The Song of Songs does give us some guides for navigating marital conflict. If you’re married, you’ve had marital conflict. I remember my wife and I had a huge fight on our honeymoon. Like most arguments, I have no idea what we were arguing about, and I’m sure it would be laughably trivial now. In a way, I see that as a good thing now.
Here in the Song of Songs, this couple, after they get married, get into a big fight. It’s really instructive to see what happens. She withholds intimacy from him. Rather than being patient with that, he says, “Oh, if that’s how you’re going to be, then I’m out of here. I’m leaving.” As soon as he leaves, she has second thoughts because she knows she’s pushed him away and she knows that she’s been selfish in some ways. She runs to pursue him.
You’re learning so much there. You’re learning about how a broken relationship starts when we’re not patient to work things through. And we’re also seeing what it takes to start to heal a relationship. It means somebody taking responsibility to pursue the relationship, to re-engage and work things out. You’re learning about how a broken relationship starts when we’re not patient to work things through. And we’re also seeing what it takes to start to heal a relationship.
In this one example from the Song of Songs, there are a lot of things we could look at that are very practical for human-level relationships—and not just marriage relationships—about what it takes to reconcile. We often have broken relationships for petty reasons, and then often, to prove our point or hold our grudge, we don’t pursue the other person. But when we do pursue the other person, some amazing things can happen.
Words of Affection
One of the things that happens in the Song of Songs is as the couple starts to get back together again, they speak with words of affection and of praise. They repeat some of the loving things that they’ve said in the past to reaffirm those words. Now they expand upon them because actually, their conflict has brought out some new virtues.
Now the husband sees the strength of his bride a little more clearly. He admires her for the courage she displays as she pursues this relationship. But that all needs to be strengthened, reinforced in conversation, which then eventually leads to physical and sexual intimacy. That’s part of the healing and restoration that takes place in this relationship.
One thing that is apparent through the Song of Songs is how important words are for building relationships. Few of us have the eloquence of King Solomon, but all of us can find some words appropriate to us and to our relationships to really praise another person and tell them that we love them. And the Song of Songs really strengthens our commitment and conviction about the importance of those kind of loving words to build God-honoring relationships.
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.