I have been spending a great deal of time lately thinking about marriage, helping folks with their marriage, reading about marriage and in the end working to be more deliberate in being thankful for my marriage in particular.
Marriage is hard work but it’s good. It’s good for many reasons but not the least of which is the fact that marriage is God’s gift to us to teach us about the beautiful mystery of Christ and his church (Eph 5:32). It’s very easy to forget this truth primarily because of the reality of the presence of sin.
We and our spouses have an innate tendency to forget the gospel and so in turn, seek to make marriage function in a kind of utilitarian fashion. That is to say, we can easily find ourselves using our spouses more than loving and serving them as Christ intends.Tweet
The principal means by which these sinful attitudes and behaviors creep their way into the marriage relationship is when: (1) The opportunity for conflict arises, or (2) When we are in full-fledged conflict itself. Conflict with our spouse uniquely reveals what is in our heart. Jesus says, out of the overflow of our heart the mouth speaks (cf. Matt 12:34, Lk 6:45). When the pressure is on, and you feel offended, hurt, annoyed, abandoned, rejected, misunderstood, what words come out of your mouth? Are they words that seek to defend Christ’s honor for what marriage is really supposed to be about, or do they support and defend an idol that you’ve built?
I know of no marriage that doesn’t have conflict on some level, in some way, in various times and in various ways. But how we engage in the conflict is a reflection of the degree to which the gospel is taking root in our souls, affecting our hearts and minds to persevere in love no matter what happens.
One important point that has recently convicted me in a 31 Day Devotional I’ve been reading through is this: “Fighting has no place in marriage.” (Hoppe, Page 29). Hoppe also points out that as a principle in his marriage counseling, he will not teach couples how to “fight fair”. Why? Because fighting has no place in marriage. Do you agree with this? I certainly do. I agree with this because when I am engaged in whatever warfare a fight may induce, I am absolutely guaranteed to sin against my wife.
We need the wisdom of the Bible to show us just how easily we can fall into these traps. For instance, here are a few wise words from Solomon that can be easily applied to marriage. Do they resonate with you?
Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Pro 10:19 NIV)
Don’t think you know the right answer per se. Otherwise, by adding more and more “nuance” and “clarification” you may be adding fuel to the fire.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Pro 12:18 NIV)
You want to assuage your spouse? You want to win them over? You want your words to bring peace and healing then let your words be wisdom-filled words. When you are in hot anger, it is too easy to spit out what immediately comes to mind. When we feel offended it is all too easy to be reckless with our words. When this happens, we are told that those words actually pierce…which is the opposite of healing.
The LORD detests the thoughts of the wicked, but gracious words are pure in his sight. (Pro 15:26 NIV)
It may be hard to imagine throwing yourself in the crowd of the wicked but given sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:13), we are in fact able to speak, act and otherwise behave like the wicked. Remember, before Christ bought you, you were in fact, wicked in every sense of the word. Therefore, flee wickedness and sin at every turn, and pursue righteousness.
These are just a few sample texts to help us understand that marriage conflict is wrought with all kinds of potential problems impeding you to care for the deeper well-being of your marriage. Do not think you can avoid these pitfalls under your own strength or with your own wisdom. If you think you can engage in full-fledged verbal warfare with your spouse and not sin against him or her, I am telling you right now, you have deceived yourself. The truth of the matter is, you, in and of yourself, are not wise enough.
4 SOLUTIONS TO MARRIAGE CONFLICT
If you would like to consider taking a new direction in your marriage as it relates to the conflict that you may be prone to engage in, let me offer four broad marriage conflict solutions that may help get the ball rolling. They are under four headings: The Word, Prayer, Fellowship in Christ and Kingdom Building.
Are you in the Word? If so, how much are you thinking and meditating on what you’re reading? Are you glancing at texts; is it perfunctory; is it a chore, is that time easily taken over by other things?
I start off with The Word because the foundation of the christian marriage is the Word of God itself. Husbands and wives must be spending time in the Word. This is how you feed your soul; this is how you grow in awareness of your sin; this is how you learn how to be a better spouse. Therefore, let the word of Christ dwell in you (Col 3:16).
If you’re not sure where to begin, I suggest picking up in Ephesians 5:22-33. This is a classic passage on Apostle Paul’s counsel on marriage. I would suggest making time to read through the passage several times; sit on each verse for a several minutes (maybe even hour or days) and meditate on what Paul is saying. Make some observations; ask questions about the text; repeat to yourself what Paul is saying; does it all make sense.
If you want to dive deeper, then begin asking yourself: Where does Paul get this view of marriage? Sometimes we forget that Paul was Jewish, expertly versed in what we now refer to as the Old Testament. Paul’s ethic doesn’t develop in a vacuum after his road to Damascus. Rather, his understanding of marriage is crystallized in light of his conversion because the basis of Paul’s ethic was already grounded in what he had been taught. The “difference” between the old Paul (actually Saul) and the new Paul, was the gospel.
Once he understood and believed the gospel, everything he learned in terms of his training and background were brought together in a unified whole to formulate the biblical ethic of marriage we see outlined in Ephesians 5.
