. So what are some basic steps for resolving conflict? The key is to work for partnership in problem solving rather than going into argument to win. The problem is the issue, not the spouse.

Attitude is everything. Throughout this process both spouses should be thinking “What can I give to my spouse?” In arguments, it is how can I win my point. When it is right, then our value and goal is the relationship before the issue.

Commitments as you begin the discussion (from Ephesians 5:22-32; 1 Peter 3:1-7):

Husband: I agree to give myself to my wife as Christ gave himself for the church. Wife: I agree to submit to my husband as unto the lord.

Time outs are to be used for contemplating how to understand each other better (NOT to work on a stronger defense case because that is what happens in arguments).

1. Husband listens to wife

a. Husband’s job is to understand wife (see example of Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane Luke 22:42) by helping her state her case (an active role) remaining engaged, listening non-defensively, asking questions for understanding (not for personal agenda or to make jabs).

b. Wife’s job is to express her wants/feelings with trust in a non-attacking way (to speak honestly but not to overpower or persuade husband to agreement).

c. Husband is to stay with wife with respect (1Peter 3:7) and paraphrase to check for clarity/accuracy of understanding what wife has said. (NOTE: the goal is for the wife to feel heard, understood and cared for by his attentiveness, conduct and understanding).

d. Wife is to speak with a gentle and quiet spirit showing respect for her husband not letting herself give way to fear (1 Peter 3:1-6) (NOTE: the goal is for the husband to feel her submissive spirit, that she genuinely cares for his best as she expresses her feeling and desires).

Sometimes at this point, issues will be resolved simply by husband’s clear understanding of wife. If that is the case, “hooray” and the matter is resolved.

2. Wife listens to husband if the issue remains unresolved, and the roles reverse (all with the same motives, attitudes, conduct, etc.) including additional new instructions.

a. Wife seeks to understand husband without being pushy or critical.

b. Husband states his case, offers his thoughts (including those that are incomplete) and his feelings, and avoids sarcasm and stonewalling.

c. Wife paraphrases and seeks confirmation of understanding.

d. Husband speaks with a respectful and considerate tone.

Sometimes at this point, issues will be resolved when wife understands husband’s perspective. If so, “hooray” and the matter is resolved.

3. Find all areas/aspects of common ground and list them. Both are looking for areas where he/she can move toward the other as they explore the options together is a spirit of love and respect rather than defensiveness or self-protectiveness.

4. If things are still at an impasse and the decision needs to be made, the husband makes recommendation/decision, expressing it with respect and honor and sadness that the process could not achieve resolution, taking responsibility for the decision. The wife submits gently and respectfully and gives her support to her husband. The limitation on her submission is if it were to be directly contrary to God’s scriptural command. If this happens, then they will need to get help from a wise Christian.

Condoning Sin?

I did a lecture on “Why is the Church Responsible for so much Evil?” at Lincoln Berean Church as a part of my spiritual warfare class at Christian Leadership College. In the Q & A time following someone asked about the church affirming life rather than just opposing abortion. In my answer I noted that churches have not supported women who choose to keep their babies. Rather they look down at them and usually refuse to give them a baby shower since they are in sin. I noted with appreciation that many churches have changed and now sponsor showers for women who keep their babies and support them in the difficult task of raising the baby as a single mom.

Then in class today one of the students followed up on this. If we do such baby showers should we also go to a “wedding” or a baby shower for  a lesbian couple. As we thought through this knotty question, I realized I wanted to say both yes and no. “Yes,” because I want a chance to keep relationships where I can speak graciously about Jesus to the couple, but “no” because it would seem I am supporting the rightness of a lesbian family.

She asked where the difference is between a shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock and the lesbian. As I thought I realized that I want to throw the baby shower when the woman has owned that the way the baby was conceived was sinful. I don’t need any groveling or anything like that. But I would have a lot more problem supporting a shower if she refused to acknowledge her sin, if she said “It’s my right to have a baby in any way I want.” In the case of the lesbian wedding or shower that would be the case: “We are doing the right thing for us,” they would say.

I thought further: would Jesus go? He did hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors for sure. But did He affirm their activities? I don’t think so.

Then I compared: would I go to a party for a heterosexual couple celebrating that they were moving in together? Having a baby together? That’s where I realized the issue isn’t the homosexuality, but that they are thumbing their nose at the biblical view of marriage. That I can’t honor. In fact I would more likely to affirm a homosexual couple getting “married.” At least they are expressing commitment in their relationship where the cohabiting couple are denying that.

I wonder if there is a parallel in the situation of 1 Cor. 10:27-28 where Paul tells us to eat whatever is served at a supper, but to refuse if the host said it was offered in sacrifice to idols. The reason is both for the sake of the pagan and for his conscience.

What of love? We are certainly called to love sinners. But love seeks the best of another. Affirming a sinful life isn’t really love.

So I think I’d keep relationship with a lesbian couple, but would not go to the wedding. I’d baby sit their kid, but probably not go to the shower. The difference is that a public act states affirmation where the private act speaks personal support.

So far this is all hypothetical. But I can’t imagine it will be for long.