Healthy Conflict … Do those two words go together? A lot of people think that a good marriage is one where there ISN’T any conflict. But that’s not true. It’s a natural occurrence in marriage.
“What most spouses are surprised to learn is that marriage probably generates more anger than they will experience in any other relationship. When two people live together with a commitment to increasing closeness, vulnerability, and intimacy, the potential for fear, hurt, frustration, and misunderstanding is enormous, which means there is also great potential for anger. …The problem is that you don’t understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger. You haven’t learned how to express your anger in healthy ways” (Gary and Carrie Oliver, from their book, “Mad About Us”).
Regarding Healthy Conflict:
Thomas Whitman and Thomas Bartlett, in their book, “The Marriage Mender,” talk about healthy conflict, and their fighting habits:
“Couples don’t fight because they DON’T care about each other. They fight because they do. When people invest themselves in marriage, they fear that they won’t get their needs met. Or they fear they’ll get hurt. These are common, natural fears that lead to common, natural conflicts.
“Thus conflict is not something to be avoided in marriage. It is something to be resolved. Couples get into trouble when they don’t know how to deal with conflict. Whether they try to win all conflicts (aggressive), deny feelings that would lead to conflict (passive-aggressive), or avoid conflict altogether (passive), they settle into harmful habits, because they don’t know how to fight in an honest, honorable way.
“Our competitive culture views all conflict as something to be won or lost. This is true even with interpersonal conflict. While some couples get into this mindset, many find it troublesome. Even if you win, your beloved spouse loses. Unless you are a hardened gloater, that’s not a satisfactory solution. No wonder so many of us don’t approach conflict very well! Comparing ‘happy’ marriages with ‘unhappy’ marriages, studies have found no significant difference in the AMOUNT of conflict, but happy couples tend to HANDLE conflict better.”
Thoughts on Healthy Conflict
So, to help you handle conflict in a better and healthier way, the following are some thoughts written by Heather Long, from the article, Fighting with Your Spouse. Below each tip, we have added scriptures. Heather writes:
“The words healthy and conflict seem contrary in meaning, but the truth is —conflict can help a couple’s relationship to grow. The conflict we have with others spurs growth in us. Yes, conflict can be unhealthy if we allow it to be destructive —but conflict can be constructive too. …Here are a few key tips to keep in mind in order to preserve the healthy conflict and not let it get out of control.”
• “Keep it calm and level, as much as you may feel like ranting and raving, it accomplishes nothing for you and your spouse.”
“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.” (Proverbs 13:28) “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” Ecclesiastes 9:17) “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27)
• “Stay clear on what it is you are disagreeing about. Don’t let it wander to old insults or injuries.”
“Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious. But a fool is consumed by his own lips. At the beginning his words are folly. At the end they are wicked madness —and the fool multiplies words.” (Ecclesiastes 10:12-13)
“Love is not rude, and it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
• “You know the little things that will set off your spouse? Refrain from jabbing at those sore spots.”
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)
“A gentle answer turns away wrath. But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel. Instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32)
• “When you’re too angry to be reasonable, be reasonable enough to table the disagreement for a time when the two of you can hash it out without screaming or yelling.”
“Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)
“He who guards his lips guards his life. But he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23)
“A fool gives full vent to his anger. But a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11) “A patient man has great understanding. But a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)
• “Practice active listening and don’t interrupt each other. It’s important that you hear what your spouse is saying and they hear you too.”
“He who answers before listening —that is his folly and his shame.” (Proverbs 18:13) “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it —he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:19-26)
We pray this message will minister to your marriage and help you to experience healthy conflict.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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