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Conflict Resolution: How to Fight Fair in Marriage, Part 1

From the series Experiencing God's Dream for Your Marriage

What is the biggest source of conflict in your marriage right now? Come on think about it. What is the single biggest source of conflict in your marriage right now? Children? A job loss? Money? In laws? Have you got it? How would you like to get that resolved in a way that nobody gets hurt? Join Chip as he teaches you how to fight fair in marriage.

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Message Transcript

One of the first things I want to say is you have to get over this naïve, unbiblical notion that conflict is wrong and abnormal.

There’s many of you that you were brought up in households – don’t argue. Stop arguing. Don’t do that. You believe – it’s so subtle. Conflict is wrong. Conflict is bad.

An argument, a discussion, a disagreement, having feelings that don’t line up with the other person. Automatically you think, “[gasp] we have this big problem.”

I want to tell you that conflict is normal. Conflict is biblical. Conflict is actually the key to growth.

The biggest lessons I’ve learned in my childhood about conflict was from the Barnes Boys. Okay? Now, some of you can remember maybe what it was like growing up in the sixties and early seventies.

And especially when you lived in these, sort of, suburban houses that were one next to one another. And everyone had little chain link fences.

Well, the Barnes Boys, they were twin boys. And an older boy and a younger boy and they had this real athletic dad.

And in the Barnes Boys’ garage was a punching bag. In the Barnes Boys’ backyard was a baseball diamond cutout. And when I got home from school, I did my homework and then the first question. “Mom, Dad, can I go to the Barnes Boys’?”

Boom. As soon as dinner was over. “Can I go to the Barnes Boys’?” I loved being with the Barnes Boys. And if you, kind of, you know how you drive through those little cul-de-sacs? When you would see their backyard, about ninety-five percent of the time, there was somewhere between eight to fifteen boys.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve all playing whatever. If it was football, it was football. If it was baseball season, it was baseball. We always played at the Barnes Boys’.

Well, you can imagine if you have eight to fifteen guys, there’s conflict. There’s arguments. “It’s our ball!” “It’s your ball!” “You were out of bounds!” “No, it was a homerun.” “No, it wasn’t a homerun, it was a foul ball.”

And when you would hear the arguing and it got really intense, Mr. Barnes was a very big man and not only did they do that outside but in his basement, he had a weight room. And he lifted weights.

I never did, as you can tell. But he lifted weights, okay? And he would come out like this. He had a really big chest. And I, in fact, I wrote down, I can still remember his questions.

He would bring the two people arguing. He would say, “There’s no arguing out here. We don’t do that. Not like this.”

Number two, “What was the problem?” And he’d look at you. And you’d have to say what’s the problem. What’s the problem? And sometimes, that would solve it. But not usually.

He did this. I did that. He did this. I did that. Argue. Then he would say, “Can you two agree on this right now and play on?” “No, it’s our ball!” He said, “Okay. Let’s settle it right now.”

Big Mr. Barnes would go into the garage and he would come out with boxing gloves. Gospel truth.

And they were, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the training gloves that are even way bigger? Now imagine being like seventy-eight or ninety pounds and you put on these gloves that feel like they’re five or ten pounds.

And this is what we would do. The two boys who were arguing, we’d get in the middle. Everyone else made a circle. You could get away with this back in the 1970s. Now you’d probably get sued or something.

So you have these heavy gloves, okay? And he’d say, “Okay, ready?” Everyone would circle up. He says, “Okay, settle it.”

And of course you’re real tough and talking and I’m move like a butterfly. Boom, ba-boom, boom. You know? You know? You know?

And after about three minutes, no one could lift their arms. We’re so tired. And the worst that ever happened is, I think, on a great day I got Buddy Brachman right in the nose and got a bloody nose. And on a not so good day, I got a bloody nose.

But they were so big and so heavy and so soft, all your aggression got out, it got settled, it was done, and no one really got hurt.

In fact, what Mr. Barnes taught us was how to resolve conflict in a way that although mildly painful, didn’t do any lasting damage.

On the front of your notes, here’s what I’ve learned from the Barnes Boys. One, conflict is normal. Two, conflict is an opportunity for growth. Believe it or not, the guy that gave me the bloody nose, became my best friend. Isn’t that interesting?

Three, conflict must be diffused or it’ll destroy. If fifteen young guys keep going at it, pretty soon you take sides, then it escalates, then something bad is going to happen.

So he diffused it. He diffused it in a way where, as you see in the next point, he used some rules so no one really got hurt. We got to take a few swings, we slugged one another but no one really got hurt.

Now, as you turn the page, I want to talk to you about God’s perspective on conflict.

The first section of this teaching time is going to be very biblical. I want to talk about the reality, that it’s normal, there’s people who love God with all their heart that have great conflict.

I want to give you three or four areas that, for sure, cause conflict in relationships. God expects it to cause conflict.

And then we’re going to talk about the deepest source of conflict in relationships.

And then I want to spend the final portion of our time walking through a little acronym that will give you, literally, a specific game plan to go to point A to point B to point C to say, “Okay, we’ve got conflict, what do we do?” How do we diffuse it? Okay?

So, look on your notes. Let’s jump in here together. Conflict is inevitable in a fallen world. This is from the lips of Jesus. John 16:33. “I’ve told you these things so that you may have peace in Me. In this world, you’ll have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”

Now does this sound like Jesus is setting up His followers and disciples for a, “If you really live life right and if you really love Me. If you read your Bible, if you pray if you give off the top, if you go on a short-term missions trip, if you try to be a good woman, be a good man, be a great dad, be a great mom. If you do all that then everything’s going to be smooth.” Does that sound like what He said?

