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Summary: Biblical advice on how to handle marital disagreements.

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I have a question for you: What in this world does more damage to people than anything else? Drugs? War? Disease? I think the answer is…our words. We all remember the childhood saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But that’s not true. Words do hurt; they hurt us emotionally. And unkind words can destroy relationships.

Listen to James 3:5-6: “The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life” (NLT). [Light match] James says that the tongue is small but can be terribly destructive. It’s like this match. This little match potentially could burn down this building. And your little tongue could potentially ruin a relationship—a relationship with a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, a family member, or even a spouse.

Series: MARRIAGE MATTERS

Title: How to Have a Good Fight

Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It’s a fact of life that couples argue—even couples that are deeply in love. Some of the favorite topics are finances, sex, and in-laws. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott write in their book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, “Knowing how to fight fair is critical to your survival as a happy couple. Love itself is not enough to sustain a relationship in the jungle of modern life. Being in love is, in fact, a very poor indicator of which couples will stay married. Far more important to the survival of a marriage, research shows, is how well couples handle disagreements” (p. 113).

Text: Ephesians 5:25-32 [Ask the congregation to look for statements in the passage that can help us better handle our disagreements with others.]

“Rules of Male-Female Relationships” (obviously written by a male):

1. The Female always makes the Rules.

2. The Rules are subject to change at any time without prior notification.

3. No Male can possibly know all the Rules.

4. If the Female suspects the Male knows all the Rules, she must immediately change some or all of the Rules.

5. The Female is never wrong.

6. If the Female is wrong, it is because of a flagrant misunderstanding, which was a direct result of something the Male did or said wrong.

7. If Rule 6 applies, the Male must apologize immediately for causing the misunderstanding.

8. The Female can change her mind at any given point in time.

9. The Male must never change his mind without express written consent from the Female.

10. The Female has every right to be angry or upset at any time.

11. The Male must retain calm at all times, unless the Female wants him to be angry or upset.

12. The Female must under no circumstances let the Male know whether or not she wants him to be angry or upset.

13. Any attempt to document these Rules could result in bodily harm to the Male.

We can sometimes find humor in our disagreements, but marital conflict is a very serious matter.

There are three ways of responding to disagreements:

• CLAMMING up

• BLOWING up

Scott Stanley is part of a research team at the University of Denver that has identified factors that accurately predict whether a marriage will survive or fail. What he looks for is not whether a couple argues, but how the couple argues. Two factors are especially dangerous. The first is escalation. Escalation occurs when a person says something negative and his or her spouse responds in kind, with an even harsher statement. This leads to an argument that spirals to greater levels of anger and frustration. In some ways, this is very natural for us. Whenever we’re criticized, our first impulse is to defend ourselves by turning the tables on the one attacking us. We lash back, and our words can be harsh. It’s especially dangerous when one of the partners says something like, “If that’s the way you feel, maybe I should just move out.” The other might respond with: “Don’t let me stand in your way!”

Stanley refers to one couple he counseled who began discussing household chores, but in no time they were threatening divorce. He said, “They made the mistake of threatening their very commitment to the relationship—a very common and very destructive battle strategy. No matter how angry you become or how much pain you’re feeling, it’s never appropriate to punish your mate by threatening divorce. Rather than helping your spouse see things your way, it only causes him or her to question your commitment to the relationship.”

The second deadly factor in a marriage, according to Dr. Stanley, is invalidation. In simplest terms, this means putting each other down, calling one another names, or making personal comments or insults about the other. It includes ridiculing one another and being sarcastic. You invalidate the other person. You belittle them and attack their self-worth. This is no way to deal with conflict; it only hurts the marriage and the mate (Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2003 Edition, p. 257).

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