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Purpose: Great marriages resolve crises and avoid conflict. They know how to resolve the marriage problems they face. Special attention and charts are given to explain how to actually avoid conflicts. This is part #6 of the larger series 'Building a Great Marriage!'
Why do couples fight and argue? Why can’t they just enjoy lasting peace? Didn’t they get married to have a greater life together than when single?
Last night my wife and I were speaking about a certain topic. We disagreed. I saw no problem with going ahead and proceeding on filling out an application for something.
She was hesitant. I asked her the typical, “Why?” and she answered her typical, “I don’t know why.”
I could have gone right on and mentioned that because she did not know what the problem was, there was no real problem to doing what I thought was good. I knew I was right so I could go on and apply. But we have learned a lot over the years. There are three basic steps to solving these differences: disagree, discuss and decide.
When we find that we disagree about something, we slow way down. We put off decisions and start praying. I begin questioning her more carefully at different times as to why she thinks a certain way. Sometimes she is clearer than at other times. That is fine. I value her input.
In fact I am so convinced that God will at times speak to me through her, that I become reluctant to go on as long as she feels hesitant. If we both desire God’s will, then God should speak to both of us. I don’t just use my authority as a husband to make decisions. God has appointed her as my helpmate.
She is more in tune with God and God’s ways than I am at times. This becomes an opportunity to learn more about God, His ways and each other. I resist the tendency to rely on my pride and rather get excited about what God might be saying through my wife.
This difference that we had here had all the indications for a good argument. I took one step to doing something that she didn’t feel comfortable about. (I thought I had communicated clearly about the matter). I could have stuck firm with my path, and she could have resisted. Instead we focused on God’s will and have been praying about and discussing the issue together. As of this writing the issue is a bit clearer but not yet resolved. That is okay. Seeking God’s way of resolving these differences is as important as finding the right solution.
Since our last session, I have been carefully observing our relationship as we encounter personal differences. We had four differences: over insurance, schooling and discipline of children (2). Sounds normal, doesn’t it? In each case we had significant disagreement. Maybe one person was agitated at times. And yet we didn’t argue.
In our last session we showed the general approach to resolving major marital quarrels. If we would first try to handle the individual conflicts or ‘battles,’ then our solutions are superficial. Couples need a new approach to marriage. They need to see that they are on the same team and therefore resolve to:
The typical married couple has given far too much room for the evil one to bring harm to their marriage. We don’t need to do this. If we find ourselves fighting with our spouses, we should note a willingness in our hearts to battle and repent from it. Conflict reveals a heart impurity. The spouses must be convinced that when they beat their spouse that both of them have lost. As a married couple we are a team, and we aim to make that team a success!
Each side can stop fighting. But in the old days of poor communication, sometimes battles went on for days before knowing the war was called off! Hasn’t the war been called off in our marriage? Do we still need to have conflicts if peace is made? No.
Do we still have them? Yes, we can and do, but they are no longer necessary. There is a better way of handling differing opinions.
We need a real clear way to resolve these varying opinions or the enemy will use them to make us think that we are at war with each other, which in turn will result in setting up opposing sides. Difference of opinions is not wrong, but if we are not careful, they become battlefields.
Someone might say that their chief problems are not with disagreements but just emotional reactions. For example the husband comes home cranky or the wife barrages the husband with a slew of problems as the husband enters the house. Let us make a few observations.
(1) What is normally called emotional problems are more than often sourced in spiritual problems. Our emotions are closely intertwined with our spiritual natures. If we do not handle an offense properly, then we will be angry. We can easily bring that anger home and get irritated with our spouse.
(2) Every argument requires two sides. Even if one spouse is upset, it does not mean that there needs to be a battle. The other spouse needs to intercede on the behalf of the needy spouse.
(3) Every spiritual problem that we do not properly resolve will infect our marriage. The husband and wife live too closely together not to be affected by personal sin. Sin reveals itself in our marriage.
(4) The gospel sets us free from those sins. We do not need to allow worries, fears, doubts, anger, hate, etc. control us. Christ can forgive us as the Spirit empowers us.
(5) We need to stay ministry-oriented. The Spirit of God wants us to minister through us to others including our spouse. Even though our spouse might be impatient, we need to care for them and minister Christ’s love through great patience.
(6) In a good way, both the husband and wife should check their attitudes and lives before encountering each other. Ask yourself, “Am I in the state where God can minister His love and grace through my life to my spouse.” If not, ask Him to ready you.