In the world we’re good at claiming promises, aren’t we? “Jesus said this, I can, I can, I can claim this for my life.”

Well here’s a promise. In the world, you will have conflict. But be of good cheer. I’m going to give you peace. But it’s going to be a peace that’s on the inside.

In a fallen world, you’re going to have conflict with your mate, conflict with your kids, conflict with fellow workers, conflict with neighbors, conflict with grown kids.

You are living in a world that’s sinful and fallen and from the day you’re born to the day you die, there’s going to be conflict.

Now, if you accept that, it changes your perspective. Because a lot of us we spend all of our energy trying to cover up conflict, trying to push down conflict, trying to say it’s not really conflict. Or feeling guilty about conflict.

What you’ve got to do is accept it’s normal and realize there’s tools and ways to grow through it.

The second thing the Scripture would say is the sources of conflict. Conflict grows from our differences and our selfishness. In other words, not all conflict is even from sin.

Now, I wish, because my passion is to teach the Bible, all right? I wish that I could say, “Okay now. Open your Bibles…” Don’t go there because we’re going to do something else.

I would say, “Open your Bibles to Acts 15 and I could read through that and explain the first fifteen or thirty-five verses and say, you know what? Here’s the Jerusalem Council and here’s what happened and the Early Church was growing and this group thought this and this other group thought this and Paul went on a missionary journey.

And because that, he came back and Judaism and Christianity were in this collision course.” And I could explain it all. I can’t.

But what I want to do is, I want to give you the summary of about three or four passages that will help you see among the most godly, committed people to God, some sources of conflict. And I’ve put them in your notes.

Source number one is our differences. Differences in belief produce conflict. Sometimes we, the question is, what’s true? What’s right? Sometimes we disagree.

Good people who love God disagree. Is this right or is this right? And some good people say this is right. And some other good people say, no, this is right. That produces conflict.

And we had that in the Jerusalem Council. The apostle Paul was preaching that you could come directly to the Father by the work of Christ and you didn’t have to go through Judaism. And the whole Early Church was all Jews who came to Christ, apart from those at Pentecost.

In fact, the first twenty, twenty-five years, probably ninety-five more percent of the Church, it was all converted Jews.

And so they’re saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. You’re messing with our traditions. It’s Jesus plus circumcision and plus doing this and plus keeping part of the law.”

And the apostle Paul said no, no, no, no, no. And so they have this big council. And in that council, they resolved the conflict and James pulls out an Old Testament passage and Paul shares an experience that affirms and Peter looks at it all.

And then they come to a conclusion and they take those differences and they align them with the truth.

But haven’t some of you met Christians that really hold a theological position that’s kind of over here and they’re real dogmatic about it? And you know what? When you look at them, they love God. You know, they have good marriages. They’re seeking to raise good kids. They serve in their church and are reaching out.

And yet you meet someone else, “Oh, no, this is what believe.” And often it’s on minor issues. I’m not saying that truth isn’t important. It’s very important.

But you need to understand that in the world that we live in, even in the Church, good, godly people are going to disagree and so what you do is, you do exactly what they did at the Jerusalem Council.

You go to the source of truth, you sit down together, you dialogue, you ask God to show you, and sometimes you even agree to disagree.

The second source of conflict is differences in perspective. In the same chapter, Acts 15, you have two of the closest friends. It says, “a great schism.”

A great conflict. A friendship is broken in Acts 15, beginning in verse 36 to 41. It’s Paul and Barnabas. They’re both good men. They’re both godly men. But they go on a mission trip together.

And Paul is very task oriented. You know what? We’ve got to get the job done. Barnabas, his name, it means “son of encouragement” He cares about people, he wants to develop people.

He gives people the second chance, the third chance, the fifty-fourth chance. Paul gives you the first chance, the second chance, “Buddy, do something else. I’ve got to have people who can make it happen.” All right?

You know, Paul is high-D. Barnabas is high-I on those scales, right? And so they go on a missionary trip and John Mark comes. And we don’t know all the story but at some point in time, it gets hard, it gets difficult, and he flakes out.

And they’re getting ready to go on the next missionary trip, and Barnabas, I’m reading into the text. Read Acts 15, you’ll think, boy Chip got a lot out of this.

Well, I’m kind of I’m kind of making it up a little bit, give you a feel. But, basically here we’re going to go again. And Barnabas goes, “You know what? John Mark, he has grown so much. I’ve been spending time with him. He’s in my Bible study with some other guys and you know what? He had a few struggles but I really think he’s going to do a great job this time.”

And Paul says something like, “I don’t think he is.” “What do you mean?” “Because he’s not going.” “What do you mean he’s not going?”

“I said he’s not going. Hey, you know what? I can’t tolerate flakes. God gave us a mission. He had a chance. He blew it. We’re going to get out and God’s mission is going to be right on the bubble. And I can’t look over my shoulder and wonder whether this guy’s going to show up or not.”

“Oh, Paul, you don’t understand. Come on, get a life, man. God was gracious to you. Don’t you care about people?”

“Yeah, I care about people and I’m going to care about by the most people by doing what God called me to do and not do it with a bunch of flaky people like John Mark.”

Boom, boom, boom. You get it?

