Conflict is inevitable in a marriage, and all other relationships. We will disagree, we will say and do what we shouldn’t and neglect to do what we should. A healthy relationship is not one that never experiences conflict but rather a healthy relationship is one that walks through conflict together in a healthy way. Instead of avoiding conflict at all costs, may we learn to engage in conflict in a healthy and productive way.
Everyone carries around two buckets: one filled with gasoline and the other filled with water. When we encounter conflict within a relationship we will choose to pour gas or water onto that fire!
Gasoline: Emotions are not bad or evil…unless we become controlled by our emotions. When our emotions take over we revert to immaturity and become blinded by our own feelings and wants. We blindly say and do things which cause us to win and our partner to lose. This escalates the conflict and further separates spouses from one another. Our emotions have the potential to blow up a small kitchen fire into a full blown house fire.
Water: Pouring water onto a fire will extinguish the fire although it may continue to smoke, smolder or remain hot for a time. The idea here is to take control of your emotions, keep a clear mind and remain loving (as defined in 1 Corinthians 13). Even in conflict we must choose to love: to be patient, kind, selfless, not rude, not keeping record of wrongs, etc… This does not imply that the hurt is immediately healed but it does mean you and your spouse will be able to have healthy dialogue to work through the conflict leading to forgiveness and ultimately growing and strengthening your marriage while increasing your intimacy.
Pour Water instead of Gasoline:
1. Take Time and Calm Down: If emotions begin to take over respectfully and lovingly request your need to cool off. This is not a way to avoid dealing with the conflict but giving you the time to gain control and composure.
2. Identify the Enemy: It is natural for us to quickly point to our spouse as the problem or the cause of the problem. In that scenario we end up making our spouse our enemy which leads to fighting against each other. The other option is to draw the line so you and your spouse remain on the same side and you both are able to identify a common enemy. This approach allows you and your spouse to attack the problem together instead of making one another the problem.
3. Quickly Apologize: We will hurt those we love. Most of the time it will be unintentional, but it is inevitable. When we hurt our partner we need to be willing to quickly apologize. The typical response when we cause hurt is, “I didn’t mean to”, “Oh come on, toughen up” or “There’s no way that really hurt you!?” Our intentions become irrelevant if our spouse felt hurt. In other words, perception is reality. We must learn to have a first response of empathy and apology. Keep in mind that apologizing is more than just “I’m sorry”. When we apologize we are 1) Recognizing and admitting we hurt the other person and 2) Committing to change so that we don’t continue to hurt them in that way again.
4. Forgive Freely: On the flip side, It’s also important to learn to quickly forgive and to not hold grudges. Forgiveness doesn’t indicate that everything is ok and the hurt is all gone. You may require additional time to process through the hurt but it begins with forgiving and vocalizing that forgiveness to your partner.