“Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” William James
Never is that more true than in marriage. There is no such thing as a marriage that doesn’t have conflict. The only marriages that don’t have conflict are the ones where they aren’t trying – where either one or both of the people involved have simply given up.
Conflict is the most difficult part of marriage – it’s the part that can cause tremendous pain and hurt. But it doesn’t always need to be negative.
Conflict can actually strengthen a marriage (or any relationship for that matter), if we simply learn to follow some Biblical principles on how to fight fair. In fact, conflict is often times the very thing that catapults relationships to new heights and new depths.
Therefore, I believe the following: the goal of marriage is not to be conflict-free. The goal is to handle the conflict correctly when it occurs.
Usually we think in terms of how to AVOID conflict. Instead we need to think in terms of how to RESOLVE conflict and use it to deepen the relationship. When conflict arises, we must keep in mind that the goal is not compromise; the goal is resolution. What’s the difference?
Compromise means that each one should just make a sacrifice and give in for the purpose of simply ending the fight. That is short-sighted and counter-productive and only breeds resentment and bitterness. You may not have really agreed with what your spouse was saying, but you just wanted to end the argument. That is compromise.
Resolution is quite different. Resolution means that we determine what's best for the oneness in our marriage. That may line up with what I said, or it may line up with what you said, but that is inconsequential. Marriage is not about getting what you want 50% of the time; it's about doing what’s best for the oneness of your relationship 100% of the time. It means separating your own personal agenda/ideas for the sake of the marriage and what’s best for the oneness in your marriage.
Let me explain it this way. Scripture teaches us that from the start, God designed marriage to be about the oneness and unity of two people. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). Two people becoming one flesh? What does that mean?
That means that on May 28, 2001 [my wedding date], I walked into church as a single man. Marianne walked in as a single woman. We each had our own lives and our own plans and dreams and everything. But on that day, something happened in the church ceremony – something mystical and divine.
Through the action and descending of the Holy Spirit, we didn’t leave the church the same way we came. We entered as two; we left as one. A new person was born that day – a person who didn’t exist when we both woke up that morning. That new person is the unity of God, husband and wife – a new sort of trinity that is born at every wedding ceremony… INCLUDING YOURS!
That is why I don’t believe in compromise in marriage. Marriage is not about compromising and 50/50; marriage is about me getting zero and my wife getting zero and this new person – the unity of God, husband and wife – getting 100%. It's about setting aside your personal agenda and ideas and doing what’s best for the new person that was born. No compromising.
How does that affect conflict resolution? I heard a great analogy at the Weekend to Remember conference several years ago. The speaker said that he and his wife handle conflict in this way. After taking some time to cool down and let the emotion of the moment subside a little, they sit at the dinner table. Instead of just going back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong, the husband takes the salt shaker and moves it out to the side of the table.
He then grabs his wife by the hand and says something like:
“Honey, I love you but our oneness is being challenged right now by an issue. This salt shaker represents that issue. That issue has the power to cause a lot of pain and hurt in our marriage if we don’t resolve it properly. It has the power to destroy our oneness and neither one of us wants that. So instead of fighting about it, let’s discuss what we can do TOGETHER to resolve it.”
Do you see what he did? He separated the issue from the relationship. Usually we connect the two and that's why we struggle to resolve conflict. Once the issue gets mixed in with emotions and hurts and past issues, it becomes difficult to see.
What he did instead is separate the issue out to the side and take his wife by the hand and then they approached the issue TOGETHER. At that point it isn’t about who wins and who loses; it's about resolving the conflict in the way that puts marital oneness as the primary objective. When oneness is restored, everyone wins!
Stop treating conflict like something to be avoided and start treating it like something to be tackled head on. Don’t shy away from conflict but rather seek to resolve it in a way that deepens marital oneness above all else.