Resolving Conflict Peaceably, Part 2
From the series Keeping Love Alive - Volume 2
Important question: how do you handle conflict in your relationship? Are you a person who bursts out in anger or are you someone who completely shuts down? In this program, Chip shares why neither of those approaches work well. Hear what the Bible says about resolving conflict in marriage. Don't miss how we should respond to our spouse when tension and disagreement inevitably come.
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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
You do understand that your whole life changes, too, with the Lord when you realize that sin is never a behavioral issue. It’s not, “I should stop watching porn,” or, “I should stop cussing,” or, “I’ve got to break this addiction,” or, “I need to stop losing my temper.” Those are behaviors. You’ll never, never change until you realize Ephesians says, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.” It talks about all those abusive words and language and malice and slander and all those negative things.
It breaks God’s heart. When you could realize that when you sin and when I sin, what really happens, Jesus already took my punishment. It doesn’t make God mad when you sin. It makes Him sad. See, He wants to be closer to you than you want to be closer to Him.
And when you begin to realize, “Should I do this or not do this?” When I knew it was going to break my wife’s heart, my heart changed. I mean, I may be a jerk, but I’m not going to treat her like that. But if she wants to fight about time you eat supper and if she wants to control my life, right? All those things I say. How did she do it? Can you imagine?
“I feel frustrated when you raise your voice. I feel hurt when you bring that up in front of the children. I feel wounded when after we have talked about that and you said you forgave me, in a moment of heat, you bring that up about my failure in the past.”
“I feel.” We had it on the refrigerator, and we learned, we learned when there was a problem, get alone, define what the problem is, process the whole thing first, and before the Lord. Initiate the right time and right place to talk. And then focus on the perceived problem.
By the way, I have a little note. Eliminate “you should, you ought, you always, you never.” And it’s always a win-win or a lose-lose.
The second “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,” or a spouse or a mate, “was born for adversity.” No matter how angry you are, no matter how hurt, one of the axioms of relationships you have to understand is everyone acts in a way that makes sense to them. I mean, the things that make you nuts about your mate, they, by and large, it makes sense to them. The way their mind, the way their thinking, in the moment, it made sense to them. Unless they are just absolutely evil, they weren’t trying to think, Hey, how can I just totally screw up our marriage? But they just find themselves in the same thing. And as difficult as it is, feel their pain as though it were your own.
You don’t have to understand it, it doesn’t have to be logical – that was a big one for me. And my wife is very intelligent, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re wounded and when you’re hurt or when things are happening or when you have been through things – and we all have, and you all have – sometimes two plus two equals seven. And in your brain somehow, that makes sense. And if you’re on the receiving end of that…
And what I came to is I need to feel what she feels. I need to understand. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be logical, but I want to identify and I want to empathize with what she is actually feeling.
One of the other little tools – if you think I have a lot of tools, we had a lot of work to do and one of the other ones was we had a hard time connecting our worlds. And so, one of the tools, if you will, is using a word picture or a metaphor. Sometimes, remember when Nathan – I don’t know how much you all know the Bible. I didn’t grow up reading the Bible, but David was this really great king and he commits adultery with this guy’s wife.
And then she gets pregnant and the story is pretty quick. So, he wants to cover it up, so he has her husband come back off the battlefield, gets him drunk, and sends him home to sleep with his wife so when the baby comes, he thinks it’s his. And he is so honorable he says, “Man, I’m not sleeping with my wife with all the other men are out in the battlefield.” And he tries to get it going two or three different days. It doesn’t work.
And so, he sends him back with a note, “Put the guy on the front lines; make sure he gets killed.” Not exactly a godly king moment.
So, it’s about a year. And the – not quite a year – the prophet Nathan comes. And that’s a culture where, you confront the king? Like, death is a very high probability. And so, sometimes the way to help someone understand something where you know they are going to be defensive is by a story or a metaphor.
And so, Nathan comes and he goes, “Oh, king, I have to tell you this great story and it’s so sad.” And, “Well, what is it?” And he goes, “It’s happening in your kingdom of all places.” “Well, what is it?” He goes, “There’s a man and he has hundred and hundreds of sheep and he’s very wealthy and a visitor came,” and hospitality was sort of a given. You had to feed someone if they stopped in.
And he said, “This man, instead of his sheep, there was one man, he had one tiny little lamb. And it was not just a little lamb, but it slept with him and it was like his pet. And it was his friend. And this rich man who had hundreds and hundreds of sheep, he took that man’s lamb and he butchered it for his guest.” And David was livid. “This man shall pay for it.”
And then Nathan says, “Behold, you are the man.” And, see, what he helped him see was the same thing in a different place.
And so, I won’t go into the whole story, but it was another area where my work was consuming me and I was neglecting things in our home. And I can still remember sitting in front of the fireplace and my wife told me this story. And she goes, “I want to talk about something,” but she, “but you’ll get defensive.” “No, no, I won’t.” “No, you will. You’ll get really defensive. I mean, I’m not supposed to say ‘always’ but you often do, okay?” “No, no, I promise I won’t be defensive right now.”