After you have fed off the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11, 2 Tim 3:16), it is now time to appeal directly to God himself. We do this through prayer. Depending on where you may be in your sanctification, I offer two simple prayer tips:
- Ask God to help you see your sin AND THEN confess your sin
- Ask God to help you to be grateful for your spouse AND THEN love and serve your spouse
This isn’t a full proof formula to end all conflict. But it’s a start as it concerns trying to deal with conflict before it starts.
If you maintain a mature awareness of your sin and hold your spouse in proper regard, it’s hard to fight with them.Tweet
You definitely won’t do this perfectly but I think if you employ these two prayer strategies, you will grow less defensive and incline more and more toward humility.
REMEMBER: You were bought at a price. So was your spouse. You both need God’s grace just the same.
FELLOWSHIP IN CHRIST
By fellowship in Christ, I mean fellowship with other couples from across three general spectrums: Younger, Same, Older (in terms of marriage or chronological age). I will focus primarily on Same and Older with Younger receiving more attention in the next heading.
You see, the problems you are facing in your marriage are not uncommon (1 Cor 10:13). Nothing is new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). Whether you are married to someone who, as it turns out, has a anger problem, a spending problem, lust problem, depression/anxiety problem, a lack of faith problem, a problem in submission or a problem in leading, I guarantee you there is one to two couples in your life right now who “know what you mean”.
However, I counsel couples to share their hearts and lives with another couple or two NOT so that it can turn into a gossip session (that would be sinful and wrong on every level); rather, so that other people can fulfill their christian duty to bear your burdens (Gal. 6:2).
These are some of the benefits and blessings of being a Christian, and we have an obligation to one another in this regard, (Rom 15:1; Heb 10:24-25). Two is better than one and three is even better (Ecc 1:9-12).
Therefore, find at least one to two couples of approximate age, and go on the journey together. Find an older couple who have years of wisdom and experience ahead of you. If you engage in this kind of fellowship in Christ, your marriage, over time, will be blessed in ways you can hardly calculate.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
I hope I am not breaking bad news to you when I say, marriage is far more about God’s kingdom than it is about your personal happiness. But even as I write this…if it turns out that this sounds like bad news, then I am glad I said it. The reality is – your marriage is not actually about you or your happiness but more about what God and what he is up to in terms of his kingdom-building purposes.
Maybe you’ve heard it said before: God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness. So, the aim of this section is to introduce to you a mindset shift or a shift in a ‘lens’ through which to see and view your marriage.
The great commission applies in at least two ways in the context of marriage: (1) Child rearing; (2) Helping younger couples live godly marriages.
A kingdom-oriented aim of your marriage is to reproduce yourself. This happens naturally when couples have children…mom and dad (re)produce and multiply. But as we grow in maturity in our marriages, we need to reproduce (another word is disciple) other couples unto godliness.
When we miss this aspect of married life, we naturally bend toward building a little kingdom on earth with our names on it. Without a gospel-oriented kingdom-mindset, we end up setting our minds on things of the world: Career, money, material prosperity, college, reputation, retirement. Before we know it, these are things that make up the bulk of our marriage conflict.
But don’t we realize that these things will perish (Heb 1:11, Jas 1:11, 1 Pet 1:4)? You will not take your 401K with you when you die; your dream home will crumble just shortly after you die; that savings account will be spent before you know it. I don’t say this to discourage you from working hard. There is wisdom in leaving an inheritance (Pro. 13:22) but this is beside the point. The point is, the inheritance isn’t the point. The moment we elevate earthly, temporal matters to eternal, kingdom status, we’ve lost the battle and marriage conflict will inevitably be around the corner.
Two people who are committed to a secret earthly kingdom will live in a perpetual state of anxiety and marital conflict, constantly wondering why the other is so hard to live with. Meanwhile, we will constantly feel alone and distant until a breakthrough of a new vision for something bigger than your marriage emerges on the scene.
This bigger vision is the kingdom of God. When you have a moment, as yourself with your spuse: How can we build God’s kingdom by and through this marriage? How can we invest in others to grow in godliness? What will it look like to emerge from the tendencies to build and invest in our kingdom? You can answer this last question by reflecting on: What am I really after?
Marriage conflict is not the end of the world. In many ways, it can serve as an impetus to recognizing a need for a new beginning. I do think you should work to flee marriage conflict, not necessarily at all costs, however, but almost, because most conflict is about something oriented toward the self than about God; something inherently designed to make you happier but not necessarily holier; something that isn’t saturated in the Word or in prayer but rather something innately selfish and sinful.
If you are growing in these four domains: The Word, Prayer, Fellowship in Christ and Kingdom Building, then you are likely taking the narrow way (Matt 7:14) which is the way to life and godliness. If you neglect these areas, then you will struggle.
ONE FINAL NOTE
This article is not designed to address marriages that are wrought with physical abuse, adultery, significant degrees of substance abuse leaving families effectively impoverished in some way, and the like. This is to say, there are times when it is appropriate to have grave solutions that may be construed as involuntary in someway. For example, a spouse needs to flee for safety. That would be appropriate and ideally occur in the context of pastoral/Elder oversight in some way if/where possible. Therefore, much more can be said about these things to which this article is obviously limited in scope and purpose.
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