Jack and Jill fight often. He gets angry and lashes out. When he lashes out, she pulls back. She gets depressed. She doubts herself and God. (“Why would you put me in this marriage?”) They are humble enough to ask for help. That’s a fairly big deal, because too many couples who fight wait far too long to draw others in! How would you help them?
Simply Restraining Sin Is Not Enough
In conflict, some couples simply work to restrain their own sin. For example, if Jack is hot under the collar, but he’s not screaming at her, that’s good. Working at not letting the volcano explode is an important first step. However, when these couples do try to talk out their disagreements, they usually find themselves at an impasse. He thinks he’s right; she thinks she is right. Neither of them are humble enough to put down their sword. And they make thousands of excuses or self-justifications to continue the battle. A 2-minute discussion over a small thing turns into a 2-hour nuclear war. And at the end, they both think, “What just happened to us?” More work needs to be done! Here are some recommendations.
They Need to Learn What Godliness Looks Like during Conflicts
The first question to consider is, do they even know how to handle conflict? To help them with this, teach them how to handle the nasty moments. Get in the middle of their sword fights by getting them to tell you a blow-by-blow account. Step into the middle of the ring with them. Don’t let them speak in generalities (“He always does this.” “He hates me.”). Find out what happens when they fight: Who says what? Who wants what? And then teach them what godliness might look like. A vital part of handling conflict is helping them see other possibilities, which should be a stark contrast to how they typically handle a fight.
He Needs to Learn What Godly Men Do during Conflicts
Another question to consider is, does he know how to be a man? It’s not being macho or domineering or pouty or controlling. Instead, is he willing to be a servant-hearted leader (Ephesians 5:21-33; Philippians 2)? Is he willing to take initiative, like Christ did in giving up his life for his bride, the church? When the heat is on, and they are both convinced they are right, is he willing to lay down his sword, take a step towards his wife, and work at understanding her rather than defending his own opinion?
She Needs to Learn about Courage during Conflicts
A third question is, how willing is she to give up her agenda? What if the husband stays stuck in his self-righteous position? She gets a choice to step towards him, and de-escalate the anger rather then provoke it further. She might be tempted to run away so she can stay out of the firing line. It takes courage to step into a lion’s den and learn to tame the raging beast. But does God says to us: “Take courage” (Psalm 27:14). “Do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). When she steps forward, she’s not alone. God’s on her side. Though her husband should set the pattern in marriage in keeping short accounts (Ephesians 5:26) and reconciling quickly, if he doesn’t, she should do her best to do her part. She can take initiative to save their relationship from going further down a self-destructive path.
They Both Need to Look to God during Conflicts
One last question to consider is, have they lost sight of God? Conflict is a war with the person who stands right in front of you. Being so focused on the person you can see, it is all-to-easy to forget about God. But for Christians, that’s a tragedy. Christians always live in two planes at the same time, the horizontal and the vertical. It’s far too easy to get caught up in a nasty fight and forget about what God wants for your life. Peace? Kindness? Hope? Out the window. In the middle of a fight, the flesh wins out.
In conflict, couples like Jack and Jill should just just resist sin. They must ask God for strength to step towards one another in faith. In the hard, tense moments, they must not let self-righteousness be their guide. They must fight the lawyer-like tendencies that often overrun the conversation. Handling conflict well require a trust that God will do more than they anticipate, even if things look bleak.
Join the Conversation
What questions have you used in counseling couples in conflict? What have you learned from using these questions?