In today’s episode, I want to share with you some information that’s helped me. Our church recently hosted a marriage conference where Deepak Reju was the speaker. I found his third session on handling conflict especially helpful. In it, he talked about how to deal with fights, how to pursue understanding your spouse, and how to make a genuine apology. So I believe you are going to be truly blessed by this episode.
Deepak Reju serves as the pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He and his wife Sarah, have five children, and Deepak is the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible, On Guard, The Pastor and Counseling, and Pornography: Fighting for Purity. He serves also on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.
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Chap: I’m Chap Bettis and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent Podcast, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children.
Conflict is inevitable in marriage, but it doesn’t have to be destructive. Do you know how to disagree? Hi, my name is Chap Bettis and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent. And we’re continuing a short three-episode series on marriage. In this episode, I want to share with you some information that’s helped me. Our church recently hosted a marriage conference where Deepak was the speaker, and I thought his third session on handling conflict was especially helpful. In it, he talked about how to deal with fights, how to pursue understanding your spouse, and how to make a genuine apology. So I think you are going to be blessed by this podcast episode.
Deepak serves as the Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He and his wife Sarah have five children, and Deepak is the author of several books, including Great Kings of the Bible, On Guard, The Pastor in Counseling, and Pornography. He serves also on the board of directors of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is a trustee for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.
Before we start though, I want to remind you that we give away the audio book of The Disciple-Making Parent absolutely free. We’re on a mission to equip parents to pass the gospel to their children. It’s the centerpiece of our ministry, and it’s been endorsed by Al Mohler and Tim Challlies among others. You can have the audiobook for free. Simply visit thedisciplemakingparent.com/freeaudiobook. That’s thedisciplemakingparent.com/freeaudiobook. But for now, let’s think about some help with how to handle conflict in our marriage.
Deepak: So we’re going to think through conflict. That’s what we’re going to cover this first hour. And I want you to picture these situations. Your spouse’s convinced you’re wrong, so she relentlessly argues with you until you give in. Or you’re angry at your husband, so you let him have it. You belittle him for his incompetency, his lack of leadership. You were harsh. You regret some of what you said, but you don’t really care because you feel like he deserved it.
Conflict seems like a normal part of marriage. People fight all the time. Yet as Christians, we don’t want to tolerate conflict or do anything to make it worse. As with any sin, we want to be able to put it to death. In our fallen world we encounter conflict in the home, workplace, and even in the church. And in order to be good disciples of Christ, it’s important to understand how to work through harmful, even hurtful and destructive conflict in our marriages and in life in general.
So as I said yesterday, this is going to be an introduction into the topic. We could spend a lot more time on it. So I what really want to do is just spark some thoughts, help you think through some basic things, and then encourage you to go talk with others, read more, work out things together. So we’ll start with this basic introduction on how to handle conflict today. And to do that, get used to me, I’m always trying to state the goals of what we’re trying to do.
So three goals in how to handle our conflict. Three goals. You see there, the first goal, the marriage goal we talked about yesterday out of Genesis 2:24 is to grow in unity. It’s to work as teammates together. We’re trying to work as one unit together in marriage, not two separate individuals in the same marriage. And so unity becomes really important. Learning to work as teammates is fundamental and the first goal that comes right out of what we talked about last night.
The second goal you see there: every conflict provides an opportunity to grow in wisdom. In conflict, you’re growing wiser in learning how to handle your fights. So one difference between good and bad marriages is not that good marriages don’t have conflict. Good marriages have plenty of conflict. The difference is they’ve learned how to handle their conflict wisely. And so the differences matter in learning how to work with each other. Because what are we talking about? Two hearts, two individuals, who’ve covenanted together who need to learn how to work together with all the personality differences, all the idiosyncrasies, all the different characteristics that have shaped you through your life. . . You’re merging your two lives together, and now you’re learning to work together in a partnership. And so it requires a lot of wisdom to know how do we work together well?
