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About this series
Keeping Love Alive - Volume 2
Four Biblical Skills Great Marriages Have in Common
It’s hard to believe there are couples who’ve been married for thirty, forty, or even fifty years. So, what’s their secret? In this series, Chip shares the newest volume in his ongoing series, “Keeping Love Alive.” As he teaches from the book of Colossians, he'll highlight 4 important skills every healthy marriage has in common. Learn how to be better connected spiritually… communicate more effectively… resolve conflict peaceably... and manage your finances wisely. Discover what you need to improve your relationship and start making a change or two, today!More from this series
We are looking at skill number three. It’s how to resolve conflict – are you ready for this? Peaceably. You know, so nobody gets hurt.
Number one, here’s a biblical perspective of conflict. Number one, it is inevitable. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” so we wouldn’t be surprised. Second, it flows from our differences in perspective. Paul and Barnabas, remember? John Mark was a flake. He went back the next trip, Barnabas says, “Hey, I think we should take John Mark.” He’s the son of encouragement, his gifts, his philosophy, everyone fails sometimes. Let’s bring him along.
Paul is very mission, A-type, you know what? We are not going to sacrifice the mission. He blew it one time. The mission is more important. If you want to help him, you stick around and help him. And it says they had such a sharp disagreement; we get our word schism. And Paul and Barnabas went different ways. I don’t think either of them were wrong.
One was an encourager that needed to help a guy. The other realized, you know what? Jesus told me to take the gospel to all the world and I can’t risk the mission on a guy that I can’t depend on. So, there are differences in perspective.
Sometimes it’s just selfish desires. James would say, “What are the causes of fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires or your lusts that battle within you? You want something and you don’t get it. You kill, you covet, but you can’t have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. And when you do ask God, you ask with the wrong motives, that you can spend it on your pleasures.” Behind a lot of conflict is just plain old selfishness and sin.
And then finally, sometimes it’s just personality differences. Paul has a couple ladies and Euodia and Syntyche and he says they are both great, they are both helpers, they are both wonderful people. But they can’t get along. Maybe it’s personality. We don’t know. But they needed an outside help. They needed a counselor, according to Paul. I want you to get these two ladies together. They are both super. But together, they just rub each other the wrong way.
All I want you to get is this: Conflict is normal and healthy conflict produces and opportunity for growth, but can be destructive unless addressed wisely, lovingly, and with rules to govern the process.
How many of you have a very clear pattern that you follow when there’s conflict? Yeah. This is what we do when we have, you know, when we have a “discussion”. What you really mean is an argument is about to burst out. But you have a plan when you disagree. All I’m going to do is I’m going to give you a plan.
So uh, our text is Colossians chapter 3 verses 12 through 17. If you’re kind of getting it is, “So, as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved,” that’s who we are, “we are putting on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; forgiving one another, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you have been called into one body; and be thankful.”
The command is, here’s the command, it’s really simple. We are to deal with our mates as Christ has dealt with us and deals with us. Okay? That’s the issue. If you get nothing else, what would that look like if you would say, “There’s a conflict, there’s a disagreement, I’m angry, I’m bitter, I’m resentful. Why did she do that again? I can’t believe he did that. We have talked about it a hundred times.” And when you come together, your one goal is, “I want to treat him,” or, “I want to treat her the way Christ treats me.”
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have conflict, but I’ll guarantee if you bear with one another, if you forgive one another; if you, beyond all these things, put on love; and if you let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, it’ll come out a lot differently.
Let me show you what these words mean. “Bearing with one another” is just basically: What are things that cause tension? And they’re not necessarily moral or wrong, but they are just, there are certain things, unless you’ve been married, like, six months – right? And they are still in la-la land. “Oh, no, she’s so wonderful. She has never done anything wrong ever.” “He’s so strong. He’s so handsome. I can’t believe he loves me!”
