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Preventing Destructive Marital Conflict

Conflict in marriage is a common issue. It is not the sign of an unhealthy marriage. The goal is not to have a conflict-free marriage. The goal is to have healthy conflict. Healthy conflict builds a marriage. Unhealthy or destructive conflict can destroy a marriage.

What are some principles that can keep us from destructive conflict? I would suggest the following:

1. Cultivate self-awareness.
The rest of these principles will do no good if you are not aware of, or if you are constantly excusing, what comes out of your mouth. We must start with an ongoing awareness of what we say and micro-repentance for what we say sinfully.

  • The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Prov 14:8
  • When words are many sin is not absent but he who holds his tongue is wise. Prov 10:9

2. Cultivate humility, correctability, and a desire to grow to be like Christ.
Seek to live for an audience of One no matter what the other party does. Becoming more holy and Christlike means communicating in a more Christlike way. Focus on your own growth and communication.

  • On the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they have spoken. Matt 12:36
  • As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Prov 27:17

3. Identify and attack the problem not the person. 
It is easy to lose focus of the problem that is causing the conflict and begin attacking the person. This starts with a desire not to build the family but to win. Often that means using sentences that start with “You…,” attacking the motives of the other person, generalizing to the character, or skipping to another problem. Stick to one conflict at a time.

  • In your anger do not sin. Eph 4:26

4. Understand then be understood.
Seek to understand the conflict. What are the desires of the other person? Seek to listen to not only the words but the heart behind the words. Seek to understand not only the position but the interests or desires underneath it.

  • The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters but a man of understanding draws them out. Prov 20:5
  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Prov 18:2
  • Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Jas 1:19

5. Don’t use reckless words but pleasant words.
We can choose inflaming words or calming words. “You never…” “You always…”

  • Reckless words pierce like a sword but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 12:18
  • The wise in heart are called discerning and pleasant words promote understanding. Prov 16:21

6. Respond to anger with gentleness. Or if you are the one given to anger, control that anger.

  • A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. Prov 15:1
  • Do not repay insult with insult but with blessing. For to this you were called. 1 Pet 3:9
  • A fool gives full vent to his anger but a wise person keeps himself under control. Prov 29:11
  • In your anger do not sin. Eph 4:26.

7. Cultivate a forbearing spirit that properly overlooks two things: Sin and differences that are not sinful.  Why? Because Christ has overlooked and is overlooking much in you. Don’t be a nitpicking spouse constantly trying to improve your spouse. It is possible to become a fault-finding, quarrelsome person. And give grace for a different person who does things differently. (However, there are certainly times to really challenge each other.)

  • Accept one another as Christ as accepted you. Rom 15:7
  • Above all, love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Pet 4:8
  • It is better to live in a corner of a housetop than in a house shared by a quarrelsome wife. Prov 25:24

A General Summary From Family Life

Focus on: Rather than:
One issue Many issues
The problem The person
Behavior Character
Specifics Generalizations
Facts Judgment of motive
“I” statements “You” statements
Understanding Who’s winning or losing

8. Call fouls on yourself when you sin. 
In a pick-up basketball game, there are certain rules of the game that both parties know and abide to. Fouls will happen. And without a referee it is incumbent on each person to admit their own fouls. If they don’t admit the fouls or they want to play by football rules and not basketball rules, the game is over.

Similarly, when one party breaks the above communication principles, they have to admit it and confess it. It is a matter of honor before the Lord.

  • Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matt 5:48
  • Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31
  • Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Jas 5:16
  • Love your enemies …and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5:44

9. Don’t go to bed angry.
Move toward each other. Don’t try and resolve issues late at night. But release it and work on it later. I write more about that in this post – Should You Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger?

  • Do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil a foothold. Eph 4:26

10. Choose the right time, place, and procedure.
Don’t try and have a hundred dollar conversation in a 25-cent minute. Think about when to talk about things. Set aside time like a coffee date. Don’t bring up things just because it is on your mind. Add margin to your life so that you have time to talk. Don’t always be rushing.

11. When these are broken, reflect on the conflict and seek to grow. 
Journal or reflect on the triggers and how you could have responded differently to calm the quarrel. What will you do differently next time? There will be a next time!

  • As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Prov 26:18
  • The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Prov 14:8

12. Seek outside help freely. 
We give protection, not secrecy. We are commanded to go and get help when we need it. Family secrets are not excluded from that. The body of Christ is meant by God to help us.

  • Without counsel, plans fail but many advisors they succeed. Prov 15:22
  • If your brother sins against you go to him. If he will not listen bring one of two others along. Matt 18:15-16

And a Baker’s Dozen – 
13. Stop, drop, and pray for unity.
Many disagreements could be solved if one party said to the other, “Hey, let’s just stop and ask for the Lord’s help right now.” Turning the focus from the other to the Lord and crying out for insight and help can calm many disagreements.

While this list is certainly not comprehensive it is a good start. What would you add?