(7) Lastly, we should remember, that the disagreement we speak of is not necessarily a verbal disagreement. A difference in approach toward a situation or expectation of another can also bring about the same volatile situation. If a husband leaves a dirty sock hanging around, it just might be enough to set a couple against each other. The husband sees no big deal. The wife is convinced the sock should not be there. In such cases there are problems behind the ‘starter’ problem.
Great marriages are those that have learned how to utilize these differences so that they as a couple can grow. Poor marriages, however, mishandle these differing perspectives and bring further trouble into their relationships.
"Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel" (Proverbs 20:3).
We need to realize that conflicts are more than the simple difference of opinion or approach. Conflicts are the way couples poorly carry out the expression of their varying viewpoints. Spouses can get quite mean and cruel at times. On the other hand, we can see that these crises also serve as opportunities to draw closer to God and closer to our spouse. Many couples insist that crises must lead to conflict. This simply is not true. Even they, no doubt, do not argue about everything they disagree with. We believe God has given each of us a door of opportunity in which we can refuse to step into conflict.
Keeping away from strife is normal and proper. The question is not whether we should or can properly handle these crises in order to avoid conflict. The question is whether we will. The Book of Joshua was partly written to help us better understand how to handle ourselves during these crises.
If we carefully pay attention to God’s instructions to the Israelites, then we will better understand how to turn these potential arguments into times of growth, mutual love and trust. Doesn’t that sound like a much nicer way to spend an evening?
We will observe six ways Joshua worked with God during a crisis to avoid conflict.
In a sense when Israel went into the Promised Land, they could say that the war was already over. This might sound crazy, but it was true. God said He had given the land to them. He furthermore said that no one would be able to stand against them. When God is on your side, then the war is over.
"Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. … No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you" (Joshua 1:3,5).
Do you remember Jericho? All they had to do was walk around it. God told them how to win without losing. These things are true not only for our Christian lives, but also for our marriages. The biggest hurdle for a couple to overcome is simply the determination not to fight. They need to realize the battle is won. They are on the same team. God has proclaimed them one for life.
Because of our human desires, we will still have misunderstandings, differing opinions, selfish times, lazy moments, etc. We still need to learn how to properly handle our spouse and ourselves when these things occur. We will have crises, but the war is over. Once the war is over, then we can approach these differences with a whole different heart.
I have dealt with couples in both situations. When husband and wife are contesting for their rights, there is no way one can settle their conflict. I suppose there are laws and rules one can put in place, but once a person is offended, he or she will continue to misunderstand the other person’s motives. There is no easy cure once mistrust has built up.
When, however, the couple is working together as one, these differences are almost fun to solve. We get to really work on the problem before God. We get to see how God is going to intervene and help clarify the situation as we call upon Him. Our marriage grows as we solve things together.
• What do you argue about as a couple?
• Why do you argue?
• How long have you argued about the same thing?
When couples are fighting, conflicts are impossible to solve. There is too much angst. Too much selfishness. But when that whole sphere of infighting is removed, then we get to see God work.
We should be aware that marriage is the chief context God works out His sanctification purposes in our lives. He is making us to be more and more like Jesus. Crises are signs that God wants to work in some area of our life. This was true for the crises that Joshua and the Israelite armies faced too. Let’s look at a few of these passages.
"Now it came about when Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had captured Ai, and had utterly destroyed it (just as he had done to Jericho and its king, so he had done to Ai and its king), … that he feared greatly, Therefore Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent word to Hoham king of Hebron … saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the sons of Israel” (Joshua 10:1-4).
“Then it came about, when Jabin king of Hazor heard of it, … And they came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. So all of these kings having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel" (Joshua 11:1-5).
Each time the enemy raised his ugly head, the Lord comforted the Israelites, “Do not fear them” (Joshua 10:8) or “Do not be afraid because of them” (Joshua 11:6).
The question was not whether they would win. God spoke to them so that they would be able to trust Him for victory as He led them into battle. God wants us to enter these crises with the same confidence. God is in control. Trust in Him. God furthermore explained to Joshua the secret why they needed to go through theses times of crises.
“For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:20).
God at times would exaggerate the crises by hardening the heart of the enemy. The king in turn would get other kings to join in the fight. God’s purpose was simple. God wanted the enemy eliminated quickly and cleanly as possible. This is the same for our lives too.
Even though as couples we run into what can be big disagreements, they are not really any different than smaller disagreements. The solution is the same.