Eighteen months later, “I can’t believe…” Right? But this is – how do you put up with the things that people do, some that might be wrong but more this is the idea of idiosyncrasies, of things that rub you the wrong way that we have talked about them and they just keep doing them. And he says, “Bear with one another.”
In other words, it’s: Deal with tension and things that bother you in a constructive way. And then forgive one another. This is a hurt or offense. The New Testament word for “forgive” literally is “to release”.
And I’m going to dig in a bit more to forgiveness a little bit later, because get clear. Forgiveness is a choice to not pay the other person back for what they have done. I release you. And what comes up in our minds is: That’s not fair! I’m not going to let them off the hook. No, you don’t let them off the hook. What you do is you say, “I’m going to take this offense and I’m going to release it, and I’m going to put you on God’s hook. He’s the just One.”
And you do, people who refuse to forgive are people who drink poison and think it’s going to kill the other person. When you don’t forgive, I mean, it’s medical. It’s ulcers, it’s migraines, it’s low immune system. Lack of forgiveness will destroy your life. It’ll destroy your soul. By the way, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins,” or, “trespasses as we…”
Remember what Jesus said? “If you do not forgive your brother from the heart, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” This is really important. So, we’ll talk about – it doesn’t mean, by the way, forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same thing. You can forgive a person, that doesn’t mean that everything goes back to normal. Sometimes trust has to be rebuilt. Or sometimes a person in some other circumstances are dangerous, and you forgive them, but that abuser can’t be in your life anymore, or in one of your kids’ lives.
We’ll clarify that, but I just want to get through the passage. “Whoever has a complaint.” In other words, just, it bothers you! It just really bothers – what they have done really bothers you. It’s personalized and it’s ongoing.
And so, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And then he goes on to say, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
And that word “rule”, it’s the idea of a sentry walking back and forth and literally the idea is in the midst of a conflict, instead of you are right and they are right, it’s a picture of: Let God be the umpire. What does He think? What is His estimation? We will learn in just a minute that every conflict in marriage, there’s never a winner and a loser. There are either two winners and two losers.
Oh, you might win the argument, you might make them feel bad, you might even get your way. But if you win and they lose, remember? You are one. So, he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule.” Why? You are called into one body; your unity before God.
He’s talking about the whole Church. But, wow, if he’s talking about the Church, how much more a couple? And then this commandment, to be thankful. To focus on what we have instead of what is lacking.
Turn the page, if you will, and I want to give you this picture before I walk through a little acronym that has helped me. I have a – Jim Burns is a good friend and he’s a marriage and family therapist and speaker.
And he says there’s a negative dance and there’s a positive dance. And it’s very predictable. So, you start at the top, there’s tension, friction, problem, pain, misunderstanding. And you can fill it in. In fact, for some of you, you don’t have to think too hard. You can just think some of the real recent ones.
The negative dance is defensive: blaming, anger, control, attack, and the “I” language appears. “I did this. You ought to do that. I did this. I…” It’s very defensive. “Why did you do that?” And it usually escalates in tones of voice, often in yelling. And then when it gets really bad, sometimes it gets physical.
And then there’s a disconnect. Emotional withdraw, avoidance, pouting, acting, feeling superior. And then after that, you get detached, because it’s not resolved. You feel bitter, resentment, contempt, loneliness, unresolved issues, fighting, like a deadness in your soul. And the result: deeper tension and regret.
It doesn’t matter what the issues are. Most of the issues you fight about are symptoms, by the way. They’re not even the real issue. When Theresa and I were having our worst times, when we did that dance almost on a weekly basis. And so, her way was to shut down and she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t talk to me for two days. And we did the classic couples, you know, you go to bed and you’re both in bed like this and so, she rolls that way and I roll this way. And I had this sort of mechanism that I thought would be very helpful, but was very ineffective is I would sort of, “Huhhhhh.” And that meant, “I’m still awake so you can still apologize.”
