In every human relationship, there is bound to be conflict; this is especially true of marriage, the most sacred of all. Sometimes, however, that conflict can get out of hand fast. It can escalate to the point where the bitterness becomes too much for words to express- and both parties are just left to stew in their silent, toxic anger.
No matter how easy it can seem to just let apathy win, living like this is the unhealthiest thing you can do for yourself when you’re in a difficult place.
Research actually shows that conflict has real biological effects, decreasing levels of various important hormones in our bodies. It was suggested that our endocrine systems may just be a mediator between our personal relationships and health. Furthermore, plenty of studies go to show that the way marital conflict is handled is a major contributor to dissatisfaction.
While you can’t always avoid conflict, you can change the way you choose to look at it. You can resolve it, with patience and faith in Jesus Christ. But first, let’s take a deeper look at the heart of the problem.
Duke University Ethics Professor Stanley Haeurwas was completely correct when he famously said,
“Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person…It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do…For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”
The problem with many marriages is that one or both parties feel entitled to the identity of the other. While marriage is definitely a unity and a joint effort, your individuality will always belong to you and to God.
Marriage is not signing away who you are to another person. Marriage is coming to someone just as you are and trusting that they will help you to grow as a person; so it’s no surprise that God often likens his relationship with the church to marriage.
Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
God didn’t say ‘and the halves shall become whole.’ You are a beautiful, complex creation of God by yourself; you don’t need another person to somehow ‘complete’ you.
Marriage is all about uniting and yet also respecting each other’s individuality; and that leads us to some strategies to resolve conflict effectively.
Here are 4 Strategies You Can Do Right Now.
Note: Many of these strategies were inspired by those in the Psychology Today article, “Marriage Problems? Here’s an 8-Step Rescue Plan.”
1. Map Out the Issues
It can be hard to address an issue that you don’t even know exists. In marital conflicts, there is rarely ever one contributing factor.
Be honest with yourselves, and together, make a list of everything you feel is wrong in your relationship. This can help both of you to understand the situation better and ensure that you’re both coming from the same place.
2. Change Perspective
Sometimes a little bit of humility is all you need to inspire a lot of change. Instead of trying to explain, over and over again, why you’re right, actually listen to your spouse and try to see it from their point of view.
Their argument may not make sense to you, but when you match it up with their situations and struggles, it can lessen the confusion quite a bit. No one is saying that you’re wrong, but if you just happen to be, the best thing to do is admit it, which ties into the next strategy.
3. Stop Pointing Fingers
As long as you keep playing the blame game with your spouse, things are never going to get better. More often than not, the problem is both of your faults. Blame is usually motivated by guilt, frustration, or denial. It can dangerous, because a little bit of bitterness can easily turn into hatred- yes, hatred.
Of course you still love your spouse- hopefully-, but you no longer have the patience and love to forgive them, accept part of the blame, and move on. Blame is only a roadblock on the road to resolution.
4. Focus on the Solution- Not the Problem
The negative effects of conflict are far-reaching, and when that conflict is handled negatively, the impact that can have is immeasurable. It impacts not only the husband and wife, but also the entire family. In fact, a psychological study showed that negative marital conflict management directly encouraged behavioral problems in children.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” You may not see it now, but there will be an end to the mess and the heartbreak- you just have to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone to get there.
Things aren’t going to magically fix themselves when you pass the days fighting instead of working together. Next time you catch yourself saying something negative, stop and pray instead.
Handling conflict maturely and effectively is by no means an easy undertaking. But if we’re willing to push through it, God will give us the strength and wisdom to see the argument to its end.
All the things that matter so much to us, and all the things we will turn against our loved ones for, are nothing compared to the plan God has for our lives. When we give Him all control, He will make our paths clear.
What are some common problems you see with the way couples handle conflict?