Third goal you see there is to pursue peace. No matter what our ethnicity or color or background, as a church we demonstrate our commitment to the gospel by living at peace with one another. Paul writes, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.” That’s Romans 14. You know, as the Holy Spirit continues to work in a believer’s life, we expect to see one of the fruits of the spirit- that is, peace- become more pervasive in our life. How much more so in our marriages? We desire our homes and marriages to be characterized by the aroma of Christ. Not only love and joy, but peace and unity and reconciliation.
So how to deal with fights. You see that middle section there? Three things I want to say to you. First, start by looking at your own heart. Let’s start by thinking about why we fight. If you’ve got a Bible, why don’t you turn to James chapter 4, James chapter 4. When we fight, we tend to make the other person the enemy in the midst of an argument. We’re in war, and they are on the other side. And what do we do? We try to convince them that they’re wrong and that we are right. And so in our self-righteousness, we’re convinced that we’re right. I’ll take this tongue in cheek, but each of us have an inner lawyer in the midst of an argument. We’ve built up logical arguments and we’re ready to convince the other person of their wrongness and our rightness, and that inner lawyer rages in the midst of a conflict. All the assumptions you build, the logical arguments you build, all the things that you do in your flesh to win that argument. It’s war, not love, in the midst of a conflict and your goal is to win. Well, what does James teach us?
He gives us two questions in verse one. “What causes fights and quarrels among us?” And he actually answers it with another question. “Is it not the passions that dwell within you?” Where does he point? Where does the Apostle James point to? He doesn’t point to your spouse, does he? What do we do in conflict? We make our spouse the enemy in the midst of a fight. What does James do? He turns it right around and points in here. He says, look at the war going on in your heart. You know where the problem starts? Not with your spouse. But it starts with the passions that dwell within you. Consider the war that’s going on in here. The things that I want in that moment, the things I’m not getting, that my spouse is getting in the way of. That’s what’s starting the fight.
The desires that battle within us is the main sources of our fight and conflict. When you’re fighting, do you take time to look at your own heart, or do you rush into a fight with condemnation for your spouse for everything that they’re doing wrong in that moment? The first step in legitimately dealing with your fights is to examine your own sinful desires and motives. That’s what Jesus says, isn’t it? Jesus says that you’re a hypocrite if you don’t deal with your own sin. Before you accuse your spouse of their sin or their bad motives. What does he tell us? “You hypocrite. First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” So deal with your own sin first, before you attack your spouse.
Once you understand what your sin is, then take ownership of it and confess it before God. Confess it before your spouse and confess it before a friend who can hold you accountable. Marriage does not work without repentance. Marriage does not work without repentance. Once you understand what’s going wrong in your own heart, you’ve got to own it. You’ve got to deal with it.
Repentance is so fundamental to change in the nature of a marriage. If you’re not willing to turn from your sin, the whole thing’s going to be messed up. But if you can turn from your sin by God’s strength, through his grace, things can turn around. The whole thing could change. But don’t spend so much time focused on your spouse’s sin. No, Jesus says, start right here. Start with repentance of your own sin and you will see things change fairly quickly. We’re often convinced to deal with the problem, I’ve got to fix that person. And in marriage, it’s your spouse. When in fact, you know what? The best way to change your marriage is start with your own heart.
Number two: Husbands. Move towards your spouse in seeking understanding. Husbands, your goal in an argument is not to win. It’s certainly not to vindicate or protect yourself. Your goal in an argument is to move towards your wife, seek to understand why she’s so upset with you. Your first priority is to see it as she sees it.
She may not be right, and I’m not saying that she’s right. She may be sometimes, but she may not be in that moment. The sin, in fact, may be hers. But until she’s convinced that you’re for her and not against her, until she knows you understand her and you’re not against her. Until she knows you’re committed to her good, you’re not going to be able to lead her anywhere, let alone lead her out of that argument. And you’re certainly not going to be able to make progress in resolving that conflict until she’s convinced He really is for me. So men, be especially quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
Number three, there, ladies, don’t protect, attack, shut down, or run. Why? Ladies, it’s not any easier for you. In the middle of an argument, your desire is often to protect from any further hurt in that argument. You might do that by going on the attack, and some of you might be very gifted at going after your spouse. Or in some cases it might be simply withdrawing or just shutting down. Either way, whichever way you operate, you’ve got to think through, Well, no, how do I stay in it? How do I stay a part of this conversation?
