Yes, there are healthy ways to deal with and mitigate conflict, but major differences of opinion will be a constant thorn in the side of both people in the relationship. Over time, you may even begin to believe that the other person is the thorn.
Conflict Can Be Good for You
Conflict is like dynamite. If used rightly, it helps people. Used wrongly, it kills.
Conflict is also like fire. It will burn you, but it’ll also guide your way.
The key aspect in both of those illustrations is the knowledge and experience of the one wielding the substance. If a person understands the constructive aspects of a destructive device, they’ll be much more wary about its dangers and more intent on reaping its benefits.
If you know how to deal with it, conflict can actually benefit your relationships and your marriage. In fact, conflict can push your relationship to new heights, but only if you allow it to be a healthy process and not a game you have to win at all costs.
I’ve been married to my best friend for over forty years. We know about conflict. Over those decades, we’ve learned a few things about each other, but we’ve learned an immense amount about handling conflict well. Of course, neither of us is perfect, but we know now to look deeper than the surface issue that often gives way to conflict in our marriage.
We ask ourselves questions like:
- Why did this happen?
- What’s really at the heart of this issue?
- Where do I need to grow and change?
Essentially, we’ve learned that conflict can be healthy once we get past the emotions of the moment and take an honest look at our own hearts.
Our Major Causes of Conflict
Of course, conflict can erupt for all kinds of reasons, but these three particular reasons are often the deeper issues hiding just beneath the surface of many of our fights.
1. Competing desires
James 4:1-2 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but you don’t get it.”
This may be the broadest, most basic source of our conflict. The wife wants something; the husband wants something else. It’s not rocket science, though seeking resolution in such instances can sometimes feel that way. Our varying needs and desires will be a frequent source of conflict in our marriages.
It doesn’t help that our culture constantly feeds us the lie of “have it your way” either.
2. Unresolved issues
These issues can come from outside or inside of the home . . .
A BFF says or does something stupid and you are deeply hurt, but you pretend all is well.
A husband may bring his work woes home with him, taking out his day-job anger on his wife.
A wife may misunderstand something and think her husband made a derogatory remark about her, letting that unchecked thought fester into bitterness.
These are often problems that begin as the size of a snowball. As time passes, the snowball turns into an avalanche, claiming victims throughout a household. Unresolved issues don’t melt away. They harden into anger, resentment, bitterness, and conflict.
3. Unmet expectations
This may be the most hurtful cause of conflict because the “victim’s” hopes suffer a terrible blow.
Consider the new husband on his honeymoon, full of sexpectations, only to be met with a sunburned wife.
Or the new mom who’s barely slept in a week as she waves goodbye to her husband heading out the door for a round of golf with the guys.
Or the empty-nesters with two totally different ideas as to what to do with all their free time.
This list is endless. We all bring certain expectations to all our relationships and to our marriage, and for a wide variety of reasons. Having expectations isn’t a bad thing, but having unrealistic expectations—and especially ones that are never communicated—will inevitably lead to trouble.
I don’t believe that a step-by-step strategy can instantly solve all of your issues, but I do believe that if we are teachable (i.e. willing to grow) we can experience lasting change.
Next week we’ll look at some practical ways that will help you resolve conflict. For now, stop and reflect on why you’re fighting (the real reason is probably one of the above), and bravely go to the true heart of the issue.
Choose well. Live well. Be well.
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