What is the toughest thing in marriage? As I approach 40 years of married life and as I look back on the daily in and outs of married life, I have to say that conflict and unity are consistently the most difficult things you will have to deal with in your marriage.
In fact, I have found that there is hardly a day that goes by without some kind of disagreement between Kathy and I. Some are simple and often unimportant, others seem, or should I say feel, like a life and death issue. Most of the time they really aren’t. They sure can cause stress though if we do not learn to handle them well.
Know this: The devil’s greatest weapon in marriage is to sow division, often through conflict, and to sow a critical spirit that tears at the very fabric of your marriage relationship. The devil knows the divine, eternal truth that a house divided cannot stand.
This is why we all desperately need a passionate, committed heart that wants one thing and one thing alone, to honor God in our marriages no matter what it cost! This is why we each desperately need God’s grace, God’s strength, a growing spiritual life, and godly humility and wisdom. This is why we each desperately need the attitude of Jesus Christ, to consider your spouse more important than yourself, and to have a fervent desire to obey Jesus Christ and the Bible no matter what it costs us. This is why we must treat each other the way we would want to be treated. We must find God’s ways to preserve unity and harmony with our spouse.
This will take constant vigilance, determination, hard work, wisdom, and constant humility. Our pride is often at the root, or at least what causes us to stay divided and conflicted. We can be so convinced of our own rightness that we just don’t give an inch to our spouse.
Please don’t misunderstand this. I am not saying we compromise in areas of right and wrong. It is impossible to have unity if one party wants to do something morally, biblically wrong and the other one doesn’t. However, that is not usually the issue in most Christian marriages. Most of the times, we are offended by something our spouse said or did, or we are frustrated with them, or we think “I could do this way better than you are” and we are upset about it.
Sometimes the conflict is simply that their personality and temperament are prone to certain weaknesses that keep happening and we are keeping a record of the perceived wrongs we have endured, and we are getting resentful, frustrated and angry. We feel great inner turmoil about it and are very conflicted. Other times there is conflict and disunity because we don’t feel heard or understood. We may even feel ignored, and disrespected. Other times our conflict is because of a sincere difference of opinion about something we think is important.
We must all make certain that our spouse always knows this truth about our heart towards them!
Conflict tends to bring out the worst in each of us. Some get mad and yell, some get mad and go silent, some just disconnect, some just do whatever they can to make it disappear while inwardly, secretly, they let resentment grow in their heart towards their spouse.
I would like to pass on some of the valuable lessons I have learned over the last 40 years of married life. Kathy and I have had to work through many differences because we are very different from each other, in almost every way you can imagine.
1. The most important thing in my marriage is not getting my way, not winning every argument, not being perfectly understood, or perfectly loved. The most important thing to me, no matter how I might be feeling about my marriage at any given time, is honoring God above all else! I will honor God by loving you, whether I feel like it at the time or I don’t.
If that means giving up my rights, whatever they may be at any given time, I will give up my rights. I do all I can to preserve harmony and unity with Kathy. Because I know God will bless me and us for striving to stay united with Kathy.
2. My spouse is not the enemy!! The devil is the Enemy. My attitude might even be my enemy, but my spouse is not the enemy. My wife, ( or husband, if wives are reading this) is my teammate and if we let conflict and disunity consume us, we both lose. The family loses terribly! Our marriage loses terribly!
Oh how we all need to step back and see this clearly and with deep humility. You precious couples who are trying so very hard to live for Jesus Christ, to honor His word the Bible, and to raise and disciple your children for Jesus Christ, the devil is coming after you with ferocious hatred. He will do everything he can to destroy your marriage. He hates your guts, and prowls about, sneaking around your home, and your relationship, waiting for a moment to pounce and rip you both apart. DO NOT COOPERATE WITH HIM!
3. Learn to shut up and listen! My goodness, this can be so difficult for some of us. We must learn to close our mouths and open our ears. We must have a humble heart that wants to listen to our spouse and really try to understand what they are saying, what they are feeling, where they are coming from and grasp what is bothering them, and why. Do not make wrong assumptions. Do not jump to conclusions. Presumption leads to nothing but strife.
4. Watch your words! Words can be gasoline on a tiny fire. Some can be so mean, cruel, nasty and destructive with their words when we are letting our emotions run wild and giving expression to everything we feel instead of using our heads, using our spiritual wisdom and the strength of Christ residing in us. Proverbs says a harsh word stirs up strife/conflict, but a soft answer turns away wrath.