And she would shut down and then being I’m in seminary, so I’m learning a lot of verses. And then I would lay there for a while and then that verse, you know, “Resolve it by bedtime.” So, I would get up and I’d turn on the little light and I would walk around the bed and I would tell her, “We’ve got to get this resolved. We’ve got to get this resolved.” And all this. And she would just, she would just ice me out.
And then we’d get up the next morning, and by the way, you go to bed angry, it does something to your soul, then I would feel not attracted to her; felt distant. And we didn’t, would never get anything resolved. By two or three days, we would act like it didn’t happen. We’d just both go on. And what we were doing is we put thin layer upon thin layer upon thin layer of our hearts hardening. We were both very vulnerable to temptation of all kinds.
So, our communication, our emotional connection, and our sex life was all going this direction. Now, when they go that direction, then what happens? Right? Now you have created deeper and the same pattern. And the resentment and the bitterness.
And it can be over, ours was why I was getting home late for dinner. And I thought it was ridiculous. And I was holding down a job, full-time, going to school full-time, and we had kids. And I’m a basketball junkie. I mean, if you’ve ever been in playgrounds, you can go to any inner city and if you’re – especially in the inner city it’s like, there’s all Black guys and there’s at least one skinny, little white guy and a tall white guy. And that’s where – I kept my ball in the back with my shoes and everything. And I would drive by a playground and I would just jump out.
And I played very competitively and played against Olympic teams all throughout South America. And I was a gym rat. I played seven or eight hours a day and I was, and basketball after college practice, I’d go play pickup ball at night. I mean, I just loved it.
And if you win a game, for some of you guys know this, you stay on. So, I would get someplace with a bunch of guys and, of course, “What are you skinny little white guy coming here?” And I’m on, I’m on. And then the skinny little white guy would say, “This is where he played in college and this is why, dude.”
And we’d win a game. Then we’d win another game. Then we’d win another game. Well, I couldn’t leave! And so, Theresa would have fixed – and every time it happened, it’s like it was a special meal. And I had no idea that she was expressing her love for me. And to me, it was all about, “When do you get home?”
And so, over time, I learned a good offense was better than a bad defense. And I would come in, I’d just pick on her. And the moment I got in, so, I’d get mad at her before she could get mad at me.
And really, all the issues were she felt rejected. It triggered things in her life. I felt like, “Don’t tell me what to do. I said five thirty. What’s the difference between five thirty, quarter to six, six? I mean, I’ll eat it cold. I don’t care.” I didn’t get it. That was one of many. But I just want you to get, it doesn’t have to start over something big.
The positive dance is there is tension, friction, problem, pain, misunderstanding. And the response is “we”. We assume responsibility and we work together to resolve the issue. I’m going to give you some tools to do that.
We didn’t know how to do that. In other words, it’s like, okay. How do you bring something up that gets the problem on the table without attacking the person? Because I was super defensive.
And if I raised my voice a little bit, she just shrunk. By the way, in most conflict, you have sharks and turtles. Some by personality, some by gender. And so, in a conflict, there’s some of you that what you do is instinctively because of your background, your personality, you just pull your head in. And, man, all you can get is a shell.
And then there’s those of us, we just swarm the water. And you know what? We are going to win and we are going attack and if we have verbal skills, we are going to reframe it and you did this. By the time we are done, we were the problem and you feel like it’s all your fault. And then you realize it’s not. And then you resent us.
And we have manipulated and we have been unkind. And we haven’t been bearing with another. And we haven’t been forgiving. And we haven’t done – we haven’t been humble. We haven’t been patient.
But here, it’s a “we”. Okay, we have an issue. We’ll talk about getting that on the table. And then the “we” issue goes to resolution without a win or lose.
Okay, yeah, this is a problem. How should we solve it? What are our options? Let’s define the problem together. Let’s calmly talk about it in a way that I’ll show you. And what do we learn from this? What was really going on? And as a result what happens is you learn about each other.
