This is the first of a four-part abbreviated series in which we will discover God’s design for conflict resolution in marriage. In this first part we look at “Why” we argue. In Part 2 we’ll discover the biblical “ground rules” for arguing. Part 3 we’ll uncover biblical methods and tips to be used to resolve conflicts. Lastly, in Part 4 we’ll list the next steps when coping with “stuckness” in conflicts. Challenges Most Couples Face During the First Three to Five Years of Marriage.
The title for this series are based on the book “Fighting For Your Marriage” (by Markman, Stanley & Blumberg, 1994) and used with permission of the authors.
Why We Argue
The Apostle Paul, who remained single his entire life, wrote in 1Cor 7:28, “..those who marry will face many troubles in life..”. I think Paul was also talking about conflicts! This is not an indictment against marriage, but rather a statement of reality that all of us need to hear. Paul knew that two people — whom God uniquely designed with different personalities, preferences, needs, opinions and backgrounds — would have conflicts (i.e. arguments/disagreements) at one time or another in their marriage. It’s a fact of life that no married couple can evade.
God did, indeed, design each of us to be uniquely different for the purpose of entering into intimate relationships with each other and to portray His image to the world Gen 1:26. Additionally, more differences stem from our expectations, family origins, experiences and ways in which we express our feelings.
God certainly designed Erika, my wife, to be uniquely different from me. She was raised in a refugee camp in Germany until the age of 11. Early in our marriage she used to cry, become frustrated and eventually shut down when she couldn’t express her feelings easily. Erika is a structured and organized person whose primary “love language” is defined as acts-of-service. She believes in delayed gratification? work first.. then play!
I, on the other hand, was born and raised in Gary, Indiana amidst the constant influence of gangs and drugs. I have always been an “in-your-face” kind of guy completely in touch with my feelings. I am spontaneous, unstructured, highly relational and a bit of a procrastinator. My love language? Physical touch. We’re certainly different. When I want to play ? Erika wants to work!
Do you think our differences caused conflicts in our marriage? You can bet on it! It really didn’t matter what the issues were in our conflicts, we just couldn’t agree. It wasn’t just the issues that caused our conflicts? it was our differences!
All of us have certain expectations of others as well as ourselves: like being understood and tolerated. Similarly, we all bring past “baggage” or experiences — good or bad — into our marriages. Things like family traditions, habits, pains, role models and experiences are just a few examples. How about feelings and emotions? Do you know how you or your spouse reacts when feeling angry, disappointed, insignificant, hurt or even hopeful and joyous? All of these differences cause us to react or behave differently during conflicts.
Do you know of people who escalate their conflicts because of the need to be in control? They try to “up the ante” or use a lot of negative responses while bantering back and forth. Others tend to invalidate their spouse’s feelings or opinions by designing painful putdowns that lowers their partner’s self-esteem. These invalidators often employ sarcasm in attempts to minimize everyone’s feelings but their own.
All too commonly, however, people in conflict simply withdraw emotionally or even physically in order to avoid confrontation or accountability. The conflict becomes too intense, overwhelming or threatening and one or both may retreat because “it’s just too much work” or “not worth it”.
You see it’s our differences and behavior patterns that really cause us to enter into and even escalate our conflicts. Of course, the issues themselves (sex, kids, work, finances, relationships, recreation, words, health etc.) merely emphasize those differences because of our opinions and/or feelings.
The key to conflict resolution is to first identify our differences by communicating openly with our spouse about our feelings, opinions, needs and behavior patterns. Obviously, the best time to accomplish this is during calm and less conflicted periods. Only then, by understanding and then accepting each other’s unique differences, can we begin to work towards resolution during times of conflict or trouble. And remember that as Paul said, you “?. will face many troubles?”. After we accept each other’s differences we are challenged to keep abiding in Christ John 15 and engage the fruits of the Spirit in our marriages Gal 5:22
Jesus said in John 16:33 that “.. in this world you will have trouble ? but take heart, I have overcome the world!” Well, take heart! With a Christ-centered marriage, you, your spouse and He will overcome conflict. Jesus promises that He will overcome conflicts with you.
So why do we argue? Because we have used our uniquely designed differences to satisfy our own needs rather than using them to build an intimate fulfilling relationship with our spouse, as God intended.
In Part 2, How Should We Argue?, we’ll be looking at biblical guidelines and instructions to be used when Fighting For Your Marriage.
For additional guidance refer to “A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage” (by Stanley, Trathen, McCain & Bryan 1988). Read more from Dr. Scott Stanley at Fighting for Your Marriage.
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. All rights reserved. Used with Permission