Conflict is a natural part of every marriage relationship, so we must cultivate keeping the conflict as loving and God-honoring as possible. At the beginning, there is a marriage "learning curve" after you get married. You are two different people, with two different ideas of how things are done, two different personalities, and two different ways you were raised as a child. Naturally, with all of these differences between you, negotiating and learning occurs to find compromise and understanding of each other's differences. You don't start as two jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly; it takes time to carve some areas away and grow in others to become tightly bound. When conflict occurs, it shows you both are being honest about what you feel, and that is a healthy thing, but it’s important to keep your heart focused on growing together in love while doing so.
One way to work towards managing conflict well is not to keep score. In the middle of the hardest season of my marriage, someone told me that marriage won’t be 50/50. In certain seasons you will have to carry the 90% while they carry the 10%, vice versa. Accepting this truth was helpful, because when I was in a season of carrying the 90% it felt purposeful. I felt like it was my calling in that season of life to carry the team for us all. When I was honest with myself, I could also look back and see how my husband carried the team for us just a few years before, when I was sick the whole nine months of my first pregnancy. He would run to me every time I went to throw up to hold back my hair and rub my back. In that difficult season of life when I didn’t have much to give the marriage, my husband carried us both through it and I never felt alone.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” Ecclesiastes 4:12.
Things in your marriage won’t always be even, but in those moments when your partner is struggling and their “cord” is getting frayed you have the opportunity to hold strong enough to carry the load for the both of you, and in another season they will be able to do the same for you.
It is also important to work on managing your frustration in order to manage conflict in your marriage well. You might have some intense fights when you first get married, but it can get better with time. With that marriage learning curve, it takes time to get to know each other and figure out what each other's quarks are. It takes time to learn how to depersonalize conflicts and deal with each other in the most loving way. My husband and I hardly ever fight now; we still bicker at times, but the intense fights are few and far between. We didn’t get there overnight, it took a lot of time in the trenches, yelling, slamming doors, and running out the door.
We are all human, and when you are married to another human who knows you better than anyone they get to see all of your flaws and crazy on full display. Over time you learn that when they leave they will come back and just need time to cool off, or when they are being irrational they are probably just tired and it might be best to leave the conversation at that time and pick it up another time when they are more rested. Over time you learn how to admit when you are wrong, how to laugh at the times you both get a little crazy, or how to know when the other person is just in a mood and give grace.
“Above all, love another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”1 Peter 4:8.
When you love each other deeply you aren’t thrown off when each other sins, but recognize that it’s an opportunity to love them and give them grace and try to reflect the love and grace you have been given by God.
In the middle of your conflict Satan will try to swoop in. It’s important to remember that Satan is trying to destroy your marriage.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly” John 10:10.
When I have been at these low points in our marriage, the points where nothing feels certain or safe, there is a voice of doubt I hear. It tells me that my husband doesn’t really love me, or that nothing will get better, and tells me to doubt everything that we built. The voice points out all of the flaws in our marriage, and areas that I feel like I have communicated without being heard. I have come to realize this is Satan’s voice, and he is sneaky. The quicker I am to recognize it as an attack the quicker I am to speak truth back to it. The truth of what a good man my husband is, and how much God has worked in our lives and marriage. The truth of how much my husband truly loves and respects me and that this is just a struggle we are facing in a moment of time and not an indicator of the beautiful marriage we have built.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” James 4:7.
This is the truth, the more we make the decision to submit to God’s will and take a stand against the enemy his lies will fall short and he will leave.
In these moments where the enemy is attacking and I am full of anger all I want to do is hurt my husband back. That sounds awful, but honestly at the core of it all that's the truth. If I feel like he doesn’t care, I want to say something that makes him feel like I don’t care. There is such a temptation to give into pride, but here is where it is so important to hit the brakes. This is the split in the road that you can either choose pride and say hurtful things out of the hurt you are feeling and continue the divide between you, or you can take a deep breath and find the gentle words to bring the conversation back to what the issues beneath it all really is.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” Proverbs 15:1.
I have never once regretted a time I have done this right. It's amazing how much less time you waste when you make the choice to let go of your anger and choose a path of gentle communication that will actually lead to resolution.
A final point in how to manage conflict in your marriage is to never stop laughing. In the hardest seasons my husband and I have faced jokes about the hard stuff we were facing has always helped to get us through. There will be really scary and hard things that you will face together that you could have never imagined you will go through, and when you are in the pit of these times joking about how awful it all is just helps.
An example of this was a time when we were in the midst of raising newborn twins and both twins would start crying uncontrollably, my husband and I would sit there and make up songs making fun of how hard life was in that moment and it would help. Finding humor in the hardship made it less heavy. Laughing at all the things that would go wrong at times, helped remove us from getting sucked into the spiral of doubt, confusion, and fear that often comes with hard times and helped remind us of a God who is in control of it all.
When we are thinking about keeping our heart set on love as we learn how to work through conflict we should always be working to keep the Bible’s definition of love in mind.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
This verse is spoken of so often, especially in weddings, that I feel that its impact can often be overlooked. Yet when I am in the midst of a conflict and I meditate on all of these aspects of love it’s easy to find clarity in the areas that I am falling short, and make the decision to work on recognizing my need for humility and working towards the changes I need to make in order to uphold the Bible's definition of love.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster