February 26, 2023
This article is based on Pastor Adrian Rogers' message, How to Handle Conflicts.
Intimacy in marriage is not easy. In the best of marriages, there are strong differences and contentions. The difference between good and bad marriages is problem-solving that leads to conflict resolution.
God made male and female. God-ordained marriage. Therefore, it is God who teaches us how to dwell together as heirs of the grace of life. Here are three rules He gives for how to “fight fair” when resolving conflict.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear…” (James 1:19a).
When you listen, it will encourage your spouse to talk. Encourage your mate to express himself or herself. When you come to a true understanding, you have an intimate relationship and greater marital satisfaction.
Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Look particularly into your spouse’s eyes: if you are perceptive, you can see joy, fear, sadness, anger, or confusion. You can assess the well-being of the one you love.
If you look away, what does your body language say? “I’m not paying attention”—or—“I don’t like what I’m hearing.” Lean forward. Nod your head. Make warm and affirming eye contact, whether you are having an argument or not.
When the one you love more than anybody else is talking to you, give that person the courtesy of concentration. You will be amazed by how much you have been missing and at how your relationship satisfaction goes up!
Listen not only to the words but to what the words mean. Your husband or wife may get the words confused—in anger or frustration, he or she may exaggerate something, or say it backward. Don’t try to catch the one you love in an error. What are the feelings expressed in what is being said?
Make certain you understand. Once your spouse has said everything without interruption, then say, “Let me see if I understand…” There is always what we say, and what we think we said. And there is always what we hear, and what we thought we heard. Clarification is a good communication practice in all relationships, not just romantic relationships. It provides validation of the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19a).
We are expected to listen twice as much as we speak. There is nothing that can do more damage to your marriage or to any of your personal relationships than your words.
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
“He who has knowledge spares his words” (Proverbs 17:27a).
“Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).
The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 deals with the use of the tongue. The famous passage, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy…” (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) is talking about love in the context of the tongue.
Here are some roles that married couples often assume during marital conflict:
Someone assumes the position of judge. He or she wants to lay the blame and the sentence. Are any of these phrases heard around your house?
I told you so.
What’s wrong with you?
I can’t do anything to please you.
What on earth were you thinking?
All you ever do is think of yourself.
If those kinds of sentences have slipped into your arguments, you are playing the judge. Letting go of this practice will make a world of difference!
This one assumes the superior position, and likes to put down his or her spouse with words like:
You’ll never measure up.
If you had an ounce of brains…
You wouldn’t understand; you’re a woman.
But, “Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up…” (1 Corinthians 13:4b).
They think they have insight into why the other person does what they do. They are always psychoanalyzing the other person and developing hypotheses:
Now let me tell you why you said that…
Do you know why you think that way?
That is contrary to the Bible saying that love “does not behave rudely” (1 Corinthians 13:5a).
For some reason, this person has a memory of every argument that’s ever taken place. In every family conflict, the historian brings out a little mental notebook.
That is a diversionary tactic. The historian doesn’t want to face the situation today. Love “thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5a). The NASB words it, love “does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.”
This person is a bully—physically, or verbally. When a person is dictatorial, he’ll say things like this:
Don’t you ever do that again.
I demand that this stop.
I will not allow that in this house.
Sometimes a husband will become a dictator by withholding money, and a wife will become a dictator by withholding love and sexual intimacy. Whether husband or wife, the dictator is saying (though not aloud), “I am more important than you are.”
This person loves to compare his or her spouse to other people.
Why can’t you be more like [fill in the blank]?
You’re just like your father/mother.
The cruelest cut of all is when the critic singles out something over which the one being criticized has no control: physical traits, background, intellectual capacity, etc.
Don’t give your spouse a rerun of sermons.
The pastor said you’re supposed to forgive me.
The Bible does teach that, but it’s not up to you to say it to them. Worse than this is for you to become self-righteous. The Bible is a wonderful sword, but a poor club for beating your spouse over the head.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Never go to bed angry. “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). There is good, righteous anger—Jesus was angry, but for the right reason, over the right things, in the right way.
But if you have ungovernable anger, get on your face before God and confess it. It is not a weakness; it is wickedness. (See Ecclesiastes 7:9, Proverbs 16:32, 29:22.)
Suppose you and your spouse are having an argument. Here is what not to do: Don’t escape. There may be times when you need to be apart until you are cooled down, but do not run away. It’s like putting smoldering rags in a closet—it will come out. Get it settled, and get it settled today. (See Ephesians 4:26.)
If there is a piece of paper on the carpet and you pick it up the first time you see it, the carpet will stay tidy. But if you allow things to build up, before long, the entire carpet is dirty. Pick up issues one at a time and deal with them.
Don’t avoid. Don’t appease. If your mate is doing something wrong, and you always give in, before long you will resent that person. Compromise? Yes. Appease? No.
Don’t get into a head-to-head argument. “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Both of you will lose.
Make up your mind to accept the other person. Then, accommodate yourself to the one you love. Both of you, adjust. It does not get any easier over the years; if anything, it gets more complicated—but it can get sweeter every day.
Grant forgiveness. Don’t let negative feelings continue unabated. Unforgiveness is a cancer in a marriage.
James 1:19-20; Proverbs 7:9, 10:19, 16:32, 17:27, 21:23, 29:22; Corinthians 13:1-7; Ephesians 4:26; Ecclesiastes 7:9
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.