Someone asked me once why we need to resolve conflict.  After all, it’s much easier to just stop seeing the person who is viewed as causing all the pain or the problems. To cut him or her out of your life.  To file for divorce. As Christians, however, we believe that God instructs us through His word to resolve conflict and live in peace with one another.  There are over 50 verses in the Bible that directly address this issue.  Here are just a few:

“…be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:24)

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15)

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  (1 Peter 3:8-9)

“Why” resolve conflict?

And so, from the sampling of verses above, it is very clear that God wants us—and calls us—to work things out.  To live peaceably and in harmony with one another.  “Why” do we resolve conflict?  It really is quite simple:  God tells us to do so. 

An essential skill to acquire when being in relationship with another person—especially your spouse—is knowing how to navigate through the tough times. It’s easy to get along with someone when things are going well. But, if there’s one thing we humans can count on, it’s conflict. All it takes sometimes is “the look” or a “tone,” and we head down the road to fighting and conflict.  And most times, we don’t fight very well—we become self-protective and defensive.  We attack. We want to win.

In some ways, conflict has been given a bad name.  It is not wrong to be angry or in conflict—after all, we are imperfect human beings.  Being angry doesn’t mean you have to be out of control, either.  Anger is normal human emotion—just like joy, happiness or sadness.  However, what you DO when you are angry or in conflict CAN be “wrong” or unhealthy. AND, it can also be growth producing or healthy in a marriage.  If we have the skills and knowledge of the best way to resolve our differences, then we will strengthen our marriages and experience deeper and deeper intimacy with our spouse.

Conflict in Marriage

Let’s move now to what this looks like within a marriage relationship. Mark Driscoll (2012), in his book, Real Marriage, states that we truly don’t know how selfish and sinful we are until we live with someone in marriage.  In essence, we enter marriage as two flawed people, spiritually broken by sin, and at the core of who we are, are quite self-centered. Self-centeredness is often at the center of conflict.  We want things done “our” way. Our view is the “right” view.

My mentor in graduate school once told me, “Trudi, sometimes it is more important to be helpful than to be right.”  His statement cut me to the core. Being “helpful” during conflict instead of being “right” has become a central practice in my personal and professional life.

As a Christian, one way of being “helpful” is learning how to be a servant to your spouse. Tim Keller (2011) goes into the concept of servanthood in The Meaning of Marriage.  He states that the single most important function of being a husband or wife is to NOT live for ourselves, but for the other.  The apostle Paul also speaks to this concept when he writes in Galatians 5:13 that we are to “serve one another in love.”  A servant puts someone else’s needs ahead of his or her own.  Keller shares that if all believers are to serve each other in this way, how much more intentionally and intensely should husbands and wives have this attitude toward one another?

Can we learn to selflessly serve one another, even during a fight?  When we have the opportunity to serve our spouse—especially during conflict—we have choices.  We can offer to serve and solve conflict with coldness or resentment. We can also choose to not serve at all and simply insist on our own way.  And, we can also learn to serve lovingly and respectfully. Which of these choices do you feel brings the most glory to God?

If we can get a clear picture of how God wants us to serve one another—what that REALLY means, in concrete terms—we will build a foundation for managing conflict respectively and ultimately from a place of love. The pure wonder of serving another with this kind of costly love is that we receive deep joy and happiness. In a small way, we will understand the joy that Jesus experienced when he gave us the ultimate service.

So, even before conflict begins, we can choose to set the stage to build a strong foundation of service to one another.  When we lose our sense of pride and self-will, surrender our independence, put our needs on the back burner and consider ways in which we can serve our spouse in love, we have a HUGE advantage in solving conflict when it occurs.  And, it WILL occur!

That being said, what do we do when conflict does occur?  How do we resolve it?

Check back next week to find out.