Now, you may be tempted to resort to guilt or just plain meanness, but good biblical communication requires that even in the midst of the argument you remain open to him, you invite him in, you allow him to make clumsy efforts at trying to communicate with you, you show grace to him as you see him trying, you work at understanding what’s going on with him, and you do not punish him when he doesn’t get it soon enough or as well as you’d like. It means you don’t back away, but you take steps toward him in respectful and gracious words. Even when you’re frustrated and confused, it means that you’re open to his leadership when he tries to identify and respond to sin that he has often committed.
So. Very first year of marriage, I committed one of the chief of all follies for a husband.
Can you guess what this is?
[You left the seat up.]
I left the seat up. No, that’s not it.
[Forgot her birthday.]
Forgot her birthday. That’s a good one too. No, that wasn’t it.
I agreed to cut my wife’s hair.
I know. So bad.
Okay, so I want you to picture this. Here we are. We’re in seminary. We’re dirt poor in seminary. And so in order to be careful about our finances, we bought buzz cutters to cut my hair. And so my wife has cutting my hair and all the boys’ hair for years now. And so at one, one point in a first year of marriage, after cutting my hair for months, she just goes, “With normal scissors, would you ever cut my hair?” And the sweet, naive husband I am, I just go. “Sure.”
And so my wife had long hair at that point, and we’re in the bathroom. I’m behind her. And the objective was to just trim the bottom of her hair. So here I am, you know, I’m trimming the bottom of the hair and I by mistake, cut a big chunk out. Now, you’d think I would’ve backed away at that point, but I didn’t. What did I do as a husband? Fix it! Before she discovers this, because she’s facing the other way, I’m going to fix it!
So I keep going and I keep trying to trim it in a way to fix the problem. But then I cut another big chunk out by mistake. But the problem is at that moment when the second big chunk comes out, the words “Uh, oh” come out of my mouth.
And have you ever had words coming out of your mouth and you think, “Oh no, let me take those words back”? And I say the words “uh, oh.” She’s like, “What? What happened?” And then she reaches back and she begins to feel how much hair is gone. And then she starts getting frustrated with me and I start making excuses for what I’m doing. I’m beginning to think I’m an idiot for doing this. And then she starts getting angry as I’m trying to defend myself, and you can just tell what happens. We just spiraled out from there. It didn’t end well. She ended angry. I ended frustrated at her, frustrated at myself. I walked out pouting. It just didn’t end well.
[Did you fix the other side?]
I didn’t end up fixing it. No. At that point I was like, hands off, backing away. No. So why do I tell you this? What I want is for you to slow down, understand what you did wrong, not focus on the other person, listen to your spouse, and work through that. And as was demonstrated by our very first kind of hard conflict, we didn’t do any of that. We didn’t do a single thing. And so when you want to work through something, you’ve got to take the time to understand your spouse. It’s fundamental to working through it. When your spouse is wrong and you’ve gotten angry with your spouse, how do you tend to deal with him or her?
Neither of us sought to understand one another. We didn’t slow down. What happens? We got mad at each other and it heated up real quickly. What do we need to do? Well, we don’t need to let that inner lawyer rage, build logical arguments, get heated, and let it loose at one another, and some of us even making assumptions and interacting with the imputed motives that we put on our spouse.
No, instead we need to slow down. Listen. Understand, not assume, and work at building a, a thoughtful, gracious, and loving conversation with each other. What do most of us do when your spouse and you are in an argument? Well, suppose your spouse is wrong and you’ve gotten angry with your spouse, how do you tend to deal with him or her? Most of us build logical arguments. We think we’re right. We come up with assumptions, and sometimes we impute motives on our spouse. This is even before we’ve entered into the fight. You then do everything you can to persuade your spouse that you’re right. But first, you need to take time to understand your spouse. In Proverbs 18:2 Solomon writes about how a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but what does the fool do? Delights in airing their own opinion. How do you build understanding?