And it says a great schism arose and Paul went this way and Barnabas went this way. That can happen to people that both really love God.

See, are you getting to see how our differences bring about conflict? We’re going to talk about solving it, in a second.

But our theological differences. Is there a wrong or a right? It’s philosophical, isn’t it? One philosophically is charged with a task, the other thinks more about relationships.

In the big picture, what do we need? The task and the relationships. There’s not a wrong or a right. In fact, what we find later is Barnabas gets John Mark and develops him so near the end of Paul’s ministry, Paul says, “Send Mark because he has my parchments and he’s been very profitable.”

It’s a good thing Barnabas didn’t give up on him. But it’s probably a good thing Paul didn’t give in and he was the guy that led the mission and the missionary journeys.

And so, differences in beliefs, differences in perspective. Sometimes, it’s differences in style. You know, in Philippians chapter 4. I love, I love that God puts these things in the Bible.

There are two ladies. Euodia and Syntyche. And Paul says, these are sisters in the gospel. And basically, he kind of pleads with the Philippian church. Can you help these ladies get it together? I love them both. They both help me. But there’s a rub.

And we don’t get all the understanding but maybe one was an introvert and one’s an extrovert. And one was saying we need to, all the napkins, all laid out for the…

No, we don’t need napkins, forget it. They can eat with their hands. No, we’ve got to do this. You know? And whatever it was, these two ladies went at it. They just didn’t get along. And you don’t get the idea that it was sin or Paul would have addressed the sin issue.

And, can I say something, kind of, out loud? I hope you won’t…

Have you ever been in a small group with a group of people and just realized they’re godly, you open the Bible, maybe you watch a video, and people kind of talk afterwards.

And you just don’t like being there. And then you felt guilty. You know, like, maybe it’s a bunch of people that all they do is talk about sports and you don’t really like sports.

Or maybe you’re like me and you get with a group of people and all they talk about is software or hardware, booting up and I don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or maybe they’re from a part of the country and their interests are over here and they just, sort of, relate in a way that they all grew up with and you always feel like you’re outside looking in.

And you go to that small group and you feel bad and you feel guilty because you think, I don’t connect, I don’t like it, I don’t have chemistry, I don’t get along.

You know what I think you ought to do? Find another small group. God made us different people with different personalities and different backgrounds.

You can love everyone and be committed to them. That doesn’t mean you have chemistry with everybody.

And here’s a couple ladies that need to learn to get along that probably they shouldn’t be in the small group together.

There’s probably some people that would say, “You know what? I just like the way Euodia does it.” And others, “Syntyche, now she’s my kind of gal.” Do you see what I’m trying to get at?

There are theological differences, there are philosophical differences, and there are personality differences that are going to bring conflict in your world and in a fallen world, Jesus promised, on top of that, just sin in itself is going to bring about conflict.

And so all I want you to hear is this. The conflict in your marriage and the conflict in your family is normal. Quit trying to act like it’s going to go away and think that when it’s smooth, life is right.

And secondly, quit thinking that somehow you’ve done something wrong or there’s a bad person in the room when there’s some conflict. It might be, in fact, a great opportunity for growth.

The fourth reason, we learn from Scripture, where there’s conflict is probably the one that we can deal with. And this is called, selfish desires produce conflict. This is the old, my way versus her way. Right?

James touches on it in James 4:1 to 3. He raises the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Rhetorical question. Then he answers it. “Well, don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”

Circle the word “desires” in your notes. It’s the idea of lust. And it’s used in this context as a powerful passion to get your way.

Doesn’t it come from that deep down inside that it needs to be my way? This is how we should spend the money. This is what we should do with the kids. This is what we should do on vacation.

And then he goes on to say: you want something but you don’t get it. So you have a blocked goal. Frustrated. That ever happen to you in your marriage? Has to us, hasn’t it?

And then he goes, “You kill and you covet but you cannot have what you want.” In other words, you don’t get what you want and so you go to extremes. You murder with your words, you covet, you lust for, you’re envious, you have internal struggles.

You quarrel and you fight, you don’t have it because you don’t ask God. So he says, some of the things that God wants to solve is you don’t have it because you don’t ask. And then he expands it and he says, “When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend it on what you get for your pleasure.”

Circle the word “pleasure.” It’s the exact same word as “lusts” above. They just translate it two different words. It’s this selfish, I want my way, attitude.

And I would suggest that, in your marriages, you’re going to have philosophical, occasional theological differences. You’re going to have personality differences.

But the one thing that you’re going to have, as long as you’re on this planet, in this body, is you’re going to have selfish desires and you’re going to want your way and your mate’s going to want her way and you better figure out how to deal with that conflict.

And part of it is just plain old, can I say this, like, really out loud, right here in the twenty-first century? It’s called sin. It’s just sin. I mean, it’s just like, I’ve missed the mark.

I, as much as I can appear righteous, loving, kind, sophisticated, there’s times where, when Theresa and I have something, I want my way. Now, I’ve learned to couch that, even put a verse around it, act sophisticated, make her feel guilty to think that her way is wrong.

But conflict is an opportunity to grow.

Open your Bibles now. Philippians chapter 2. This is the same letter written to the two ladies that are having some struggles.

Conflict provides specific opportunities to grow and every time you overcome some conflict, some good things happen.

Paul begins, in chapter 2 verses 1 and 2, with a, it sounds like a rhetorical question but grammatically, you could translate, instead of “if,” grammatically, he’s really saying, “since this is true, since this is true, since this is true.”