5. Put on a heart of compassion and tender-hearted mercy. Most Christians I know are terrible at showing real compassion and genuine empathy in relationships. Deeply consider what your spouse may be dealing with in their work life, or health, or the tremendous trials and difficulties that they may be dealing with and walk in their shoes. Learn to deeply empathize and feel what they are feeling. Here is a Bible passage that has helped me greatly.
I have officiated and spoken at many weddings. At every wedding, the bride and groom come dressed in clothes that they will usually never ever wear again. A tux and a wedding dress. The Bible, however, describes for us what I like to call the marriage clothes, that is our day to day work clothes for effective relationships. It is what each of us, every single day, need to metaphorically dress ourselves up in, each morning. It’s found in Colossians 3:12-14
“Since God chose you to be holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourself with compassion, tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
ARE YOU OBEYING THIS PASSAGE? ARE YOU DRESSING YOURSELF UP IN THESE CHARACTERISTICS AND PRACTICING THEM EACH AND EVERY DAY ON YOUR SPOUSE?
5. Forgive your spouse, not because they did something to deserve it, but because God has forgiven you. Make allowances for their faults as God has made tremendous allowances for your faults. How many times have you offended God? I know you feel offended at times by your spouse. We all do and at times, we offend them as well. Love covers a multitude of sins and offenses. Love’s greatest opportunity is when my spouse sins against me. If everyone is perfect, there is no need for love.
Practice admitting you were wrong and take the initiative to ask your spouse to forgive you for your attitude towards them, or for your harsh words, or for your unkind behavior and bad attitude. This is huge for preserving unity and keeps the relationship well oiled and much more harmonious. It makes you a much easier person to live with and to love.
6. Learn to communicate better and more wisely when dealing with conflict. I found that there were some things that by taking the time to carefully, wisely write a letter to Kathy, expressing to her how I was feeling about something, why I had those feelings, and perspectives, and asking her to try to understand my position, helped a great deal in bringing us to practical unity. She has done the same with me and it has helped many times.
One key factor. It only helps if you have a humble heart that really wants the good of your spouse and your marriage. If your spirit and heart are right inside you. If you are simply raging on paper (digital paper counts also) or spewing invectives, you will simply do more damage, and create further division. Then the words on paper become much more damaging than if they were just spoken.
7. Sometimes an outside perspective can be very helpful. There are several ways this can occur. Kathy and I have been to many marriage retreats/conferences. We have often been challenged, or refreshed, or instructed in ways that were very helpful to our marriage. This can happen through recorded MP3 marriage conference messages that you can hear together and talk about. Actual conferences you attend or solid Christian marriage books you can read can also be helpful.
Also, sometimes sitting together with a trusted Christian couple or pastor, or close Christian friend who you can open up with and they can offer their insights, feedback or heartfelt, honest observations can be very helpful.
Trust me when I say this: Every single Christian marriage/couple has, or has had, or will have their own deep conflicts to deal with and work through. YOU ARE NOT STRANGE, WEIRD OR ALONE!!
8. Pray for your spouse, pray with your spouse. I cannot begin to express to you the tremendous unity and greater harmony that has come to Kathy and me in our marriage since we began praying together every single day many, many years ago. It has made a vital, critical difference that nothing, absolutely nothing else, can replace. In fact, I would go as far as this: Praying every day with Kathy has been better for our marriage than any vacation or romantic getaway we have ever taken. Though I still advise times like that. THAT IS HOW IMPORTANT AND IMPACTFUL PRAYING TOGETHER HAS BEEN. When Kathy and I enter into the presence of God together, and I pour out my heart on our behalf to God, thanking Him, praising Him, dumping on Him, entreating Him, crying out to Him, asking Him for things, and asking for His help in our marriage, our relationship, our family life, our finances and every aspect of our married life, great things are accomplished. It brings us to a feeling of greater peace and unity of mind, it involves God directly into our relationship, and GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS!!
9. Be intentionally more agreeable, cooperative and easy to get along with. I once had a working relationship with a dear Christian man who intentionally, during much of our relationship, would play the devil’s advocate. He would often deliberately take the opposite side of perspective from me. It made working together very difficult and stressful. DO NOT BE THIS WAY WITH YOUR SPOUSE.
Sincerely and intentionally strive to be cooperative, supportive, and easy to get along with. It makes a tremendous difference and punches the devil right in the face!
In closing, I offer you several marriages retreats/messages below that I have done, that I believe would help you apply point #7. I believe each of these would be a great help to your marriage success.