Summary: A study on conflict resolution in marriage
Foundation Five: Conflict Resolution in Marriage
How should couples resolve conflict in marriage?
Conflict is, essentially, part of human nature. After Adam sinned in the Garden, conflict ensued. When God asked him if he had eaten of the forbidden tree, he did not simply say, “Yes.” He said, “The woman you gave me, gave me the fruit and I did eat.” He indirectly blamed God and directly blamed the woman. The woman then blamed the serpent. When sin entered the world, so did conflict. In fact, God said that one of the results of sin would be conflict between the man and the woman. The wife would desire to control the husband and the husband would try to dominate the woman by force (Gen 3:16).
As we go throughout the biblical narrative, we continually see the fruit of sin displayed in conflict. In Genesis 4, Cain killed his brother Abel. In the same chapter, Cain’s son, Lamech, killed another man and boasted about it. In Genesis 6, the world was full of “violence,” and God decided to wipe out its inhabitants through the flood. However, the flood didn’t change the nature of man, and therefore, conflict has continued throughout history. The world has known no time without war or conflict, and unfortunately, marriages are not exempt.
Paul taught that one of the fruits of the flesh, our sin nature, is “discord” (Gal 5:20). We are prone to offend others, to be offended, to hate, to withhold forgiveness, and to divide. Sadly, all these fruits are prone to blossom within the marriage union. Couples should be aware of this, and therefore, prepare to resolve conflict in marriage. How should couples resolve conflict in marriage?
In Conflict, We Must Have the Right Attitude
The first principle necessary to resolve conflict is to have the right attitude—one of joyful expectation in God. It is good to remember that conflict does not necessarily have to be detrimental to a marriage relationship. Conflict, as with all trials, is meant to test our faith, reveal sin in our hearts, develop character, and draw us closer to God (cf. Rom 5:3-5, Jam 1:2-4). Paul said this: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). Similarly, James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3). Paul said that we should rejoice in sufferings, and James said we should consider it “pure joy” when we encounter them because of God’s purposes in them. God does not waste suffering, including conflict within marriage. God uses conflict to make us grow into the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:28-29), which should be our ultimate goal.
Many times God uses our spouse as sand paper to smooth out areas in our life that don’t reflect Christ. It has often been said, “Marriage is not about happiness; it is about holiness. And when we are holy, then we will truly be happy.” In marriage, we enter the ultimate accountability relationship, which is meant to help us grow as God’s children (cf. Eph 5:25-27).
Therefore, as James taught (James 1:2) and Paul taught (Rom 5:3), we should encounter marital conflict (and all trials) with joyful expectation, not because we enjoy suffering, but because we know God’s purposes in it. We worship a God who took the worst sin that ever happened in the world, the murder of his Son, and made it the best thing. It is for this reason that we can have a joyful expectation, even in conflict. This isn’t a denial of pain. It is both a recognition of pain and a future hope. It is like a mother giving birth. Even in the midst of pain, there is a joyful expectation. Many couples, who have gone through very difficult conflict, developed some of the strongest marriages—marriages used to counsel and repair others.
What is your attitude when you encounter conflict with your mate? If we don’t have the right attitude, if we are angry at our mate and angry at God, if we are depressed, bitter, and disillusioned, then it will negatively affect our behavior and our spouse, and therefore, reap harmful consequences in marriage. Conflict is really just an opportunity to grow, and we should view it that way.
What is your attitude during conflict? Do you have a joyful expectation of the work that God wants to do? Do you expect him to make you holier? Do you expect him to strengthen your capacity to love? That’s how Scripture tells us to view all trials.
In Conflict, We Must Develop Perseverance
In continuing with what Paul and James taught about trials, both taught that trials produce perseverance. Paul then said perseverance produces character and character hope (Rom 5:3-4). James said that we should “let perseverance finish its work so that we can become mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4, NIV 2011). In marital conflict, we must develop perseverance so we can produce the fruits God wants to cultivate in our marriage.