This is a portion of an abbreviated series in which we are discovering God’s design for conflict resolution in marriage. In this fourth and final installment, we look at what to do when all attempts to reach a resolution have been exhausted and hope seems absent. “Not so”, says our guidebook — the Bible. If fact, God’s Word lists three significant options for getting help when resolution seems impossible.

Two types of problems or conflicts

OK, so you’ve tried all the stuff we’ve learned about in the first three articles of Fighting For Your Marriage (starting here), but you and your spouse still can’t agree on a resolution that will end the conflict. You’ve tried dancing with your partner, mimicking the speaker-listener technique and even got pretty close to accepting each other’s position. But, if fact, the same argument seems to repeat itself over and over again. Admit it — you’re Stuck!!

John Gottman — a renowned researcher of marriage and parenting studies — indicates that marital problems are classified as two types — perpetual and solvable.

Perpetual types are simply defined as on-going issues that could involve (among other things) character or personality traits as well as philosophical differences. Statements of frustration may include: “We’ve gone over this time after time” or ” That’s just the way it’s going to be, neither of us will budge!” They are continual non-solvable disagreements that represent 69% of all conflicts in our married life!

Solvable types, while recognized as difficult, are really minor annoyances that can be overcome with a little work. Statements may sound like, ” Gosh, Sweetie, we sure solved that argument easily” or ” Thanks for meeting me half way on that one. All is well!” Solvable types represent the remaining 31% of the conflicts residing in our marriages.

By the way, remember our conflict regarding Erika’s structured belief that we should always work first then “play” vs. my correct opinion that we should play first then work (if we have time)? Is that a perpetual or solvable conflict?

Tough call. Consider, however, that conflicts appearing to be perpetual to some of us may be solvable to others.

Coping with “stuckness”

If you recognize some of the following serious signs of being stuck ? get outside help!

The same conflict arises repeatedly without resolve.

Either partner remains firm and is unwilling to move towards resolution.

If there is continual criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling.

Gottman, in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, calls these behaviors ” The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and says they are very destructive and predictive of failure in marriage. Their progression is called a “downward spiral” pattern — leading from unacceptable behavior to the worst scenario. He says they ” ? create a cycle of negativity that becomes increasingly destructive. The key is to recognize them for what they are and refuse to succumb to their temptation”.

If you are stuck and need outside help, consider these biblical guidelines:

Join a small group — Galations 6:2 says that we should share our burdens with one another. They know you well enough to admit their similar situations. This level of accountability can offer encouragement, sound advice and suggestions that may lead to a resolution.

Select a willing married couple to serve as your mentors and be a part of your marriage “board of directors”. Proverbs 27:17 illustrates how a higher level of accountability can hone us like iron sharpens iron — well tuned and straight. Our mentors, Larry & Joy, have been with us right from the start of our marriage. We turn to them — even though they live out of town — when we’re stuck and need a reality check each time we fail at our attempts to find resolution. The calls can get expensive but well worth it!

And finally, consider seeking professional Christian counseling. Proverbs 19:20, among others, encourages us to listen to instruction in order that we will become wise. They have the expertise and experience of interviewing hundreds of other “stuck” couples as well as the discernment to apply relevant scripture to our situations. There should not be any shame in seeking this level of help. There are so many benefits to be gained from these teachings. It’s not uncommon to revisit our counselor from time to time for the purpose of fine-tuning our skills.

Simply, don’t give up

If you are at an impasse in your attempts to resolve the conflict, remember that in John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have troubles… but take heart, I have come to overcome the world”. What an encouraging quote from our Savior who totally understands our differences. Those who have committed to a Christ-centered marriage can return to the core trust of that promise which can serve as the foundation of conflict resolution — that our troubles (or arguments) can be overcome. Ultimately, come back to His word — the Bible — for guidance and clear instruction regarding conflict resolution.

Agree to disagree, understand and accept your partner’s differences — even if you don’t hold their position regarding the conflict issue.

Try to establish an initial compromise by relieving the immediate pain. Set aside any blocks which may hinder your movement toward resolution. You make the initial move towards reaching a compromise. That action alone will demonstrate your willingness to follow Christ’s leading.

Lastly, continue to work toward complete resolution. Keep moving forward and growing in your intimacy through the unique differences God designed specifically for you.

Diane Sollee, Director, Smart Marriages, says, ” This isn’t war, it’s not about building an obstacle course or using camouflage — it’s marriage. The marriage vow is a promise to stay married, not to stay the same”.

Conflict resolution.. it’s more about our differences than it is about the issues. Uniquely designed differences which God intended us to use as we develop intimacy in our marriages. Uniquely designed differences that reflect His image and sovereignty.

I love resolving conflict with Erika. We have so much fun making up using the other unique differences God designed for our intimacy!


Duane is on staff with Marriagetrac and is a regular contributor to our featured article library. He and his wife Erika are voluntary marriage mentors for pre-married couples within their church. They also serve Marriagetrac as seminar leaders and teachers of various Bible-based marriage topics custom written upon request. They have five married daughters and seven grandchildren!

Copyright © 2001 Duane Careb By Duane Careb, used with permission. All rights reserved.

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