God works through these times. He knows down deep that there are areas that we have not fully given over to Him. He wants His love to dominate those areas. These are usually bad attitudes and unloving actions that we have learned from our parents. We at times don’t even know of any other way to handle a certain situation other than our parents have showed us. God doesn’t like it.
When a couple sees a disagreement coming up between themselves, it is much like what Joshua saw when looking at his intimidating enemies. There is potential for danger if handled wrongly. However, if we handle it the way God will lead us, then we will have victory and God will work a special work of purification in our hearts.
We should not be afraid of the crisis. We should not be intimidated by it. Our feelings might be aroused and cause us to just rush in and solve it ‘our’ way, but we must reject these feelings. We are in no hurry. The issue isn’t whether we can overcome it, but how is the Lord going to help resolve it. The key is to join together in seeking God’s solution. God used every kind of way to settle the crises that Joshua faced: hail, long days, confusion and even hornets. Life was supernatural. The same will be for our marriage.
When we begin to see how God works with us to solve our crises, then it is easier and easier to think of the husband and wife teamed up with God. Moreover, we see God ‘growing’ us. We begin to get excited on how God is working in us. We are on the same winning team.
God’s ultimate purpose is peace and rest. God was willing, however, to bring on confrontation to reach that goal of harmony. The same is true with our marriage. God does not tempt us, but He does test us. The test is our opportunity to live by trust in Him that He wants to do something special in our circumstances.
Crises arise to help us know that we have not yet obtained the harmony God has promised us. We have not yet gained all that God wants us to have. We have a promise of it. We like it. But we have a bit more work to do in order to obtain it.
• What was your last crisis?
• Do you find that difference of opinions always leads to arguments?
• Do you have times when differing ideas does not lead to conflict? Why so?
Some couples find that they always argue. Crises almost always lead to conflict. In such cases, each spouse needs to step back and complete a personal conflict inventory.
Conflicts sometimes have very long histories. When a couple has regularly given into conflict, then it is obvious that they have accepted a sinful way of handling differences. God has a better way. But the issue is a bit trickier than this.
More than likely, these inclinations to conflict have been passed on for generations. For example, if you can trace an adulterous heart in your parents and grandparents, then more than likely you have the same struggle of complete devotion to your spouse. If your parents argued, then you have learned that it is normal to argue. But let us turn this around. Instead of looking at our parents’ faults, we can look at your own marriage.
What problems do you have a difficult time handling? Try to isolate a few areas. They might include handling money, facing disappointment, or using anger to intimidate your spouse to do what you want.
Now take a close look at your parents and see if they didn’t also have the same kind of problems. Remember, do not only examine their personal sins but carefully observe how they related to their spouses and children. What do you find?
God wanted the Israelites to eliminate these long-standing enemies. He wanted a people that would live holy and conduct themselves in love according to His laws. Those nations, however, were secure in the land. They had their strongholds. The Israelites were coming in to take over the land these Amorites controlled. They lived in strong fortresses. Some like Jerusalem were located on a hard-to-reach mountain. They were hard to root out.
Joshua however, was willing to look at these strong enemies from God’s perspective. He knew it wasn’t his personal project that would conquer Canaan. God had His own purposes. That is why they were going to win. God laid out His plan of attack four hundred years earlier!
"Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16).
The point is not what Joshua determined in the best of his heart that he was going to do. Fighting marital struggles this way only leads to defeat in the end even if we have initial success. Will-power is not going to give us great marriages.
Instead we need to see that God had already decided to eliminate the enemy. Joshua knew he could lead the Israelites to conquer because God predetermined it. We as couples also know that God is in the business of giving us great marriages. We need to eliminate those bad responses to get there. So He sets up opportunities for us to grow and win.
God did not bring all the enemies to Joshua at once. He started with Jericho to encourage and train them. It is only later that God could work more quickly by bringing more enemies at once to conquer.
God never brings too much too handle if we trust in Him. We spouses also have a whole slew of potential self-expressions that will bring harm to our marriage. Let us think a little bit more on how these ‘enemies’ threaten our harmony.
Some of these ‘enemies’ are jealousy, worry, fear, pride and covetousness. They literally can destroy a marriage. Every time they that they have an opportunity, they will coax us into certain decisions to wrongly handle the crisis. They intimidate us into poor decisions.
These armies sometimes got together to be able to better intimidate and therefore beat Israel. We might feel these forces are strong, but God’s purposes are greater and more glorious. This is why it is crucial we meet God each day early in the morning so that we can be in tune to Him and His purposes.