What would God have us do in this situation? You see it this way, I see it that way. And we are at odds. What does the umpire, what does He say about this? Or do we need someone from the outside, since we are at a deadlock, because we want this to go better. Do we need someone on the outside to coach us and help us mentor through this who is objective? Because obviously neither of us are. And if we could have solved it, we probably would have solved it by now.
And when you do that, then the result is authentic oneness and a feeling of being loved. And conflict actually becomes something where you grow closer. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or one man and one woman sharpen another.
And so, as you turn to the next page, what I want to talk about is how to diffuse conflict in your marriage. And it’s interesting. Defuse and diffuse, it sounds pretty much the same.
See, what happens in marriage is it starts off, I mean, it can start off so small, but once your emotions get in it, then you start looking at the other person through this and you find other faults. And so, what you want to do is – marriages, great marriages, or at least good marriages and people with a good relationship, you can so focus on a five percent problem and forget the ninety-five percent that is good and little by little by little, the more you focus on the problem, it grows and grows and grows. And then it colors and takes away.
I mean, because of the way we did it, our conversation was terrible. Because of the way we handled it, emotionally we weren’t connected. Because of the way we handled it, she didn’t want to have sex with me and I still wanted to have sex with her. And she used it like a club. And she’d withdraw. And then I was passive-aggressive. And I would know that the trash is full. Tell you what, I would just…shucks, I didn’t see it. She likes to be on time, knowingly and unknowingly, when we were fighting, I just made sure we were just a little bit late.
See, when you’re passive-aggressive, you take the way to payback on a different field that is safer. Sarcasm, late, we push their buttons. And then if you push them and they respond, “Oh, I was just kidding.” We play lots of games. And you know what it does? It destroys your soul and it destroys your relationship.
So, how do you take a problem and diffuse it? Spread it out so you get God’s perspective and you deal with it. Well, here’s the acronym. The “D” is for: Define the problem on your own. Define the problem on your own.
Proverbs 15:4 says, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” When you have a disagreement, don’t start by solving it with the person. Get by yourself and ask, “What is bothering me? How do I feel? When did this all begin?”
Journaling may not be for everyone; I journal. A lot of times, I don’t, I just know I have feelings and I don’t like them. And I’ll just, I’ll write myself clear. “This happened yesterday and it was just a look and she said this and we were going about that and we were driving in the car and just out of the blue, ‘Go here! Park here! Do that!’ And I didn’t say anything but I just, something inside me was like, Shut up! I know how to drive the car. We’ve been married forty-two years. Hey, I don’t need a guide to tell me which spot.” And why that bothered me is, well, probably…
So, rather than there, it’s I write that out and I figure out: What is going on? Why? Why is this making me so angry? And then pray and ask God for insight.
Proverbs 21:2 says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” If you didn’t do anything other than “D” of “Diffuse”, man, you would have so many less arguments. If you just define. What we do is we react. If you have a tension, a pain, a problem, a situation – if you can just go, “Stop. I am going to define what is going on here.”
The “I” is for: Initiate a time to talk. Matthew 5:23 and 24 says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember your brother,” or mate, “has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother,” or your mate, “and then come and offer your offering.”
And when I say “Initiate a time to talk,” jot these down. Right time, right place. Trying to solve a complex problem at the wrong time and the wrong place will not go well. It’s a time that is good for both of you. Don’t be pushy, but don’t procrastinate. “No, we really need to meet.” “Well, I’m exhausted now and I go to pick up the kids and I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do that.” “Yeah, and I’ve got a big meeting.” “Okay, okay, then, Friday morning, okay? There are some things that are on my heart I just want to discuss.” So, you have defined it, you’re clear, you’ve talked with the Lord, you initiate a time to talk.
The “F” is: 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 barbed gates of a citadel.”
One of the huge issues in our marriage was we, neither of us – her family didn’t have any conflict, because it was illegal.
