When Nancy and I were dating, resolving conflict never really was a big issue. Sure, we had fights at times, but we always made up. In two years of dating, we broke up one time—it lasted less than a week, and we saw each other every day during our “breakup.” A big difference between our marriage and our dating relationship was that we had a lot of space in our dating relationship. We did not live together. Nancy lived on campus and had dorm hours, which meant she had to be in before curfew. We spent a lot of time together, but we also had classes to attend, activities, and friends. So even though we experienced some conflict, we quickly made up. I actually loved the “making up” part.
Once we were married, we realized that we knew absolutely nothing about resolving conflict. During our fights, we could not get away from each other. Our type A personalities came out big-time, and winner-take-all fights became our pattern for three or four years. It did a lot of damage to each of us and to our marriage. I finally realized that winning was not all that I thought it was. The feeling of victory was very short-lived as I began to see what it was doing to us.
A verse hit me right between the eyes and changed the way I fought. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger, do not sin” (NIV). These words made me realize that while I was inevitably going to get angry (not a big revelation to me), sinning was not an option during those moments. That meant the things I said to win the fight were not off the table. It meant that manipulative actions and threats and all those other things I had perfected so well were history. I had to learn to fight with Nancy and not sin.
I wish I could tell you the turnaround in my actions and words was as quick in my life as the conviction of that verse had been. It wasn’t, but I stuck to the new path and—with God’s help—remained determined to learn how to do conflict in my marriage in a way that honored God.
How are you handling conflict in your marriage? I get that your spouse can upset you and make you angry. I’ve been there. I also know from experience that responding in a sinful way does not work. Since the anger response doesn’t work, why not give God’s way a try? If you invite Him into your conflicts to help you fight in a healthy way, I promise you that He will show up. What have you got to lose?