Conflict. Let's explore conflict as a positive force - it can be! It’s unavoidable; in any relationship there will be conflict, so it is critical that it be resolved. God has made each of us unique. (fearfully and wonderfully - Psalm 139:14) No two of us are alike, and when a man and a woman choose to spend the rest of their lives together, clashes – though hopefully rare – are inevitable. How we deal with conflict is the key to whether it will be destructive or constructive. Let me offer some “rules of engagement:”
First, do not avoid conflict! Way too often, one or both spouses choose the path of least resistance - to no one’s benefit. Older married guys will often say to newlywed grooms, “Better learn those two magic words: YES DEAR.” Mildly funny sure, but it really is terrible advice. It comes off as patronizing, and signifies that the speaker is abandoning or swallowing his own point of view. This “keeping of the peace” covers potential problems while doing nothing to resolve them. When something comes between a married couple, they owe it to one another to address it honestly, work through it lovingly, and resolve it. Ignoring it will let it fester and grow worse, making the atmosphere in the home tense and uneasy.
Secondly, fight fair! Simple advice, so often ignored in the heat of battle. When conflict occurs, deal with it – and it only! Resist the urge to get “historical,” using past events as ammunition. Don’t get personal either. Discuss events and how they make you feel without attacking the other person’s character. (Hint: avoid any statement that contains the words “always” or “never.” Avoid "You do..." statements too, and focus on "I feel..." instead) Sometimes it will feel like you are being attacked, but do not react to that. As the apostle Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:15
See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone,
but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
This leads me to Rule Number Three: empathize. Stay quiet while the other person is speaking. Listen to what they are saying. Do not just think you know what he or she means and start planning your counter attack. Try to see the situation – and yourself – through their eyes. Be warned though: if you can master this skill, you might see that it is you that needs to ask forgiveness. You might see flaws in yourself that you need to be mindful of, or ask God’s help to work on. Of course, sometimes the “problem” might be your spouse, or just in your spouse’s head. In these cases you might have to understand that you can’t change them, any more than they can change you. That’s God’s job, not yours. Your job is to love them anyway.
Winning may be impossible, but even if it isn’t, it will most likely be counter-productive. In the context of marriage, if one spouse “wins” an argument, then both people lose. The two are one flesh, and as it says in Ephesians 5:29:
For no one ever hates his own body,
but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it
In light of that, decide very carefully if “winning” is worth the price it will exact on your relationship.