Well, a couple of practical tips there you see at the bottom of the page. First is listening. Take time to listen. What does James do? He encouraged believers, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” You might assume that you are a good listener. Or maybe you know for sure that you’re not a good listener. So let’s take the listening test. Ready? We’re going to do this. Scale of one to 10. 10, you’re the best listener in the entire universe. 1, you’re the worst listener on the planet. Okay? Go ahead and get a number in your mind right now. If you need to you can write it down, but don’t look over at your spouse. Get a number in your mind.
Okay, here’s what you’re going to do over lunch today. If you’re married, you’re going to share the number with your spouse, and don’t be surprised if the number is a bit different than what your thoughts. So the conversation will go like this: After you hear your spouse’s reflection on it, you’ll say, “Well, honey, I rank myself as an 8. Why did you rank me as a 3?” And if you are willing to have that conversation, you’re going to learn something about how to be a better listener.
You know, the last time my wife and I had that conversation she ranked me lower than what I hoped she would rank me. And then I said, “Why’d you put me at that number?” And she said, “You’ve been staring at your phone too often when you’re with us as a family.” I’m like, “Ooh. Oh, that’s so true.” And so now I put the phone away when we go to dinner so it’s not a distraction at all in conversation with the family.
Now, if you’re not willing to be humble and get feedback, don’t ask for the number. Because you need to be humble in order to do this, because you’re going to get feedback. But if you’re willing to get feedback, you’ll grow as a listener. If you’re willing to listen to your spouse, if you’re willing to grow . . .
Now, if you’re single then and you’re here, I love that. Do I have a few more singles again here today? Any singles? Raise your hand. Singles. Okay. Well, what you want to do is do it with a best friend, your roommate, a parent. Same thing, because I want you to grow as a listener too, in learning how to actually have these great conversations with one another. But grow as a listener by getting feedback and getting better at it.
A good rule of thumb, don’t talk over each other in your arguments. I do this all the time helping couples with conflict: I call myself the referee. You know, I do this so often in conflict, a couple bought me a referee outfit for my birthday this past year to use in marital sessions with them. Because what do couples do in conflict? They argue and they are not listening. They constantly talk over each other. What does that tell us if people are fighting and they tend to talk over each other? It means they’re arguing their own opinion and not really listening to the other person.
Slow down, take time to really listen, and in fact, summarize what you hear the other person saying. Summarizing is a really good skill to master. Because what happens? If you can summarize and your spouse validates that you’ve understood, that gets you both on the same page. If you can’t summarize then you’re not really listening adequately, and that’s going to help the two of you to get on the same page with one another. Ask questions before you ever state your opinion. Take time to ask a range of questions that’ll clarify what your spouse thinks. Proverb 25 “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters and a man of understanding draws them out.”
And then you see there, Clarify assumptions. One of the most dangerous things we could do is assume. Assumptions can often lead us astray because we read motives into our spouse’s situation. With too many assumptions, you’re actually counseling more of the person in your mind than the person who stands right in front of you. And so you have to be really careful about those assumptions.
How do you deal with those assumptions? Two rules of thumb you see there. Number one, don’t assume. Instead, always ask. The best way to deal with assumption and to make sure that they’re valid or not is to ask questions. But the second fear thing you see there, put the best possible spin on a particular situation. You know, whenever we make assumptions, our sinful nature naturally makes us think the worst of situations. Refer to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Love always trusts, or love always hopes.
DC is famous for political groups that take the same bit of data and they spin it in a particular direction. The exact same bit of information, but because of their bias, they’ll spin it in one direction or another. Well, what do we tend to do? Our sinful flesh tends to take a bit of data. And because we’re skeptical or cynical or bitter or even just frustrated in the moment, we’ll spin it in a negative direction. We’ll be cynical of my spouse’s motives. I’ll be frustrated with them, so I’ll see it in a negative light.
But remember what we talked about yesterday. If you married someone with good, godly character, why not make that the priority in how you see things? Why not just simply assign good motives to a situation rather than being skeptical and negative about what your spouse is doing? And it’s funny, that that little flip over of just committing to assign good motives in a situation. It’s amazing how many times that resolves something when you’re just beginning to assume negative things about your spouse. So if you’re assuming something, don’t assume the worst. Rather, assume the best and assign good intentions to your spouse. And I think you’ll find that this one simple strategy will relieve a lot of tension that you can find within your marriage. Then you’ll also see there uncover your spouse’s values and expectations.
