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Conflict Resolution: How to Fight Fair in Marriage, Part 2

From the series Experiencing God's Dream for Your Marriage

Conflict in marriage is inevitable and it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, left unresolved, conflict has the power to dissolve even the strongest marriages. So, how do we resolve conflict effectively? Chip explains that it's possible to fight fair in marriage.

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Message Transcript

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.

I want you to think of your biggest conflict in your 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?

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.

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. 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.”