Many people attend church to avoid conflict, to escape life’s difficulties. Many believe that being a follower of Jesus means forsaking conflict. And now here we go, making the claim that intimacy demands it.

The underlying fact, from a Christian perspective, is that marriage is a sacred institution created by God, whose primary concern is not our comfort but our Christlikeness. His will is to increase our growth and maturity, not just make us happy or put us at ease. Life in Christ creates joy that’s deeper, stronger, and more redemptive. This joy, like the peace it’s intended to accompany, is usually born from and reared through varying levels of discomfort.

Some personal mental conflict is required if God is going to smoke out and show us the lies we carry in our minds. One of the best means for this “uncovering” is intimate marriage. We cannot walk in truth while believing falsehoods.

Our minds are saturated with untrue thoughts about:

  • Ourselves. We tend to think too much or too little of ourselves.
  • Others. That others are likewise made in God’s image necessitates a level of respect, even for those who have wounded us or those we dislike. We must push past our prejudices — especially toward passive spouses who do not naturally garner respect.
  • Earth. The truth is, earth is not heaven, and it’s not a gentle or utopian world. Evil has not yet been banished, and it wants to destroy us. For now, we do live in enemy-occupied territory, sharing the domain of devils and deceit.
  • God. God is either a bemused, skyward grandpa who cares only that we have a good time nor a rigid, sinister taskmaster who wants to see us suffer. God is the jealous lover of our souls who pursues us with powerful love and amazing grace. He wants us to understand this world’s nature for our own good, the way a good parent prepares children for real life. He wants to give us the skills necessary to do more than just survive — He wants us to thrive.

Our misconceptions must be confronted and righted for us to stay sane, live lovingly, and be close with God. Likewise, misconceptions in marriage don’t go away on their own. The learning process requires conflict that includes both truth and grace, the way God deals with us. As intimacy guru Paul Coleman says, “Honesty without kindness is like surgery without anesthesia.” Those who experience the goodwill and warm regard of redeeming conflict discover that it’s a pathway to another world, a bright ray of hope.

This is conflict that’s redemptive in purpose and in nature. It asks without accusing, observes without attacking, corrects without condemning. Many have never seen this conflict-style in action, and it takes time to learn; don’t fall into the trap of thinking you always (and immediately) must do it perfectly. Honest attempts at intimacy create mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings. Intimacy cannot be birthed or grow without grace.

Intimacy is built upon both positive and negative emotions. Choose to be open to honest statements from him, even if they hurt at first. Limiting your life together to just positive expressions of emotions isn’t really living and it isn’t really intimate either. Remember: you want to know him for who he really and fully is, and vice versa.

A marriage is only as good as a couple’s ability to fight. A husband and wife who fail to fight are not alive or honest…. To claim there was never a failure to love — of omission and commission — is tantamount to saying they’ve never sinned. Such a lie is blasphemous.(Allender and Longman, The Intimate Mystery, 57-58.)

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Guy To Guy

Some guys think walking away from a conversation without saying why will make their wives respect them more. This is untrue. If you do this, instead of receiving respect you will receive her fury and feed her beliefs that you are timid, irresponsible, and uncaring. Additionally, this will only make your next interaction with her that much more difficult.

Don’t walk away. Consider focusing on the following thoughts that have helped Paul as well:

  • I’m not going to hide.
  • I will remain present.
  • I may learn something important — I’ll listen carefully.
  • I’ll choose to relax and to stay focused on the issue at hand.
  • I’ll strive to get to the real issue.
  • I’m uncomfortable, and that’s okay.
  • It’s not wrong to ask her to say something again.
  • Something good can come out of this on the other end.

By being present and being real, you’ll be able to sift through what you think is true and not true. You won’t feel so compelled to collapse and admit to things you didn’t do in attempting to maintain a false peace. You can restore and uphold your integrity. You can stop feeling gross inside and resentful toward your wife.

Share with her how it will help you when she speaks without making you feel attacked. Explain how this better approach assists you in not shutting down and in hearing what she’s really trying to say. Both of you must stick to the issue rather than making it personal, using God to beat each other into shape, or trying to “win.”

About 70 percent of all divorces occur because the couple drifted apart — they lacked the glue of intimacy. Most do not divorce out of such problems as abuse or addiction. Couples lose goodwill, become increasingly detached, and draw up assumptions (frequently false) about the other’s motives.

Intimacy demands intention, attention, and action.

Excerpted from Married But Not Engaged by Paul & Sandy Coughlin
Copyright © 2006, Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.