The tensions and struggles that appear from a difference of opinion don’t need to turn into conflict. When the spouses are willing to do follow their natural inclinations, however, they will end up in a big argument. This is conflict.
Our marriage will only be as strong as we work with our spouses in each of these areas. Marriages will grow as the spouses spiritually grow. Marriage is the place where God brings us to where He wants us.
Otherwise, because of toleration of lower standards, which are not standards at all, we will bring pain and conflict into our marriages. The exciting part is that God is working with us. He is there to eliminate the enemy. Our peace is secured as we conquer. Praise God on the way He works to help us as individuals and as couples overcome these crises. Where once we were crippled, now we are strong!
Conflicts need to cease. Fortunately, God has given us a pattern by which the enemies that we meet during crises can be overcome. We find these secrets to victory in the battles recorded in Joshua. The pattern goes something like this:
They asked the Lord and the Lord faithfully led them into victory, time after time. Someone might ask what happened at Ai where Israel was succumbed by the enemy? Good question. Joshua failed to ask God for direction there.
Of course it was sad that someone had had also violated God’s special prohibition. But even if Joshua had talked to the Lord about the matter rather than presuming victory, God would have prevented that disaster. Victory (such at Jericho) can lead to pride.
God’s advice and direction always leads to victory. Now let’s ask a question. Do you want to have a great marriage or not? The only way is to seek God.
“And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors” (Joshua 6:2).
Jericho was a heavily guarded city with huge intimidating double walls. Our greatest problem is that when we first sense a difference of opinion that we do not immediately turn to the Lord. What does it mean to follow the Lord? The following diagrams will clarify what seeking God means and why it works.
There are several stages to this. The key is to remember that we all start off at the same place at the altar where we happily pledge ourselves to each other in marriage. Things are fine. Everything is peaceful. Only when we sense a difference of opinion or varied approach to some matter that we begin to sense the crisis. Both temptation and testing enter here. James 1 lets us know the difference between them.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust; Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin (James 1:13-15).
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:2-3,12 ).
He purposes to divide and split. He does it by emphasizing the difference and giving us plenty of opportunity to be ‘carried away’ by our own lusts. His hope is that we would hurt each other resulting in long-term scars.
He tries to get us to say bad things about our spouse and then make us conclude that it is best to carry it out (even if we really did not mean). What are some of the bad things you have said, “I will never talk to her again.” “I hate you.”
Conflict is never good because it always runs down a bad road. Some counselors call conflict normal. It is not. God never considers unkind words and acts normal. He told us to “speak the truth in love.”
Crises are occasions to emphasize our oneness. We have decided to follow the Lord. When we face some difference, we seek the Lord out in prayer and arrange times to further discuss the issue with our spouse. When we feel any upset spirit arise, we put it down by deciding not to follow it.
Again we consciously choose to work together to see what God wants for our family. When we see what God wants, then each spouse makes the necessary adjustments to his or her life to accommodate God’s Word. Temptation (from the evil one) and testing (from God) becomes an option at every sign of disagreement.
What happens when the couple responds to the temptation? In the adjacent diagram, we see that the choice to follow temptation brings about terrible consequences. It always brings harm to the relationship and sometimes painful wounds.
Even further, if clear change does not come, a degenerative cycle takes place cementing this cycle of negative responses into the marriage. Instead of overcoming the enemy, they have given into the wishes of the enemy and need to adjust to their daily affliction.
Many marriages are plagued by this degenerating cycle. By degenerating it means that it gets worse and worse each time the couple goes through the cycle. We are not saying that it cannot get better, but it requires a genuine humbling of the soul to apologize and get things straight. Those who go through this cycle often are not there.
These couples continue where they leave off. When proper apologies are not made, then a residing layer of bitterness lies between the couple. There is no perfect harmony even when they are not arguing. The next argument falls right back into the degenerating cycle. They no longer start at the top but with bitterness underneath the surface of their relationship. We highly recommend another method to respond to crises that bypasses this dissension.
The Regenerative Cycle brings life rather than death into the relationship each time the cycle progresses. This cycle starts at the harmony circle at top and ends there with a stronger marriage than ever. This is possible because the differing perspectives never lead into ‘attack’ mode.
The difference of opinion is accepted as what it is. Just because people differ in opinion, it does not mean that they have to ‘have it their way.’ They are both willing to learn God’s viewpoint and adjust their opinion. The key point above is how they seek God’s way and adjust their decisions to what He says.