And my folks, they would have conflict, but they came from the school: “Let’s not do it in front of the kids.” So, we never saw how conflict got resolved. And my dad blew up and my mom stuffed. And you do understand that left to yourself you pretty much do what, not what people told you, but what was modeled.
And so, you’ve got to, when I said, “Some of you, you’ve got to break out of old patterns and develop new ones.” And so, jot this down, this is going to be important. The way you bring up a problem without attacking the person is called an “I feel” message. This was on our refrigerator for two years. An “I feel” message.
Let me tell you, and I’ll just make it, because I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be over a big thing. It’s usually big stuff under the surface.
So, I’m late. “Why are you late again? Don’t you even care? You should come home on time! I fixed all this food and you don’t even care. You don’t even give a rip.” “Who are you to tell me what to do all the time? My lands, I’m working full-time, I’m going to school full-time, I’m supporting the kids, I’m up late, I’m up early, I’m studying Greek. Man, I’ve got to have some fun too!” “Well,” silence, bedroom, here we go. Three-day journey.
All over dinner, except it wasn’t. What I would learn later is, “I spent all day doing something to say, ‘I love you,’ and I fixed it and you didn’t show up and you didn’t even call.” And what I heard was there’s no room for me to have a life of my own and I’m busting it like crazy. I’m already insecure about figuring out how to be a dad to two kids that I adopted a year ago.
And when you start with that, “You should/you ought,” man, those are, for a man, those are fighting words. You ought, you should, you always, you never. That’s how mothers talk to sons. Let me tell you, those are fighting words both directions. Adults don’t talk to adults like that. That’s authority to inferiors.
Well, then, if that’s true then how do you get it on the table without saying, “You ought, you should,” raising your voice? It’s an “I feel” message. So, here’s the picture.
These are – the stories you’re about to hear, the names have not been changed to protect not the innocent. Okay? So, this was, we are in counseling and we are working through all this. And so, it’s another time and I’m feeling bad and I’m feeling guilty and I’m not going to attack her. But I walk in and it was such a great game. I mean, we just kept winning. It was so wonderful. And there’s a brotherhood, there’s something about hanging with guys you haven’t met and doing it that I just loved.
And so, I walk in and the kids aren’t around and the table is set and there are candles lit. And I’m going, “Oh, gosh. Why does she always do this when I play basketball?” And she is thinking, Why does he always play basketball when I do this?
And so, I came in and she goes, she was calm, in her right mind. No, no, no fire in here eyes. “Hey,” it’s like, “hey, something is wrong here.” Like, you’re on patrol and you know, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I can feel it. Something is wrong.
And she goes, “Are you still hungry?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, it’s in the oven. I’ll get it for you. No, sit down.” The candles are still lit. Oooh. So, she gets it out of the oven and puts it on the table and then she sits down. She doesn’t look mad. Is this reverse psychology? What is coming on here? This is really starting to scare me.
So, I eat and she lets me eat and, “Do you like it?” “Yeah.” And I’m thinking, I think I’m just going to get by with this. And so, right time. She processed personally what the real issue was, right time, right way, candles.
And then she looks at me, leans over, eyeball to eyeball, she said, “Chip, can I tell you something?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “I spent half of the day preparing this meal for you, because I love you. I feel hurt when you don’t call and you don’t get to enjoy this meal that I made to express my love for you. I feel hurt.” See, you can’t argue with someone’s feelings.
And because she did it in that way, “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” Proverbs 15. And it was like God used it to, Tchoo! Ooh! I mean, I just, get up and fight like a real man! That was unfair! And for the first time, I made the connection between my lateness and her heart and what she was experiencing.
And she didn’t nag, she didn’t attack, she gave an “I feel” message. And I can remember, oh, dozens of times later. “Guy! Bros! Man, it’s been great, super, man, I’ve got a hot date with my wife. I’ve got to run. You want to take my place?” And I bet wasn’t late three or four times in the next five years, because now it’s not about being late. I don’t want to wound my wife.