He’s not saying, “Well, if this would ever be true, someday, someway.” It’s a, what’s called a class condition, in Greek, that has the idea of certainty.

He says, “If, therefore, or since there’s any encouragement in Christ, if there’s any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any affection and compassion.”
And the answer to all those are yes, yes, yes, yes. You’re in Christ. Is there encouragement in Christ? Yes. Is there consolation in love? Yes. Is there fellowship in the Spirit? You’re both believers, right? Yes. Is there genuine love and affection?

Then notice what he says, verse 2. “Then make my joy complete.” How? “By being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

I would challenge you to look at that verse and ask yourself just a quick Bible study question. How many of those lines, in verse 2, have to do with unity? Same, one, unity. Do you get the idea?

He’s saying, if you have this resource of what God has done for you. If He has been loving, if the Spirit lives in both of you, you have koinonia fellowship before God, then make my joy complete.

He’s saying, work out relationships in such a way. We have the same mind, the same purpose, one heart. What he’s saying is, resolve the conflict out of the resources in Christ. And then in verses 3 and 4, he’s going to tell you how.

And it’s a command. This is not like an option for a better marriage. This is a command for how to do relationships, in general, but especially how to apply it in your own home.

“Do nothing.” Do a few things? Do sort of? No. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” That is the key to great relationships.

At the heart of the James passage, about those lustful pleasures, you know what’s behind that? Ego. It’s just pride. Our biggest conflicts in our marriage have been a Chip Ingram problem, ego, I want my way on my terms.

Theresa, I want you to fulfill my needs, Theresa I want you to take care of that, Theresa, make my life work out.

And the solution is to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but notice that phrase. With humility of mind. Humility of mind is saying the other person’s needs. I don’t, by the way, doesn’t mean I feel like it, the other person’s needs I choose to put ahead of my own.

In fact, the most loving time is when you don’t feel like it.

Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross, did He? But you glad He went? I am.

Love doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether you feel like it. “With humility of mind consider,” and that word consider means reckon, think, ponder, evaluate, “the other person is more important than yourself.” Look at verse 4. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest.” That, by the way, that phrase is the key to most marital conflict.

In my marriage, I can fake it and I can position it. But most of us want our own personal interests. And to break that, don’t look out for your own personal interest but also for the interests of others.

And then in verse 5, he begins to give us the how-to. Have this attitude in yourselves. Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. Have this attitude in yourselves that was in Christ Jesus.

“Who, although, existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of Christ, likeness of God.”

And then what’s he do? He serves. See, genuine humility isn’t a feeling about I think this way about the other person.

Genuine humility is an attitude of, I’m here to serve you. I want to help your life become what God’s wants you to be. I want to serve you. I want to help you. I want to come up, first of all in the day and think, what are the issues that you’re struggling with? How do I meet your needs?

Instead of saying, well, how do I meet my needs and where are you missing it? Because, most of us, when it comes to conflict, we go internal very quickly. And I just come up with all the reasons why Theresa ought to be doing things different and if she would, everything would be okay. Right?

Notice the conflict is an opportunity for growth in Christ. Not out of your own flesh but in Christ differences complement instead of compete. You realize, hey, she does look at it different or he does look at it different.

Because it’s not my way or her way, it’s our way. We’re one flesh.

Notice, in Christ, selfishness is transformed to servanthood. To become a servant of your mate is a powerful, powerful. Remember, remember the very first thing when we made the equilateral triangle? And I said your barrier with God and walking with God is the most important thing you can ever do in your marriage?

You know why? Because you can’t be a servant to your mate without the supernatural power of God’s spirit living in me through the power of His word and His spirit and being in community with people to be a giver instead of a taker. I can’t do that. It’s impossible. And so it really becomes a spiritual issue.

And then, finally, in Christ, we can fight fair and safely.

Those principles. You know, be honest. Speak the truth in love. Be diligent. You know, be positive. We can learn to fight fair and lovingly.

And with that in mind, now what I’d like to do is I want to walk through an acronym. Are you ready for this? DIFFUSE. Can you believe I used that acronym? We want to diffuse the conflict.

Literally, I looked this up in Webster’s. It’s the idea of something that’s, kind of, coming to a boil and to diffuse means to spread it out. We want to diffuse the anger. Diffuse the argument. Diffuse the conflict so that instead of it being attacking one another, you diffuse it to the point where both of you get God’s perspective and you resolve it God’s way.

So, here’s what I want you to do. Some of you, this will be very easy. All right? Some of you, maybe you’ve had a good last couple three weeks. Try and remember, I want you to bring to your mind the biggest conflict in your marriage right now. Okay?

Let’s not go through this like I’m going to give you something to do for each of these letters and you all go, “Oh boy, that was so good. Wasn’t that wonderful? If we ever have a fight or a disagreement this will be nice.”

No, no, no, no. No, no.

I want you to think of the biggest conflict in your marriage right now. Maybe it’s where some money is being spent. Maybe it’s in the areas of intimacy in your life. Maybe it’s in terms of where you’re going to locate.

Maybe it’s an issue about how you discipline the kids. I don’t know what it is. Unfulfilled longings. Frustrations. But I want you to think of, this is the biggest conflict in our marriage right now.

Now, what I want to do is walk through a process to say, instead of attacking or withdrawing, how in the world can we do this God’s way?

