Some married couples never deal with their issues and leave conflict hanging there as if it will magically go away on its own. I know this because I saw it in my parent’s marriage. Issues were left unresolved which resulted in more fights about other issues. Soon everything becomes a fight—a hill worth dying on. As Christians, we are called to do better than this by God’s grace. After all, we’ve been transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Jesus has taken our hearts of stone and given us a new heart, with new desires, and affections for Himself. This means that we don’t have a right to live how we want. Instead, we get to enjoy living by God’s commands by His grace through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
Many people struggle with how to resolve conflict biblically and practically. In this post, we’re going to look at this, but before I do let me say that I understand the difficulty of this topic. What I’m about to share is what I’ve learned in a little over ten years of marriage. Do I always practice everything perfectly here? No! I’m still a work in progress and am seeking to grow in the grace of God daily.
Before my wife and I got married, we sat down and had a long conversation about how we would handle conflict in our relationship. I explained to her why I wanted to have some thoughts in place for our marriage so that when we fought, we would address issues rather than attack one another. I can admit I haven’t done this perfectly. I’m a sinner/saint growing in the grace of God just like you if you’re a born again Christian.
First, it is vital to take the gospel seriously. Men, you’re called to lead your family (Ephesians 5:32-33). This means you must take the first step to repent before the Lord and then apologize to your wife. Depending on your wife’s personality and temperament, you may not want to go right into the space where she is after you have a fight. You will want to give her just enough space to allow the situation to diffuse enough to be able to cool down so you two can work out your issues. With that said, as the Scriptures say don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).
On the one hand, you want to resolve the issues in your marriage. You want to ask for forgiveness for what you’ve done because you take seriously what Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12-13), namely that if you won’t forgive you won’t be forgiven. So you’ve repented of your sin, and now you want to ask for forgiveness. Here’s what not to do. Don’t go into the room where your spouse is and tell them what they didn’t do. This is a sure-fire way to make the issue much worse. Instead, talk about what you did wrong. Take ownership of your own sin and apologize for it in clear terms. When I go and apologize to my wife, I will typically say something like this, “I’m so sorry I did (whatever that is), will you please forgive me for my sinful behavior? I know that I hurt you and I’m genuinely sorry for my what I’ve done and how I behaved in this instance.”
By repenting of your sin and apologizing in this way, you are modeling to your spouse as the head of the home a picture of Christ and His relationship to you. Marriage is about growing in Christ and growing closer to one another. Dealing with conflict in marriage is hard. At various times to address issues, you may need to seek pastoral counseling and or professional Christian counseling to deal with your issues. Don’t view pastoral or professional counseling as something for which you should be ashamed; instead, seek to resolve your issues.
Secondly, be honest with one another. In an ideal Christian marriage, both spouses will take the gospel seriously and seek to live it out faithfully in daily life. Men, now that you’re honest with your spouse, I want to caution you not to be rude or go on a long rant about how your wife sinned against you. That will only cause further issues. Instead be honest about your struggles. Be vulnerable about why you did what you did. Your wife will want to know why you said what you did and why you hurt her.
Ladies, please understand that your husband may not know why he did what he did. If he tells you he honestly doesn’t know why he said what he did, please believe him. Sometimes I’ve said or done things, and later I’ve reflected on my actions and had to admit I had no idea why I acted in that manner. Be honest with one another and be accepting of when the person is honestly sharing that they don’t know. Please also don’t interrupt each other when one of you is the middle of sharing honestly about how they see the situation. Men this is especially true for you. Give your wife open space and time to share openly and honestly about how she feels after a fight. This will improve your marriage and also help her to trust you more.
Finally, conflict in marriage is hard. It’s easy just to yell, shout, and carry on about your issues. It’s easier for some to shut down than to address the hard stuff of life. I’m writing this article to caution you against both of those perspectives. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a different life. Instead of anger, we’re called to love (John 13:35; Galatians 5:22-23). Instead of giving full vent to our anger, hate, bitterness, resentment, we’re called to have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
To have a marriage defined by the fruits of the Spirit is to have a truly Christ-centered, God-glorifying marriage. No matter where you’re at in your own marriage, I pray that you’ll take your sin seriously and begin to understand how it affects your spouse. By owning up to your own stuff first instead of pointing fingers at your spouse, you’re taking the log out of your own eye. By doing this, you are looking to Jesus, taking the gospel seriously, and seeking to live faithfully by it. You are also honoring God and your wedding vows. You are making a conscious decision to no longer be a hearer of the Word but a doer of the Word by His grace (James 1:22). The Lord will bless you for your obedience not because your works are so great, but because they are done in His name. So friend’s let’s get to work on our marriages. We have a whole world of hurting people who need to see the glory of the Risen Christ displayed in and through our marriages.