You know, Jesus tells us in Matthew 12, “Out of the abundance of heart, the mouth speaks.” Well, communication, what you say, reveals your heart, what you value and what you expect. So a critical part of resolving conflict is uncovering these things. I want you to think of it in terms of an archeological dig. Well, what am I trying to do? I’m trying to dig out of my spouse’s heart what matters, what they’re hoping for, what they’re desiring, what they treasure, what they don’t like, what they don’t expect.
You know what? You need to get these things out on the table. Why do I say that? Because all of us have expectations and values that are operative in our heart. Very often in marriage, when you disagree, you find that below the surface of that disagreement are different expectations and different values that are operative. So what do we need to do when we have a disagreement? We start with what we value and what we expect. Don’t start at the level of the disagreement. Dig underneath that and ask, “What matters most to my spouse? What do they value? What do they want? What are they hoping for? What are they expecting out of this situation?”
Well, you don’t value the same things. Well, great. Okay. Then you have to do the hard work of figuring out how to merge your values, and at least you know that the discussion shouldn’t be at the level of the disagreement, at the level of the decision. At the first, start at the level of the values and the expectations. Now, it’s funny, I went over all this this morning and my wife and I are trying to make a major decision and I thought, “Oh my goodness. We’ve been working on the decision. I haven’t even figured out what she values in this.” So even the teacher was applying it to himself this morning realizing, “Oh, I need to go back and say to her, ‘What do you want? What do you really, what are you really hoping for in this?’”
When thinking about it now, arguing about a decision when your values aren’t aligned is like trying to fix a car engine without knowing how an engine works. I mean, it seems silly to try and do that unless you know what are the things that actually make it function, which are the values and expectations in our marriages? Then you can’t actually make a decision together. So what you’ll find in marriage is there are plenty of unspoken and misaligned values and expectations. Even if you’ve been married many years, you develop even more over the course of years. And so you’ve just got to get them out on the table and work through them.
What’s our goal? We want to work at revealing and then aligning our marital values and expectations. Then you see there are six more things in dealing with conflict. Number one: Restrain your tongue and pursue self-control. Some of you have a very hard time controlling your tongue. A loose tongue and consistently careless or mean comments can undermine and hurt your marriage. One of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 is self-control. The more you grow in faith, the more you grow in maturity. You should expect greater self-control to be a fruit of the Spirit working in your life. A couple of Proverbs I listed there, Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Or Proverbs 11:11, “A man who lacks judgment derives his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.”
A few thoughts on self-control. Learning self-control is particularly important when it comes to controlling your temper. Now, when emotions take over, we’re prone to say things we regret. Now, all my friends or professional counselors call this stupid talk. When we’re in the midst of a conflict, we can say really mean things to one another. Things that we hate came out of our mouths. Things that we really regret, that we even said that can hurt and really sting your spouse. If this is happening, it’s better for you to consider pausing the fight, cooling down the emotions before you get back into the conversation. What happens when you get hot in your anger? It’s like your emotions are raging and you can’t do any good when your emotions are raging like that. And so you’ve got to cool it down.
Often therapists call this flooding. You’re flooded by your emotions. And when you’re flooded in that moment, the physiology has taken over. You’ve got to slow it down because you’re going to do no good in that moment. Proverb 16:32: “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes the city.” Pause the fight. Cool down your emotions. Pray before you start the conversation again.
One of the best skills you can pick up is to learn to not respond in kind. What do I mean by that? Well, I brought this up last night when I made that final point about grace. When your spouse says something mean to you, demonstrate self-control by not responding with provocative comments. The best way to stop a fight is to choose to not have it in the first place. Don’t respond. Don’t. Don’t take the bait. Don’t fire back. Hold back by God’s grace and demonstrate self-control in that moment.
Now, realize the hypocrisy- when you’re publicly acting very religious, but privately you’re tolerating a loose tongue when you have conflict with your spouse. James 1:26: “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 goes on to say that the inconsistency that comes from saying harmful things on the one hand and then kind things at other times should not be tolerated. James 3:10,11: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. Brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
Now, choose your words carefully rather than screaming or throwing things. Some of you might actually get at your spouse by subtle underhanded jabs at them. So it might be not the outright hollering at them, but just to get in a little dig in order to get underneath their skin. Rather than a frontal assault, maybe it’s just simply that side swipe. Others of you use absolute language. You know, when you really frustrate your spouse, you say things like, “He always does that,” or, “She never helps me with this.” Always and never. That absolute language is language of war. That’s not language of love. And, actually when you think about it, is that really true? Always and never. No, you’re just heated up and you’re frustrated in the moment. And then you’re generally characterizing, that absolute language, saying things like “you always” or “you never” does not help your marriage.
They’re attack words. They’re really useful if your goal is to conquer and win, but they’re useless if your goal is love and understanding. And remember that neither of you have to say everything that comes to your mind. It doesn’t have to come out of your mouth. Sometimes you need to put a Christ-centered filter on your mouth in order to have a good conversation with one another.
Oftentimes, the best way to deal with the potential argument is to allow love to cover over a multitude of sins. James chapter 3 talks about the power and the danger of the tongue. If this is a struggle for you, that’s an excellent chapter to meditate on. That’s a just really good place in scripture for you to go to help you think about constraint of your emotions, constraint of your screaming constraint of your anger, or whatever it is that you’re battling with.
Number two: Confess your sin and offer a Godly apology. You know, a lot of us are just really bad at offering apologies. There are a lot of forces operative in our lives that make it hard to have a genuine confession to our spouse. You know, most of us are terrible at confessing and offering an apology. What are we combating? Our own egos. Our desire to save face, our instinct for self-preservation or defense. Offering a Godly apology is extremely difficult at times. It involves humbling ourselves, a true admission of wrongdoing, even a quest for forgiveness. Now, what’s a bad apology? A bad apology is saying, “I’m sorry I did this, but I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t done this.” What is that? That’s just a backhanded way at getting at your spouse. That’s not an apology. It’s a way of actually jabbing them then kind of admitting what I did wrong.
That’s a wretched apology. No, actually, when you apologize, just say you are sorry and don’t point at your spouse. Just don’t do that when you’re apologizing. It an act of humility done to glorify God. It’s not a backhanded way at getting at your spouse. Now you see there, on your page, our executive pastor did a great job in thinking through a framework for apologizing. And like I do with anything else, I took it and injected steroids and made it even bigger.
So what we have here is A, B, C, D, a simple framework in understanding how to apologize. So I’m going to give you five A’s then one B, one C, and one D. So, five A’s you see there: Admit your sin. Then Articulate not just the Action you did wrong, but also the heart Attitude behind that action. And then Ask for forgiveness. So admit, articulate, action, attitude, and ask for forgiveness. Five A’s.
Flip over to page 15, top of the page. B: use Biblical language to describe your sin. So don’t describe your sin using vague terms. Don’t say, “I messed up, I got really frustrated. I shouldn’t have done that.” Rather, use biblical language. “I’m sorry I screamed at you. I was prideful and angry.” And notice the Action- screamed at you- and the Attitude- prideful and angry. Or “I’m sorry, I avoided you yesterday. I was being selfish and a hypocrite.” Again, notice the Action- avoided you- and the Attitude- selfish and a hypocrite.
Number C, articulate, as best you can, the Cost of your sin to the other person. “I’m sorry I screamed at you. I was prideful and angry.” So let’s add the cost to that. “I know I hurt you and demeaned you when I got angry.” So often the reason why confession and forgiveness fail to reach true reconciliation is because that the person forgiving doesn’t think the person confessing really gets the damage they’ve done in that conversation. And so if you can articulate the cost, that helps the other person see you get the full extent of what your sin has done in this conversation.
And then D: Explain what you’re going to Do by way of repentance and resolution. So again, “I’m sorry I screamed at you. I was prideful and angry. I know I hurt you and demeaned you when I got angry.” Add to this the repentance. “I’m going to get help from my anger. I’m going to ask the pastor for help or my discipler for help, and I’m going to ask them to hold me accountable and help me to learn to how to get it under control.” Okay. If you add that last part, I see you’re going to do something about it. We’re not going to get trapped in this cycle again and again, and again.
