Dear feuding couple,
Conflict is a part of life. A healthy one, even, depending on the circumstances. You don’t really know people until you’ve seen how they react when things don’t go their way.
I say “depending on the circumstances” because conflict is not healthy if it happens too frequently, or if, regardless of its frequency, it causes physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to either or both of the parties. Sadly, thanks to this small feature we call the tongue, most fights do end up inflicting a lot of psychological/emotional harm, with the parties remembering and nursing hurtful words that were said years after the event took place.
Fights* are uncomfortable, even when they are necessary. However, many times, they really aren’t necessary. I know that as a child of God, if I am caught in a conflict, it is my responsibility to extend an olive branch, because reconciliation with our brothers and sisters is His will. It’s not as easy and is not always the smooth-sailing situation we might imagine, but it must be done.
I know what a hassle the apology process can be, so I am trying to cultivate the habit of asking myself some questions when I am in the middle of a conflict. Before someone heads over to the FB compose box to send me a message asking if I’m having a fight with anyone, NO – few posts in this blog have anything to do with my life’s circumstances.
Here are some questions I suggest for any couple going through a conflict:
1) The first-things-first questions.
I’ll call them the “Am I” and the “Have I” questions. Take a moment to think through your day, and ask yourself:
- Prayed today? – No? Then pray. Talk to God about it. Hear from God about it. You’ll feel better. A split-second word from the Holy Spirit can spare you a lifetime of heartache.
- Prayed about this issue? See above.
- Hungry? – Then eat something, and see if you still feel the same way about the fight.
- Tired? – Get some rest, then, and see if you feel the same way after that.
- Sleepy? – Get some sleep! It’s amazing what that can do to refresh a person’s mind and perspective.
- Stressed? – Try to eliminate drama (and that might involve not getting into this fight. Check out this post).
- Cash-strapped? – Remember your Provider, and try not to take out your worry on this person that you love. Discuss the issue – see #2 below.
- On my period? – Calm down; this is probably not as big or as bad as it looks.
- About to have my period? – See above.
- Frustrated about something else that happened today? – Deal with that, and see how you feel after that.
Sometimes it’s just one of those days – late for work, a driver cut you off, boss gave you a lecture about a project. Think through your day and ask yourself if your frustration in this moment has anything to do with the conflict at hand, or if you’re just using the fight as a springboard to vent other issues. Ladies, sometimes the resolution to a conflict is as simple as a prayer or a glance at the calendar. I chose Galatians 5:25 for this point because the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. It is not of Him for a person to take out their frustrations on other people.
2) What is the real problem?
Having established that this is not about hormones or fatigue and you are not taking out your frustrations with something else on this person, you now need to figure out the issue and separate it from its symptoms as well as from the other person. Are you really angry about him not taking out the trash despite you saying it over and over again, or are you upset that he doesn’t seem to listen to you anymore? Are you upset that she won’t go running with you, or do you just feel that she no longer values you (or your reputation) enough to take care of herself and look beautiful for you? Are you frustrated with yourself because an issue you dismissed has now become a big deal? Addressing the problem will also take care of the symptoms. Addressing the problem will keep you from attacking the person.
3) Have I communicated this problem?
1 John 1:7
Have you expressed yourself articulately, respectfully, and candidly regarding this issue? Have you indeed established that it is what it appears to be? Are you making assumptions and jumping to wild conclusions about your partner’s actions? How will you know if you don’t communicate your concerns? Does the other person even know that something is wrong, or have you expected them to decipher moodiness and any passive aggressive behavior that has been an attempt to give hints for a period of time before the fight? How will you understand his/her perspective if you don’t say anything?
The devil is such a liar, and if you let him, he will convince you to sit in a corner, steaming for eons over something that never even happened. It’s possible to take one misinterpreted moment and craft a story in one’s imagination that leads to a dramatic conclusion and starts an unnecessary fight. Establish that the fight is not being caused by events that are happening only in your mind. Walk in the light. Communicate.
4) Can it be resolved without a fight?
1 Corinthians 13:5, James 3:17
Many things can easily be forgiven and forgotten. Love does not keep a record of wrongs, after all. If it’s not that serious, let it go. Formulate a pros-and-cons list in your mind and see if you really need to start a fight about it. If he is a loving, God-fearing man who goes out of his way to treat you like a queen, does it matter that he got whole milk instead of 2% milk this one time? He was pulling into the driveway when you called, after all, and he offered to back right out and head back to whatever store was open. In the grand scheme of things, how important is that whole milk? Even if he had done it a hundred times, would it really be that big a deal?
