“I can’t believe we aren’t going to the coffee shop now. Why aren’t we?”
“You’re not supporting me. You’re always undermining my authority with the kids. I’m tired of it.”
“I’m not undermining you. And I don’t like that you made the decision to not go, without me.”
“Look, I’m not going to the coffee shop. Let’s just clean this place, get out of here, and go home.”
* * *
The beach is supposed to be a relaxing place. A place of light. A place of lightness. A place of lightheartedness. We’d spent the week together, all five of us, in a friend’s cottage, just a block from downtown of a small Northern California beach town. We headed out the minute the kids got out of school for summer. There, we hiked forest trails near ocean cliffs; kayaked near sea lions and sea otters; watched two movies in a classic, old movie theater; ate our favorite food, Chinese, Thai, and ice cream; and celebrated Father’s Day and Jennifer’s birthday, together.
We got some rest and read lots of books and even had time to create—writing and listening and romping around the streets on our own family scavenger hunts. We even played our family’s own version of Impractical Jokers (a TV show we can’t let our kids watch, although they love our descriptions of the show’s crazy pranks).
But then, on the last day, when it was time to clean the cottage . . . things didn’t go so well. While it’s now difficult to remember the trigger, the argument that ensued was not how we wanted our (nearly) perfect vacation to end: There was yelling. And harsh words. And hurt feelings.
No matter what started the argument, the fact there was one didn’t mean the vacation was ruined. But it sure felt like it. We often think of conflict like that, though, don’t we? All bad, a taint on things otherwise good, something to be avoided at all costs. We know we can’t avoid conflict completely, but we sure try to. But . . . could it be that it is through conflict (in marriage) that we reach deeper healing? Could it be that conflict surfaces many of the lies we believe about ourselves and about each other? Maybe?
We push against each other with our words. We push back opposing viewpoints. Anger and frustration surge, fueling our words when spouses annoy us, offend us, hurt us, and, in the most extreme cases, break our hearts. We often react, though, only to what’s happening on the surface, to what we see right in front of us, rather than looking deeper, rather than looking underneath what’s happening. We often forget what Paul taught the Ephesians:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).
We often forget that our struggle is not against the flesh and blood person in front of us. We often forget, in the moment, that our struggle is not against our husbands, that it is not against our wives. We often forget that our struggle is actually against an enemy who attacks our flesh and blood spouses in their weakest, most vulnerable places. We often forget that it is our job to know those places, to protect those places, and to help those places heal. We often forget that that is our true struggle. And we often forget that it is an epic one.
This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels (Ephesians 6:12, MSG).
But because of Jesus, we have what it takes to fight for, rather than against, our spouse. We have what it takes to fight against the darkness that wages war against the holy entangled.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them (Ephesians 6:13-18, MSG).
* * *
“Kids, get moving. We’ve got a lot to do . . . and I don’t want to hear any complaining.”
“I think we should talk about this. This change of plans . . . it isn’t fair.”
“Things have changed, though. There are consequences to actions.”
* * *
These arguments that happen in our marriages? These conflicts, these disagreements, these battles? As hard as they are, they can be constructive—if we choose. When there are conflicts, it’s because there are deeper issues that need to be addressed, ones we need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to see. Conflicts, therefore, can be the beginning of transformation—if we choose. They are opportunities to trust the genius of Jesus. They are opportunities to trust ourselves. And they are opportunities to trust the whispers of the enemy. We choose which. We choose whether to connect or to run. We choose to look deeper, to search for what’s underneath and stirring up the conflict, or to just squabble about what’s on the surface.
* * *
“You hurt my feelings. I didn’t feel supported.”
“I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.”
“I hate fighting with you.”
“I forget that we’re on the same team.”
* * *
In the beach house, in the middle of the mess (both literal and figurative), with the hurt feelings, with the harsh words, we finally paused. We stopped the dusting and the vacuuming. We stopped the packing and the scrubbing. We sat down. We sat the kids down. (Unfortunately, by being present, they were in the middle of all this too.) We looked at each other and admitted we’d messed up. We owned our mistakes.
Asking Jesus for soft hearts, our talking led to a sharing about conflict, in general, and the recognition that our disagreements are often compounded by how we forget this most important thing: the two of us aren’t each other’s enemy. We are partners in a great spiritual battle for our hearts. We’re on the same team. It’s the last thing our enemy wants us to realize.
In that little peach-stucco beach house, in the cutest little town we’ve ever seen, a man and woman, married, holy entangled, sat down and talked through what triggered the argument. We paused and apologized and confessed to each other the different ways we were hurt. We confessed the lies we were believing. We confessed the lies whose power we wanted to break. We acknowledged that we are imperfect. We recognized that we’ll mess up. But, we declared that God is on our side—and that He is bigger than the insidious false messages Satan whispers in our ears.
As a married couple, you’re going to hurt each other. You’re going to say things you wish you’d never said. You’re going to do things you wish you’d never done. It’s just the way it is. You’re broken, and you’re healed by the Father’s grace, and you’re desperate for the genius of Jesus to penetrate the broken places within you, so that God’s refining fire can change you, for good.
Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome! Didn’t he set us on the road to life? Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch? He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, Brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; finally he brought us to this well-watered place (Psalm 66:8-12, MSG).
Yes, conflict can be good. For God can turn anything upside down and use a moment, an argument, a conflict to make us more like Him. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Together, in marriage, we want to watch and follow Jesus. For He knew conflict was a chance to trust His Father. It’s a chance for us to trust too. It’s a chance to fight for each other, to fight for each other’s healing. And love.
How do you feel about conflict in marriage? We’d love to learn from you.
Also, how can we pray together, for you and your marriage?