Number three there: keep short accounts. This is Ephesians 4:26. “Don’t let the sun come down on your anger” encourages us to keep short accounts with our spouse. Rather than bearing grudges or letting anger fester or immature stewing of frustrations, start by dealing with the problem. The more you simply tolerate the sin and prolong it, the more likely it’ll compound and get worse.
But number four, you see there, if you need to take a break and hit the pause button- A false notion in dealing with keeping short accounts is that therefore we need to stay up to the wee hours of the night and get this argument done, because we literally can’t let the sun go down our anger. But it’s kind of silly. You’re arguing at 11 o’clock at night and the sun’s gone down a few hours ago. The point of Ephesians 4:@6 is actually to keep short accounts. It’s not a literal interpretation of where the sun is, up or down. And what do we tend to do? We try to keep short accounts. We want deal with it before we go to bed.
And yet at 11:30, or for some of you like 12:30, or for some of you one o’clock in the morning, you’re still arguing about it. And literally you have no brain cells left. You’ve been saying really harmful things for about an hour. You’re not getting anywhere, and somehow you think this is accomplishing something. It’s better for you to say long before that, “We’re going to stop. We’re going to pause, we’re going to pray. We’re going to get a good night’s rest. We’re going to get a devotional time in the morning, maybe I’m going to call my discipler and get help, and then we’re going to enter back into the conversation.” So sometimes we just need to be humble enough to recognize we’re just not making it through this right now, and we need to pause, get some rest, try it again tomorrow and ask for the Lord’s help and ask for other people’s help in order to get through this.
Number five, pray about fighting. You know, behooves me to say, especially as a pastor, you’ve just got to pray more. Imagine in the midst of a conflict, you guys are going at each other, and one of you just said, “Maybe we should just pray about it.” What does that do? It takes it out of this horizontal dynamic when you’ve been preoccupied with each other for the last hour and it says, “Lord, we need help right now.” And do you know how many conflicts probably would actually be turned upside down if you just took time in the midst of the heat of it to pray? Because God can offer wisdom and help in that moment. And interestingly, the other fruit of that is it often immediately begins diffuse things. Why is that? Because you let God enter in.
And number six, be humble enough to accept outside help. You know, what I hate is that a lot of couples get to a really bad spot. Just a spot far downstream where things are not going well and it’s been bad for a while, and then they’re humble enough to turn to other people and say, “We’re desperate. We need your help.” Far better for them to have come upstream. When you know you had a conflict and it hasn’t resolved, and you know you’re not getting anywhere, and just call someone that you trust and say, “Help us. Just help us.” Marriages don’t survive on deserted islands in isolation. That’s why I love that there’s multiple churches here. We do it in community. We turn to other people and we say, “I can’t do this on my own.” And in case of marriage, “We can’t do this on our own.”
This past Wednesday, my wife and I, a couple of times a year, we have a mentor couple- A wonderful couple who’ve been in ministry for 35 years. A senior pastor and his wife who have agreed to meet with us two to three times a year to just let us open up on our marriage. And we had a couple hours with them this past Wednesday at a Panera Bread halfway between our locations and just open up about some things we’re working through in our marriage. And we do that because we need help. We’re not in trouble. We’re actually doing really well, but we recognize we’re sinners and we need to do it with other people partnering with us.
So a lot of people won’t come and talk to the elders or elders’ wives because they’re too ashamed. They think “They’re going to think differently of me if I share these things with them.” Well guess what? They already know you’re sinners. You’re not really going to surprise them. So do them a favor by not waiting until it’s too far downstream and you’re really in trouble. Be humble enough to ask for help a lot earlier, and you’ll make a world of difference, not just for your marriage, but actually for the whole community and how you learn to work together.
So that’s what I want to talk about in terms of conflict, that’s my thoughts in terms of conflict. Let’s pray that God would grow us in unity and wisdom and in peace for both your good and for God’s glory.
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