If the issue is something you’ve brought up before, trust that your partner heard you, and give things enough time and patience to change. If you must repeat yourself, don’t get frustrated. “How many times must I tell you to…” after a repetition of the mistake does not go quite as far as, “Honey, thank you so much for…” each time s/he gets it right.
“Lord, please help/intervene/speak to him or her/make a way…” goes even further, even though many times the Lord shows us that the issue is not the other person, but ourselves.
5) Who am I fighting?
Ephesians 6:10-20, 2 Corinthians 10:1-6
This question really should be who are we fighting? I’ve said before that when you are in a relationship, particularly a marital one, you are both on the same team. In any fight, you’re not fighting one another; you’re fighting together. Do your actions communicate that you and your spouse are on the same team?
Oyinkansola Alabi shared a story about how, a few months into her marriage, she found herself infatuated by another man. She and this man planned a meeting that would have led to adultery had she not gone home and confessed it to her husband. As a husband, how would you handle knowing that your wife had lusted after another man less than a year into your marriage? Ms. Alabi says her husband listened intently, and then held her in an embrace and began to pray. What could easily have resulted in a fight – or, in this generation, in a broken marriage – was resolved there and then because the husband had the presence of mind to remember that he and his wife were on the same team and that his fight was not against his wife – or even this man! – but against the enemy of marriage, who is defeated in Jesus’ Name. Talk about chivalry, being a covering, being a protector.
6) What is at stake?
Proverbs 15:3, Galatians 6:10
Ask yourself who is really losing. Who is winning? Someone wisely said that holding grudges feels good for a while, but forgiving is true freedom. It might feel nice to express those choice words you had in mind, and even to unfairly attack your spouse just so you can have the upper hand in the hurt-battle. But is it really worth it? Not only will the lost ground often be very difficult to recover; the eternal consequences could be devastating.
Internally take a step back and ask yourself some serious questions. What is this fight sowing – for you as a courting/married couple; for your children, if you are married? What are you sowing towards your future? Not every fight is a bad fight. But even bad fights are workable if resolved wisely.
7) Can we come together to formulate a solution?
Psalm 133, Matthew 18:18-19
Prayer is always important, but this is the stage at which prayer, communication, and compromise are of utmost importance. You’re on the same team. Unity is power. You want the best for each other. You want to win your spouse, your marriage, not the argument. How can you establish that nobody is resentful and that the issue has been resolved for real, and not stored up to be brought out of the recesses of history five years down the line? How can you work things out so that everybody wins?
Trust me, when I say “everybody”, I mean everybody. When a marriage wins, that’s a win for the family, for the church, for society. How you handle conflicts could impact generations.
8) Do I need to pack my bags?
It is true that if you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
One thing that amazes – and amuses – me about this generation is that every little thing a couple faces is often met with, “I don’t think this situation is healthy for me. I want out.” Does every fight have to result in a breakup?
Not every fight has to result in a breakup. It’s exhausting to have to separate and give each other space every time someone does not agree with someone else. Maturity is such an important part of relationships and many times all it takes is for one person to have the sense to handle things like an adult. Still, people can only go so far, and it’s unwise to continue to push buttons just because you think you will never lose a person.
9) Have I apologized?
Matthew 5:23-24; 6:15
A pastor once said something that has stuck with me for years. Sometimes, for the sake of Christ, the innocent party has to apologize to the person in the wrong. Sometimes it really isn’t about what someone did, but about reconciliation, which is God’s heart, and peace, which is important for relationships to flourish. There is nothing as difficult as having to be in a relationship with, or live under the same roof as, someone who is stonewalling or being passive-aggressive. Make peace. It does wonders for your relationship and for your prayer life. It short-circuits that “You broke another plate! This situation is not healthy for me. I want out,” nonsense.
10) What if the Lord returned today?
Sometimes you have to jolt yourself into an adjusted perspective. If you find that you still feel angry, think about the Lord’s return. Does this fight matter, in the long run? What would you do if you could see Jesus right there with you in your situation? How would you address it differently? What would change if you heard that He was returning for His saints that evening? Would the toilet paper being under instead of over be such a big deal?
Ask yourself these questions the next time someone gets on your nerves.
*Please note that I am not speaking about physical fights.