And before I do, can I give you one quick those word pictures we’re talking about? I want to give you a little word picture that will help you recognize how you tend to respond. When you have conflict, you tend to respond either as a turtle or as a shark. Okay? Those are just the normal ways that people respond.

So, sometimes there’s conflict and there’s hurt and there’s an argument and there’s something. Some people are turtles. What do turtles do? They stick their head back in the shell and then they pull their little limbs in.

Turtles will not speak to you for hours or sometimes days at a time. That means you have a problem in your relationship. Turtles often face the other wall that we talked about at bedtime, letting you know they don’t really want to talk to you or be around you.

Turtles withdraw affection. Turtles will not hug you or kiss you in ways that make you feel like there’s a real person inside hugging you or kissing you. You know, they give you the old, “Mmmmmm.” Or, you get the cold, silent shoulder. And by the way, this is just kind of, we all learn from our families and our personalities how to deal with conflict. So this is, like, in your DNA. You’ve been trained by this.

Turtles avoid. If there’s conflict, mmmmmm, let’s not talk about that. They redirect. Let’s do this. Oh, why don’t we do something else? Hey, maybe we should go on vacation. Let’s not talk about that right now.

Whatever it takes to avoid the conflict, to not face difficult issues, that’s what turtles do. Sometimes they run to mother, sometimes they run to pain, sometimes they run to alcohol or drugs or spending or pleasure or buying things they can’t afford.

Now, by contrast, sharks, when there’s conflict, they start swimming the water. Have you seen, like on the Discovery Channel? You know? [Makes shark swimming noises] You know, right? You know?

They, hey, there’s conflict, we’re going to get it solved and we’re going to get it solved now. And their goal is to win. And so sharks have different games. They play the mind-reading game.

You only did that when you’re trying to be nice because you felt guilty, didn’t you? See, I can read your mind and I’m the mini-psychologist.

Or when you bring up something a shark will say something. “Well, anyway, if you think my office is filthy, look at yours. Or if you did this,” they will do the switcheroo.

So what they do is they take any issue that’s brought up, they spin it real quickly and dagger right back at you. If you’re thinking to yourself, “This guy really is good on the shark side of it” there’s a reason.

Sharks keep score. Sharks play in their mind and comes out of their, “Well I’m trying harder than you are. You know, if you try as hard as me, then this marriage would be what it’s supposed to be.”

Sharks use logic to escape emotional reality. When someone gives a shark an “I feel” message, “This is what I’m feeling and I think we need to deal with this,” they intellectualize it and say, “Well, in light of your childhood and the sociological issues that you were brought up with and in light of, sort of, the DNA patterns that I’ve noticed over the last twenty-six years of marriage, I can see where someone with your pathology might feel that way.” Basically discounting the message.

Sharks use their intellect to diffuse things in their mind. Because the goal for sharks is to win. Sharks, when it really gets bad it comes, it comes, it comes, it comes, it comes. “Hey, you know what? I’ll tell you what. I’ll just divorce you and you’ll see.” It’s the atom bomb attack. The big threat.

Trying to bring fear into the relationship to make the other person submit and shut up and not face it.

Sharks humiliate their partners. Statements come out and you get this, even if they don’t say it, there’s this, kind of, “How could you be so stupid? How could you, did your mom not raise any smart kids? That is ludicrous.”

There’s this air of sophistication where they go up and they put you down. And by the way, what does this do? Just closes down everything, doesn’t it? And what’s it teach you? It teaches you, if you’re married to a shark when I talked about bringing up conflict and “I feel” messages and doing it gently.

Some of you, the knots start in your stomach and you’re thinking, I’ve done that before and I’ve got a wound here and a shark bite right here. And some of you are married to turtles and you just, you live with constant frustration. It’s like the guessing game.

Is something wrong? Is something wrong? Is something wrong? I can kind of tell something’s wrong. I think something’s wrong. The fact we haven’t talked in a week and a half. Maybe? Would you write me a note? I think something’s wrong.

Now, let me ask you this question. Now, not that any of you are full blooded sharks or big, big turtles. But if I had to make you put yourself in the shark or the turtle category, which are you? How do you respond to conflict? What do you tend to do?

And see, the reason I want you to get that down is because when I’m going to walk through this major conflict, you need to do it through the lens of realizing, my natural inclination is to attack. You attack, why? Because you’re insecure like me and you don’t want the other person to see your shame and your failure.

Or you’re going to withdraw. Why are you going to withdraw? Because you’re insecure like me and everybody else and you don’t want to face difficult, hard things that might come up.

And all I’m saying is, if there’s any encouragement in Christ, you know? If there’s any consolation of love. If there’s any fellowship with the Spirit, be of the same mind toward one another. Be of the same purpose.

Don’t think only on your own interests but think also of the interest of others. Let’s figure a way to not be a shark or a turtle and get this on the table and deal with it. And I hope right now you’re saying, how? Okay. Ready?

The “D” stands for define the problem. And what I mean by this, define it on your own. When a conflict begins, the biggest mistake is verbalizing and trying to find and solve it with the other person.

Because most of the time, we’re dealing with symptoms. But you have a problem. We jump in and as soon as you get attacked then the turtle and the shark start showing up.

And now and then, a turtle if it’s in, in, in, in, in the shell. Tell you what, when you see a turtle that decides to have a shark day, it’s scary. [Hisses] They come out with a snapping turtle. Because they can only take so much so long.

And so this is what you need to do on your own. One of the reasons I keep a journal is I have little things that bother me all the time. Not just about my marriage but lots of things.