So, she is really setting me up. And then she asked me these questions like, “You know, Chip, when we were driving by the church and it was, I just noticed you commented on the grass and you commented, ‘Wow, that needs painted over there.’ And the remodeling in the back. And you just seemed to notice everything.” She goes, “Boy, it’s really amazing to me, I just think you’re such a good boss.” “Eh, nah. I think you’re right!”
“You know, down to the detail.” And then she said, “Chip, did you know that our dishwasher, when I run it, I put a towel under it because it has been broken for months, so it leaks? And that in the boys’ window and in Annie’s window, when it rains, the water comes in because we have a leak, so I put towels there. And I don’t know if you have noticed, but when you walk by our couch, if you have ever scratched your leg, there’s a spring that is sticking out. And the, I don’t think you really notice, but we did have a dog for a while and the other things and there’s, like, the carpet is soiled everywhere. I was just – I feel like that you see what really needs to be taken care of at work, but you don’t see what needs to be taken care of here. And I know it’s not true, but it feels like your work matters more than our home. And you are in charge of your work, and I’m in charge of our home. And I know this isn’t true, but it makes me feel like you don’t care about me then.” Man, if she keeps doing this, I’m going to just, you know…
Two days later, I’ve got a buddy, I’ve got a friend who was like, okay, you ready? Man, we cleaned all the carpets, I called another buddy, I said, “Man, I don’t think I really have the money,” but, you know, we are replacing the windows, we’ve got the windows done.
Because what happened it was like, “Oh! She’s right! Now, by the way, I’m sharing more of her side of it and I have had a few of my “I feel” messages. And I’ll share a couple of those.
But are you starting to see the power? But are you starting to see that this is what it looks like to bear with one another. This is what it looks like to forgive anyone who has a complaint against you. This is what it looks like to treat your mate the way Jesus treats you. I mean, when you sin, you don’t get hit by lightning, do you? Holy Spirit, very sensitive, very clear, very specific.
The “U” is: Uncover the root problem. Proverbs 20, verse 5 says, “The purposes in a man’s heart are like deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There are deep issues. The root problems, if they aren’t dealt with, will just surface again and again and again.
And I put a little chart here, and this is much more for another day. But in general, if the symptom is money, you are arguing about money, usually the root problem has to do with values, priorities, power, and control issues. So, you can argue about money until Jesus comes, but the issue is you don’t share the same values. Or there’s someone that has got some control issues. Or your priorities are really different. One of you thinks, “Wow, I mean, don’t the kids need new shoes? And don’t we need to do this? And don’t we need to do that?” And someone else thinks, “Gosh, don’t, shouldn’t we go to more movies?” I don’t know. One says, “We need to watch every penny and keep track of it,” and the other just sort of – in most marriages there’s a spender and a saver. Why we marry each other, I don’t know why.
If there are sex problems, it’s usually a communication issue, an unmet emotional need, past history, baggage. A lot of times, as we worked through those issues with my wife, it was like, man, I just don’t get it, but I fail to understand what it’s like to be rejected by your father and then be rejected by another man. And her love me very, very much and have struggles in areas in the early years, sexually, because all men were painted with this bad brush.
And it was just like, you talk about rejection. So, those were my “I feel” messages. “Honey, I feel like you don’t love me when I want to be with you and you’re not very responsive. I just feel rejected. And you say it’s not me, it’s not about me. Well, I’m the only other person in the room, right?”
But, okay, are you ready? I’ve got news for you, there are couples that they get stuck there and that’s the way it is. And she perfunctorily will have some sex, because she doesn’t like it. Or, by the way, it goes the other way. It can happen just the opposite. I had a couple in our church, beautiful gal, and really, it was deep insecurity issues with him and all kinds of issues and he struggled and it didn’t have anything to do with her. But I’ll tell you this, they were never going to get that solved by themselves.
In-law issues, usually have to do with loyalty expectations. And children and work usually it’s roles and goals. Who owns what? What are our goals? How are we going to get there? But those are, I mean, those are just generalizations. Those are deep wells. But the majority of couples, they are all on the left side.
My prediction, if you get married, by about twenty-five years, you’ll have every one of those at some point. Every one of them. So, why be embarrassed to get some help or go to a counselor? Because every single person.
Now, the people who don’t do anything about it, what they do is they do what we call the parallel life track. Live in the same home, have these deep unresolved issues, do the best you can. While the kids are young, stay involved in the kids – usually as a woman. Do some things at work. And then when the empty nest is, the two most common times of divorce are the first five years and right about twenty or twenty-two when the nest is empty. Because what you realize, you don’t have anything that pulls you together anymore.
You didn’t develop your relationship. You didn’t deal with issues. And it’s never too late. It’s never too late. In fact, it can be very, very exciting.
The “S” is for: Set things right between you. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man,” or a righteous woman, I’ll add, “is powerful and effective.”
And this is where humility comes. I mean, it took us a long time, but it’s just, own your responsibility. I mean, yes, you feel defensive and there’s this and there’s that. But little by little, when you, since you’re chosen, since you’re already holy and set apart, and since you’re already dearly loved, you know what you can say? “You’re right. I’m wrong. I didn’t see that. I did say that. I was way too loud. When we talked about it earlier, that’s on me. I was defensive. You know what? You’re right. I have rationalized – I have a drinking problem. Alright? But I want you to know those nightmares don’t go away and I feel a little bit better when I drink. And I know it’s not a good solution, but I don’t know what to do.”
