Resolving conflict in marriage can be challenging. Every marriage experiences conflict. A good marriage is marked by the ability to quickly resolve conflict in healthy ways.
Years ago, we would regularly have intense fights. Misunderstandings and various issues seemed to build over time. That would result in us yelling, cursing, and saying very hurtful things to each other.
It has taken years and a lot of work, but thankfully, we do not experience those same problems today. Instead, we feel that we have a very good marriage, and we are very grateful to God for all He has done.
In that spirit, we thought we would share with others a few things we’ve learned along the way about how to resolve conflict in marriage. We have found that there are 4 key points to us quickly resolving our conflicts without unnecessary pain and strife.
Key Point #1: Pray First
We are Christians, so the first thing we do is go to the Lord in prayer. This allows us to seek His help while also getting our hearts and minds in the right place. Shannon often finds that when she first comes to the Lord with marital conflict, she is usually asking the Lord to fix Chris.
In her mind, Chris is the problem and he needs fixing. But over the years, the Lord has taught her that His way is often the opposite or reverse of her own natural tendencies. He almost always responds by prompting her, “Get your attitude right and then I will work on Chris.” While this did not always bring immediate results in the past, we have gotten to the point where Shannon quickly responds to this prompting. When she moves quickly, the Lord often does the same.
Shannon’s Default Tendency
Shannon’s default tendency is best explained with a recent example. Last week, Shannon was feeling like Chris had been working too much and was under a lot of pressure. She felt ignored. Due to COVID shutdowns, Shannon was primarily taking care of the house and homeschooling the kids while Chris worked. For a few days, she felt like Chris wasn’t taking much interest in the family or daily household activities.
She didn’t necessarily want him to do more of the cooking and cleaning, but she just wanted him to want to be part of what was going on in her world. Her desire was just for us to do life together.
Then Chris got some bad news. His upcoming TV appearance was canceled. He had been hopeful that this would be a major breakthrough for the publishing company and for his recent book. He struggled with the news for several days, and Shannon felt like he shut her out. She was coming to him trying to help and comfort him, but he didn’t feel very much like talking.
On top of all of that, she felt like he was still interested in sex. So she felt insulted by that. It seemed to her like sex was the only way he wanted to connect with her. She started feeling like his needs were all that mattered to him while hers were taking a back seat.
Finally, in desperation, she tried to take all of it to the Lord. She cried to God and started pouring out her frustration. She felt like God’s response was, “Mmmm hmmm… yeah, okay. Yeah, so what have we talked about in the past? You surrender your attitude to Me first.”
Shannon responded, “Fine! I know I have a bad attitude toward him.”
He’s a good husband.
My husband loves me.
He’s good to me.
My husband loves our children.
He works super hard.
My husband is only attracted to me. He has no interest in other women.
After Shannon said those things, she felt like the Lord said, “Okay, I can answer your prayers now.”
A short time later Chris approached Shannon out of the blue to tell her he was sorry for the way he had been acting. He confessed his struggles while also acknowledging his commitment to her and the kids. He also shared his decision to choose joy in spite of the circumstances. We began talking through the various issues, and everything was peacefully resolved. Joy was restored to our home.
Chris’s Default Tendency
Chris often finds that he is unaware of ongoing marital problems. He tends to think everything is fine, even when there is some issue bothering Shannon. So his first and most natural reaction when she brings up an issue is to think she is just being combative, hard to please, or just trying to stir up trouble where there is none.
He has a tendency to focus on work, ministry, and business-related issues whereas Shannon’s tendency is to focus more on marriage, family, and relationship issues. His default reaction to relationship issues—especially when he is very busy or feeling pressured—is to view them as unnecessary distractions from work.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
Whenever Chris has taken that default reaction, he usually finds that the Lord brings it up to him the next time he is in prayer. Chris may have some work or ministry-related issue and try to take it to the Lord in prayer. At that point, the Lord will normally prompt him, “Oh, you’d like Me to take care of that problem for you? How about if you go and take care of that problem with My daughter first?”
“In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)
Shannon needs gentleness. It may very well be her number one need from Chris. But his natural first reaction with conflict is often to be harsh—and to try to end the discussion without actually having one. In other words, his natural first reaction is often to try to shut her down.
But the next time he prays, the Lord always reminds him of this biblical truth. God is basically saying in that verse, “Look, you might as well not even come to Me to talk until you get things right with your wife.”
Often, Chris finds that work problems will resolve themselves if he just gets things right with his wife. Resolving conflict in marriage has added benefits!
Key Point #2: Be Committed to Peace
We have made a decision in our lives that we love peace and we hate conflict. Hating conflict doesn’t mean we will never have conflict. It doesn’t mean that we try to avoid necessary conflict. Rather, it means that when conflict occurs, we are both committed to resolving it quickly.
When both partners in a marriage are committed to resolving conflict quickly, that’s pretty much what will happen. We don’t always feel like talking things out. We don’t always want to break away from what we’re doing and have that uncomfortable discussion. But because we value peace in our home so highly, we will break away and work through whatever we have to work through.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17 NIV)
So what exactly does it mean to be peace-loving? Well, it just means we value peace over other potential goals and motivations we may have. When you sit down to resolve conflict with your spouse, if peace is the primary mutual goal, the discussion will be a lot different than if one or both partners are primarily motivated to have their own feelings validated.
The irony is that when both parties love, value, and seek peace above all else, normally both parties’ feelings will be validated. Resolving marital conflict in healthy ways leads to more satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment for both marriage partners.