And what we tend to do is not process our feelings and what’s going on and then we want to blame shift, right? We learned it. Adam did it. Eve did it. So, we’re the sons and daughters.

So we find someone that we’re going to punish or blame shift even when we’re not sure what’s going on inside and who do you do that with? The people you love the most that are safest. So you tend to do that with your mate.

And so, my encouragement is define the problem on your own. And so I write down things like: what’s bothering me? How do I feel? When did this begin? And as one of the great – Spurgeon said, he says, “I pray my way near and I write my way clear.”

When I don’t know what’s going on inside and you’re not sure, just start writing. I feel. God, I don’t understand. There’s anger going on in my heart right now and I can’t figure out exactly where it’s coming from. And pretty soon, you write your way clear.

But what you want to do is define the problem. Is the problem really the spending? Is that what really is bothering you? Is the problem the argument about the kids or is it philosophical, is there a different belief system?

Define the problem on your own and get to where you can separate the problem from the person. Because as long as they’re connected, every time you talk about the problem and you have some emotion behind it, what you’re communicating is attack on the person.

And so you want to get that problem and say what’s really going on here? And that’ll take some time. And you pray. And you write. And you think.

Then second, once you define the problem and you think I think this is the issue, I think this is the problem. And by the way, it’s “I think.” Because you don’t know for sure until you talk with your mate.

Second, then, the “I” stands for initiate a time to talk. Initiate a time to talk. And by the way, I would say that you need to do that when it’s good for you and when it’s good for them.

When you’re a shark, when you go away and define the problem, what I do is I come home and say, “Theresa, I need to talk right now.” She’s in the kitchen, she’s doing this, she’s doing that. She’s been up early. Maybe there was two kids, she had other issues.

“I want to talk, I want to talk right now.” And it was just like, “You’re nuts, Chip. You’re nuts. I’m not ready to talk.”

Initiate a time to talk and it may be something like, “You know what? We had that fight or argument a couple days ago. I’ve been away, I’ve been thinking, I’ve been praying. When would be a good time, in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, to sit down and talk about this?” And then write it down.

The Scripture says, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.”

The discerning heart seeks knowledge. You want to define that problem, figure out what’s going on. And then, it’s not like, if the turtle says, “Well, I’d like to talk about this in six months.” That’s not one of the options, okay?

You know, tell me in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours or so, look at your calendar. Because remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5? “If you come there before the Father and there offering your offering and you realize your brother,” in this case, your mate, “has something against you, leave your offering there, go to them and make it right.”

Because when you have unresolved issues that don’t get resolved, all that stuff starts getting down in here and I’ll tell you, it’ll pop out in your speech, it’ll pop out in your sex life, it’ll pop out in your behavior.

And pretty soon, you’ll have all these symptoms going because the real issue doesn’t get dealt with.

Define the problem, initiate a time to talk that’s good for both of you. Don’t be pushy. But don’t procrastinate.

And then the “F” stands for focus on the perceived problem, not the person. Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”

Now, listen to that again. An offended brother. Let me take a little license here. An offended mate is more unyielding than a, think of a fortified city with all the walls and all the ramparts. And disputes, arguments, are like barred gates of the citadel.

When we wound our mate, walls start going up. And so you need to focus on the perceived problem and not the person.

Every argument, every big conflict, always ends up one of two things. A win-win or a lose-lose. If you, write that down. It’s a win-win or a lose-lose.

If you win and your mate loses, you’re one, organically, before God. You’ve just hated yourself. And it’ll come back to bite you. You don’t, you never win by, “Oh, I won this battle.” Well, good for you. And you just lost the war.

Whatever has to happen, you need to do it in a way, it’s either going to be a win-win for both of you and so you focus on the problem and not the person. You don’t bring up their parents, you don’t bring up their past, you don’t bring up past stuff.

This is the problem. This is what I perceive it to be. It may not be the right problem. But you say, that’s what I’m going to focus on. And so you avoid messages like, you should, you always, you ought.

And instead, okay, write in your notes here, write that “I feel” message. I feel this when this happens, therefore, my perspective, I try and use that. I’m not as good as I should be. My perspective is, I think this is the issue. Versus, this is the issue. In other words, I know.

So, “D”, define the problem. “I”, initiate a time to talk. “F”, focus on the perceived problem. And then, the next “F” is for feel their pain as though it were your own. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times. And a brother is born for adversity.”

Our first calling to our mates and this is hard. Our first calling to our mates is not what they give to us but you are, remember, you are an agent of grace. Think of yourself as a pastor or a minister. Okay?

And God has all these people in the world and you are the minister or the priest or the pastor that he’s going to use more than any person in the world. More than the greatest Bible teachers, whoever they are, the greatest worship services, the greatest music.

The person He’s going to use to make your mate the most like Jesus is you.

And we have a high priest who’s sympathetic with our needs, right? Who, in every way was tempted but he didn’t sin. It’s Hebrews 2:18.

And so what that means is, when I come before the throne of grace and I’m struggling and I’m hurting and I’m lonely and I’m depressed and I’ve messed up and I feel condemned. I come to a priest who feels my pain, who understands where I’m coming from.

