anger Posts

Navigating Conflict

You will fight when you get married. I hate to disappoint you, but it’s inevitable. It may not happen on your wedding day, but when conflict happens – not if, but when – it can either be really healthy or really miserable, depending on whether you’ve learned how to handle it.

Sinning in Anger

Have you ever found yourself instantly reacting, motivated by anger and pride? You launch out in a tirade, and after a while you start looking around and go, how did I get here?

It’s hard to be angry and not sin.[1] It’s an easy verse to quote, but it’s very difficult to live. Once you sin, the issue becomes you and not the conflict situation. And once you say something, you’ve said it. You can apologize from now ‘til Jesus comes. You can crawl for miles on your hands and knees through busted glass as penance for what you said, and your spouse can even forgive you for it. But once you’ve blown up on your spouse, there is shrapnel and scar tissue there from words that were spoken in anger.

Very seldom, if ever in my life, have I said something in anger, and then looked back on it and thought, Wow, that was really good. God must be really pleased with me for what I just said. Because “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood.”[2] James says to be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry, because the anger of man doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God.[3]

And what do we expect? Do you think you’re going to raise your voice, bow up at your wife and she’ll go, “My bad. When you clenched your jaw like that and raised your voice, I realized you were right.” It’s not going to happen like that. Proverbs tells us, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”[4]

Losing Perspective

Another problem with reacting is you lose perspective. When you react, the language often turns to unhealthy, polarizing language that becomes accusatory. “You always!” “You never!” “You do this every time!” The natural reaction when someone is attacked is to get defensive, and at that point, it’s on. You’re in battle mode.

But marriage isn’t about pushing that woman or that man to the degree where they’re looking around waiting to get sucker punched. That’s not the oneness God intended in a marriage.

Force Meets Force

If you begin to attack your spouse, you may find yourself besieging them like you’re trying to sack a city, because a “brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.”[5] Force is met with force.

What is my natural tendency when the flashpoint comes and she raises her voice? I raise my voice. She takes a shot, so I’m going to take a better one. She comes at me and manipulates, and I confront and isolate. It’s back and forth, like trench warfare in World War I. She’ll show her head and I’ll take a shot. I show mine and she takes a shot. That’s not healthy. That’s not what God designed.

There is another way.

Learning to Respond

I don’t know about you, but my sin nature really wants to be right. I want conflict to be her fault, not my fault. Never my fault. But with humility, I’ve got to learn to respond, not have to be right. Bottom line: Win the fight, lose your marriage. The goal isn’t to be right. The goal is to be one.

Instead of reacting and trying to be right, we have to learn how to respond. It’s a learned trait. To respond is to be driven by the Spirit. It’s seeing the flashpoint of conflict, and instead of your flesh driving you and letting things blow up, you ask the Lord for help to slow it down and live like He wants you to live. As soon as you defer to the Spirit of God, the fruit of the Spirit begins to show. When you allow the Spirit of God to lead in conflict, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control[6] come out.

I have never had a fight with my wife that continued to escalate because I was peaceful or gracious or loving or kind. When I allow God to live through me in my conflict with my wife, it’s like immediately pouring water on the flame.

Conflict can be a good thing, if handled well. Without it, you’ll never know about forgiveness or appreciate grace the way you will when you work through it with your spouse. If you never conflict, you’ll never know the kind of love that deepens a marriage to a level it could never reach otherwise.

[1] See Ephesians 4:26-27
[2] Proverbs 27:4 (NASB)
[3] See James 1:19-20
[4] Proverbs 12:18 (NASB)
[5] Proverbs 18:19 (NASB)
[6] See Galatians 5:22-23