And you know what you’ll hear is, “Let me help you. Let me help you.” The most hurting people in the world that end up in the worst places in the world are people that will not let others help them.
And at the heart of that is arrogance or shame. And there is no need for either with the Lord. You’ll never do anything that will ever surprise Him. Every sin that you have ever committed or will ever commit, the worst thought that you have ever had or will ever have, the omniscient, all-powerful God of the universe is already aware of it.
And then because of those, He said, “I will go to the cross in your place to pay for your sin. And I will atone,” or, “cover for your sin. And if you will put your faith and trust in Me, then I will pay for those once and for all and you will die and you’ll be risen with Me. And My Spirit will come inside of your physical body and it’ll be a journey and we’ll live this life together. And it’s not about rules, it’s not about church, it’s not about what others…it’s us in relationship. I am the vine, you’re the branch, My Father is the vinedresser. And we are going to get connected, so I left you My Word. My Spirit is going to dwell inside of you and guide you. And when you trip and fall, I am not upset. In fact, every baby step you take toward righteousness, toward forgiveness, toward restoration, I am right there cheering you on.” That’s the Christian life.
So, you own your responsibility, you confess, you ask for forgiveness. And I pushed this a bit, and look the person in the eye, “Will you forgive me?” And don’t settle for, “Yeah, you know, yeah, hey, it’s okay. It wasn’t that big a deal.” No, no, no. That’s not how we do this. “Will you forgive me?” And what you need is, “Yes, I will. I release you for what you did or what you said.” And then, if at all possible, pray together, and out loud, if possible. It’s so healing.
And then “E” is: Establish a specific action plan that addresses the issue discussed and write it down. I know this sounds perfunctory, but can I ask you a question? How is your plan that you don’t have working? Just a thought!
You can be in a meeting and go, “Oh! Admiral or General, I think that’s a terrible plan.” “Well, what’s yours?” The General of the universe says, this is, at least my best understanding from Scripture: This is how to bear with one another. This is how to forgive one another. This is how to, whatever complaint you have, this is how to attack the problem and not the person. This is how to come together and let God be the umpire and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. This is how to, beyond all things, put on love, because you all coming together, getting the relationship right, is ten times more important than who is right.
And so, that’s how you diffuse conflict and that’s a pretty step-by-step process to do it. And the last part of that action plan is I, as a husband, “I will do this,” and I have my wife, she writes down, “I will commit to this,” by when. And then here’s the key, “The next time we’ll meet and talk about this is…”
By the way, some of you just need some rhythms. And we didn’t have any money most all the years growing up, but every Friday, because I taught on Saturday and Sunday, every Friday was my day off. And every Friday I dropped the kids off and I had a date with my wife. It was a breakfast date. And she knew that from breakfast to lunch or beyond, we were going to spend that time together. And, yes, we would eat. We’d take a walk. We would have some fun.
But we had a time where she knew, even if stuff bothered her, we are only six and a half days away from an honest, good talk. If the only time you sit down to have a good talk is when you have junk, pretty soon it’s not very fun.
And so, we would have a couple, three of these fifteen-minute conferences where we are sharing things. And then we had one big time and then Friday we would have a little family night. And we just created a rhythm so the accounts were short.
And you know what? I told you about my dad. I told you about I grew up in an alcoholic home. I told you that I married a woman from an alcoholic home, from a very dysfunctional past, and we’re a blended family, and we didn’t know what we were doing, and we have had lots of problems.
I would like to announce that I am married to one of the most amazing people in the world, that I have a deep, deep relationship with. Spiritual connection, emotional connection, and physical connection.
Our kids are very, very imperfect, but very realistic, and have followed Jesus, determined to marry people that were like-minded, and are in the process of raising their kids where God is the umpire. All I just want you to know is God can take the most dysfunctional, difficult situations and He can restore. I mean, if He can do it for us, my oh, you all have issues, but I understand them.
They didn’t call my wife’s PTSD, but it was. Trauma, trauma, trauma. She needed someone to hang in there with her when he didn’t want to, and when he didn’t understand, and when he felt helpless, but just to be available. And I needed to know that when I made that commitment to Jesus, that He said He would give me whatever I needed, to give her whatever she needed for as long until death do us part.
And one of the things that happens when you say, “Until death do us part,” and really mean it, then there’s option A and option A. And option A is: How in the world are we going to figure this out, because we are not going to give up.
We were in desperate need. But God said, “Draw near to Me, I’ll draw near to you.” All the resources you need to have the marriage that you desire are available.
And there’s a God on the sidelines, or maybe in the center, I’m not sure where in your life, who says, “If you will give Me a chance, and if you will let Me direct, it won’t always feel good, but, yes, you’ll end up happy, but your marriage relationship is the most vivid picture along with the Church that I left the world so they know I’m real. So please don’t let Me down.” Please show the world what Jesus loving the Church and the Church loving Jesus looks like by your relationship.