I don’t come to a God whose arms are crossed and toe is tapping and has a long, long finger like this going, “Boy, I was waiting for you to come, Ingram. You know what, you have really been messing up and I’ve been talking to Gabriel and the angels about you. And, boy, I’ll tell you what, we’re ready to…”
That’s not who I meet. I meet a “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden.” I meet the Father of the prodigal who says, “I understand you messed up. I died for those mess-ups. You have, My command is come boldly.” Where? “To the throne of grace.” Unmerited favor. To get what? Mercy in your time of need.

What’s mercy? Mercy is God withholding what you deserve for what you did bad. And so, I want to be a priest to my wife and God wants her to be a priest to me and the only way to do that is and this is so hard for us men.

I struggle with this. To feel the pain of where they’re at. And you might jot in the corner, “word pictures.” I have been so hard headed in areas. And Theresa has reminded me.

And she goes, “You really don’t get it, do you?” And I kept telling her, “Yeah, I do. Yeah, I do. Yeah, yeah, I do.” Now, she goes, “You really don’t.” And as I’ve I’m preparing all this stuff on marriage. Isn’t this great? You know? And so, you know what I realized? I don’t. I don’t get it. The issue we’re talking about.

Because I intellectualized and I logicked it and I put Bible verses to it and this is…I didn’t feel. I didn’t feel what she was feeling.

I didn’t transpose myself for a while and say, “I wonder what it’s like to be her in this situation, in this stage of life, and have these things coming at you. What would that produce in your heart?” I didn’t do that.

And so I was working from the neck up. And so, “Well, here, we need to do this. We’ve got to do this. We need to do this.” And I caused a lot of pain and I messed up.

Any of you other guys ever do that? And this isn’t just a male thing, there’s a lot of men, it’s just harder for us. You have to pull out what we feel. Because we don’t know what we feel a lot.

What we’re good at is not feeling. In fact, even ask us a lot of questions. How many times does your husband say, “Oh, I’m really feeling vulnerable right now.” Is that what you’re getting from your man?

You know, when’s the last time you had a deep conversation and your husband said, “You know, I’m feeling kind of alone and vulnerable and I just feel like I want God to hold me.”

That sounds like you’re not a real man. And the fact of the matter is, I’ll guarantee your husband feels lonely and like he longs for God to hold him and longs that there’s someone who’s big and powerful and strong and accepting.

Because you know what? He has all the same struggles and all the fears you do. But we’ve grown up in a world where real men are macho men.

And we haven’t had a lot of models to learn how to process, you know what? The God that we serve is the God of Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will quiet you with his love. He will sing, rejoice over you with singing.”

You know the heart of a man, when you feel alone and you feel all this pressure and you don’t know what to do. To be able to come before God and realize He’s mighty to deliver. He will quiet you, not with His power, with His love.

That you’re okay. That He’ll never leave you. That the thought of God singing over you, rejoicing over you, not because of what you did or what you didn’t do. But, you know what? Life’s okay because you’re loved by Him.

And the person who’s going to communicate that a lot is you. And your husband needs it. You need to feel what the pressures are that he feels. He’s not some robot that just gets up and makes stuff happen. He’s got fearful things inside of him.

You know, if we could understand that every woman, at some point in time, there’s a lot of little girl in her. And every man, no matter how big or powerful or wealthy, there’s a little boy in him too.

And part of what we need to do is learn how to love that person. And that means you’ve got to not just define the problem, initiate a time to focus on the problem not the person. But you need to feel their pain as though it were your own.

And by the way, I just realized too, guys. You don’t have to understand it. It doesn’t have to be logical. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

You know, I would go, well, that doesn’t make sense. So, I would stay stuff like this to Theresa. “Why are you feeling that way?” That is, by the way, a very dumb question.

“Why are you feeling…?” Feelings are. They’re the caboose in life. Alright? They’re just the caboose in life. The will is the engine. But the caboose is, you know.

That chooser is what happens. Feelings come, feelings go. It’s everything from bad experience to a bad enchilada. Who knows why we feel all the things we feel.

And then after you feel, then you uncover the root problem. Most conflicts, by and large, are symptoms. Root problems not dealt with will forever surface over and over and over in the same kind of issues.

Did you notice, in your notes, and I just gave you some common symptoms. If you find you’re arguing about money all the time, then probably the issue is not money. Okay?
The problem, in likelihood, is you got different values, you got different priorities, or there’s power control issues in your relationship.

“Why did you spend the money here?” Well, you’re saying, well our goals are here but you spent it there. Or, our priority, we should have spent it here instead of here. Or, who has real control in the relationship? Well, money begins to reveal those deep-seated issues. You need to get those issues on the table and talk about them.

Or the second symptom here is sex. Often, not always, but often it’s communication. I don’t feel love. We’re not communicating there. I don’t feel close to you. If I don’t feel like we’re connecting intellectually and emotionally and we’re talking things through then getting together physically that’s not doing it for me.

Or, maybe it’s an unmet emotional need. You know, you want to be with me in a physical way but I don’t feel like, kind of, you know that triangle again. There is the spirit, the soul, and the body.

And when the soul and the spirit’s not being nurtured, you know what? That other person may not feel like getting together physically is such a wonderful, loving thing.

Or, for many it’s past baggage and history. Boy, for many of us men, understanding where our wives have been. And this is delicate and sensitive. But we better say it sometime, somewhere, right?

If you haven’t had a good conversation in an appropriate way and maybe it’s with a good counselor to understand your mate’s sexual history. If they have real struggles in this area. You know what? Don’t live your whole life there. Go get some help.

When a woman has been abused or if a woman has been through major rejection, there’s multiple issues that impact this area.

