One of the keys to having a fulfilling and enduring marriage is the ability to resolve conflict well. I’ve learned through the years of helping couples, that love has to be tested through the fires of conflict. The problem with conflict in marriages is not with conflict itself. It is how we view conflict, and how we deal with conflict.
Many have grown up in families or social systems where we erred in one of two ways. We either experienced conflict in a volatile way, which is chaos. Or we never experienced conflict, which is avoidance. Neither one of these are healthy, and neither one of these are sustainable.
Scriptures tell us certain things like, “speak the truth in love”, and to “be angry, but in our anger sin not”. And Jesus reminds us we are supposed to “forgive seventy times seven”. This would all indicate we are going to have conflict in our marriages. We should expect it from time to time. However, we are to handle disagreements in marriage radically different than the world does. We should handle it with the truth and grace that Christ has given us.
Here are three skills to master for how to fight fair in marriage:
The first element of having godly conflict is to be humble. Humility is a hallmark of Christ’s disciples. When we remember our own sinfulness or when we have been wrong, it should put us in a position where we are slow to assume we are right or that we know everything. We should assume that we have plenty to learn from our spouse. It also helps us to adopt the lesser-seat mentality that Jesus taught His disciples.
Be an excellent listener.
Secondly, we should become excellent listeners. James 1:19-20 states, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” When we get into conflict we are prone to getting sped up. Anger is a quick emotion. That is why we use terms like, “having a quick fuse”. When we slow down and take a listener-learner approach to conflict, we know we are on the trail of self-control and wisdom.
Be ready to forgive.
Lastly, we should be prepared with the readiness to forgive if need be. We should always arm ourselves with the same grace that the Lord has given to us. The readiness to forgive, gives us a gentleness that is required when conflict arises. Forgiveness is a door that swings both ways though. Not only should we be willing to forgive, but we should be quick to ask for it when we need it.
There is no need for God’s children to live in volatility or avoidance. We are called to love. And this is especially powerful during conflict. Mastering the skills of godly conflict will not only put out fires in the marriage, it will grow a deeper fire of intimacy along the way.
Nathan Thompson is the Family Pastor and Counselor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.