This week, as we continue our marriage and family series, Pastor J.D. answers a question about marital conflict. He’s joined by his wife, Veronica, for another episode.
Let me dispel a myth right from the beginning: good couples are not couples who never fight; good couples are couples who have learned to fight fairly; to fight Christianly. If you’re one of those starry-eyed engaged couples who feel like, “We never fight…” Veronica and I were like that, too. How blissful it is to be young! You just can’t get close to another sinner without there being conflict.
10 Stages in Grace-Saturated, Gospel-Centered Fighting:
1. Examine YOUR heart.
- Even if you’ve been wronged, what does your anger say about your heart?
- Has malice, wrath, anger, and bitterness snuck in?
- Mind the smoke detectors! Rage, malice, wrath, and bitterness always indicate idolatry, which is a bigger problem in your heart than whatever your spouse is doing to you.
- And this is why you need outside counsel in your life.
2. Overlook whatever you can.
- You don’t have to comment on every little infraction. Choose your battles.
- Proverbs 19:11 It is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense.
- Proverbs 12:16 The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
- This would not apply to things that do lasting damage to your relationship with each other or them. Or any kind of abuse.
- Sometimes, we don’t want to bring up their sin against us because we don’t want to disturb the peace.
- Guys are especially bad at this. You just want to maintain the peace. A few times in our relationship (I’m being really transparent…) I’ve had to speak up.
- There are times you need to speak up and confront; and there are times just to let it go, and there’s a real art to knowing the difference.
3. Be practical in how you fight.
- Proverbs 12:18: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
- “Rash words.” Words not thought out, spoken in anger, or not given at a good time.
- Veronica and I have found it helpful to boundarize conflict within times, zones, and moods: For example, allowing an argument to begin if we are both physically tired. We have set certain rooms, certain times, off limits.
- We will invoke what I call the “24 hour rule.” “I promise to come back to this.”
- Now, men, you have to keep your word, otherwise you lose credibility.
- You say, “What about, ‘Don’t let sun go down on your wrath?’ Doesn’t that mean we have to deal with our anger before we go to bed?
- It can’t mean literally before the sun goes down because that would mean some people in Sweden could nurse their grievances for three months in the summer but in the winter they’d only have about two hours…
- The main point of that verse is that we need to deal with our wrath and vengeance and get it out of our hearts.
- Sometimes 24 hrs helps us to separate unrighteous, selfish irritation from righteous, loving, others-centered anger.
4. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
- Proverbs 18:13: “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and a shame.”
- This is exactly what some of you do, especially you men.
- Brad Hambrick, our pastoral counselor: “The vast majority of communication problems are not expression problems, but listening problems.”
- Let me offer you some remedial help on listening (and I need these two, because I am so bad at these things):
- First of all, be a servant listener: Seek first to understand, and only secondly to be understood! Think of their thoughts through the lens of Philippians 2: Consider their thoughts and needs “more important” than your own. Isn’t that the opposite of the way we come into most discussions? OK, next, if you believe that…
- Don’t interrupt. Interrupting says ‘my thoughts are more important than your thoughts.’
- If you don’t know what to say, ask questions.
- If you still don’t know what to say, ask more questions.
- If you still don’t know what to say after that, just repeat what the other person said back to them. Because that at least lets them know you’ve heard them!
- Sometimes that is just what they want, and a lot of time, it takes care of 90% of the issue!
- Part of this: Don’t give premature advice. Because, one, you will probably misread the situation.
- Secondly (men especially): she is not a problem to be solved; she’s a person to be heard. A lot of times she’s looking for a companion in her pain, not a solution to her problem. So don’t interrupt her and explain away her pain with Aristotilean logic: A=b, b=c, ergo a=c… ergo it’s really illogical that you feel hurt.
- When you do that, I can promise you she won’t go, “Huh. Thank you. I’m so stupid sometimes. I could have sworn I was offended, but now I see, by clear force of your logic, that I am not really hurt after all! I’m so glad you’re my husband.”
- The majority of communication problems are not expression problems, but listening problems.
- “Listening is a skill that is most necessary when it is most difficult.” Much more to say on that, but if you want more, attend one of Brad Hambrick’s marriage seminars or access a lot of his stuff on his website.
5. Seek their sanctification, not your vindication.
- Sometimes you are going to have to say, “I’m right in this and I could win it, but that doesn’t progress us toward the goal. I’m going to keep my eyes on the bigger prize and just lose this one. My goal is their sanctification, not my vindication.
- Once you let go the idea that you have to win and be vindicated, you can focus on what helps them and the relationship.
- That’s how Jesus was.
More to come on the next episode!
Want to ask J.D. a question? Head to our Ask Me Anything hub to submit your question.
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