And you know what? You can just keep doing this forever and ever and ever and ever. Get down to the root issue.

Or if the arguments are about in-laws. The roots are usually loyalty or expectations. You know, how many arguments have we all had about: where are you going to go to Christmas and are the kids coming here? Are you going to…?

We’ve done this forever, right? Or how much money do you spend for them? You know, your in-laws and this…

It’s about, I spent a good portion of the early years of my marriage communicating wrongly to my wife unintentionally that my parents were more important than her.

And I didn’t feel it and I didn’t get it until, bang, I got it. And I realized we were arguing about things because my parents were treating her in a way that were pitting me between them.

And I was feeling like…and she needed to know, hey, if there’s ever an issue, it’s us against the world. And that means times you have to say some hard things to your parents or in-laws and say, hey, here’s some boundaries.

And you know what? We’re a team. And you can’t treat me nice and her not nice. But those arguments have to do with loyalty and allegiance.

And finally, if you argue a lot about children and work, it’s about roles and goals. The root issue is, what’s our goal as a couple and why are you spending so much time with the kids or so much time at work.

Or, what are our roles? This is happening with the children, my expectations are, you handle this. Well, mine were that you would handle this.
Well, you can keep arguing and arguing and arguing until you get down to: so what should our roles be and what are our goals?

Okay, walk through it with me. Are you ready? “D” stands for define the problem, “I” stands for initiate a time to talk. “F” is focus on the problem not the person. The next “F” is feel how, what’s going on. The “U” is uncover the root symptoms.

And then the “S” is set things right between you. It’s a very, very simple one. Set things right between you. “Therefore confess your sins to one another that you may be healed.”

Own your responsibility. Confess. And by the way, don’t do this in general ways. I was wrong. And then fill in the specific. Not, I’m really sorry for all that I did.

There’s something about that. It’s kind of like when you say, at bedtime, “Dear God, forgive me for all of my sins.”

You know, there’s something that doesn’t feel real cleansing about that, is it? Now, He understands the unknown sins but when He’s pointed out this, this, this, this, He kind of wants you to have that personal talk and say, “You know, Lord, I’m really sorry about this.”

And when you say to your mate, “I’m sorry for any way I’ve hurt you, ever in our marriage, in the last twenty-seven years. Hey, I feel better. How about you?”

You know? It doesn’t fly, does it? It needs to be specific and from the heart and contrite. And this is about setting things right is owning your responsibility. And then it’s saying, “I was wrong.” And the next line is, “Will you forgive me?”

And I think this is important to look in their face, “Will you forgive?” It’s a request. And I think it’s very important that you don’t just, “Ah, yeah, it’s okay.” No, it’s not okay.

Just since I began, been doing this series God has brought some things to mind where I have, in the very recent time had to realize, wow. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me? And I appreciate my wife as she looked me right in the eye and says, “I forgive you for what you’ve done.” And then, it’s behind us.

Do you realize how many couples never have that little conversation with those few words? I was wrong. Will you forgive me? And then to hear from the other person: I forgive you.

You know what that does? That’s like going over to the big relational chalkboard or whiteboard of your relationship and you erase it. And you erase it.

Does it mean that things are never going to go up there again? No. But for now, you erase it. And you’re clean before one another.

And then when you forgive, you release. And that means you can’t use stuff to bring it up in the past for the next round of conflict. And that’s a choice.

The “E” is establish a specific action plan that addresses the issues discussed. And you write it down. And if you think I’m really big on writing stuff down, it’s because if you don’t write stuff down, nothing really happens.

And you don’t have a track record and your view and remembrance of the situation will be very different than your mate’s. “Well I thought we said we were going to…” “Well, I thought you said…” “We were going to do that? We’re not going to do that. Did I really say that?”

You know, get a calendar out and then get a piece of paper out and then this sounds maybe pedantic. But it’s very helpful. And as a husband, you say, “I commit to blank by blank.”

And it might be, hey, I’m not sure what to do. I commit to think about this for three days and come back with three suggestions about how to deal with this.

Or it might be I commit to have a conference once a week. Or, forget that. I commit to do it this Thursday and then next Thursday we’ll talk about doing one next week. I commit to planning a weekend away in the next three months.

And so, the husband does that and the wife does that and you see what it does? It takes you from a problem that gets blown out of proportion and you take the pie of your relationship and that problem is a slice.

And it’s usually about five percent, maybe three percent. And instead of arguing and bickering and hurting and wounding so that it goes to ten and fifteen and twenty and thirty and forty percent and pretty soon you’re saying, “I got a terrible marriage, it really stinks, I can’t live with this person.”

You focus on all that God has done and then you diffuse it and you say, you know what? Let’s define this problem. Why don’t we initiate a time to talk? You know, I’m going to focus on the problem not the person. You know, I really want to feel how you’re really feeling.

Let’s get down below what’s really happening. You know what? What I see in this problem, I need to own this. And now, let’s establish a plan to make some progress.

And you’re always going to have those slices, right? You’re going to have conflict. Running backs get tackled. That’s just the way it goes. It’s a fallen world. You’re going to have conflict. But you know what? You can take that little DIFFUSE and you can say this is how we’re going to work through it.

And when you do, I will tell you, God is gracious and kind and loving and His word to us, I believe, would come out of James chapter 1, as you listen to what I’ve just said. Because this is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?

James 1 verse 22 to 25 says, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but doesn’t do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it, he will be blessed in all he does.”