We understand that a husband and wife will not always agree even after discussion. In a later session we will provide detailed explanation as to how a wife and husband need to respond if there are disagreements even after looking at God’s Word. Mature couples are willing to solve irresolvable differences God’s way. We have found that most difference of opinions is more from not seeking the Lord. There are, however, enough to test our faith!
We should be able to see that if a couple is going to resolve matters God’s ways that the couple needs to be close to God (so they can be patient), talk to each other (impasse makes it very difficult) and desirous of God’s purposes. In the end, if a couple invests time together, it will pay off. You will ‘fight’ less and win more. There are two cycles: the degenerating cycle and the regenerating one. The difference between them is like night and day.
Joshua had a choice of just hanging around Jericho after the first battle or go on leading Israel in battle and distributing the land to each tribe. The whole land was their inheritance. They needed to capture and maintain it. The last half of the Book of Joshua in fact emphasizes how Joshua was carefully distributing the lots of land to each tribe. They needed to be motivated to finish the task God had clearly given them.
And there remained among the sons of Israel seven tribes who had not divided their inheritance. So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you? (Joshua 18:2-3)
We can easily just get into marriages and move into ‘toleration’ mode. We accept an ‘okay’ marriage. We lack the motivation to have a great marriage. What do you think the Lord will do to prod the couple stained with a spirit of toleration? Sure. God will see to it that they face more crises until they finally realize that they better shape up their marriage.
God wants us to have harmonious and delightful marriages. This is a given. What was God’s motive when He made Eve for Adam? Wasn’t He thinking of something better than what Adam had before? Sure! When a man has a wife, he is blessed. When he has an excellent wife, he is greatly blessed.
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord" (Proverbs 18:22).
However, if that wife or husband is unfaithful, then the marriage gets sour fairly quick. Many proverbs highlight the error of a man who is lazy or irresponsible. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
Another whole group of proverbs point out the sadness of those marriages that have a cantankerous and complaining wife. These spouses have failed God and their spouses. They are self-seeking. “The contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (Proverbs 19:13b).
We need a spirit of Caleb. He remembered God’s promise and believed God for strength to get it.
Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out as the LORD has spoken (Joshua 14:12).
When we understand that that Lord really wants to give us a blessed marriage then we will rise in faith and believe Him to give us what otherwise would be impossible. We might have a lot going against us like Caleb, but his faith in God made up all the difference. “With God all things are possible!”
We are so sad that many couples do not take God’s Word seriously. They insist on having power struggles. We do not envy them! God has given us the possibility of eliminating these struggles. One by one as we resolve these crises, our marriages get sweeter and sweeter. The enemy is eliminated. God’s intention is only good. Unfortunately, we are not as thorough as God would have us be.
But they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites live in the midst of Ephraim to this day, and they became forced laborers (Joshua 16:10). (Also see 17:12).
Anything not eliminated becomes soreness in our marriages. Israel suffered constant harassment as much as they ‘tolerated’ the presence of the enemy in their land. If they eliminated rather than just subdued an enemy, then it would be gone. They could not just come back.
We need to remember that these compromises will not only take joy from what could be a great marriage but pass the struggles down to our children. By the parents’ actions and attitudes, their sad handling of conflict passes right down to their children. Paul in Galatians 6:7 says, “God is not mocked.”
He isn’t in the least fooled. We don’t have any excuses for our disobedience. Even if we started off on the wrong foot, if we take God seriously, we can become an agent for His divine change starting with our own personal lives and marriages. Disharmony and troubles will last as long as we do not conquer the enemy.
Of course, if we choose to follow the Lord, then we are better able to handle these crises. We develop intimate marriages, which in turn pass on all sorts of good things to our children (live by faith).
We have seen how the way a couple handle crises is much like Joshua and the Israelites handled them in Canaan. We can respond God’s way and win or respond in fear or compromise and lose. There is a wrong and right way. There is a degenerating cycle as well as a regenerating cycle. Our choices make great differences upon our marriages and even upon our children. No marriage is so bad that it can’t start anew.
Conflict can be avoided. God has given us harmony through our oneness. In the end, each couple needs to retrain themselves so that they will discuss and pray instead of argue. Let me close with another illustration of how a ‘blowup’ between my wife and I was avoided.
My wife and I found out that we disagreed about what to do for homeschooling next year. I was surprised she differed from me (shouldn’t she always agree?)! I value her opinion, though. I had already talked through certain aspects of homeschool next year with her. She obviously didn’t catch my intentions.
We discussed different plusses and minuses of doing things this or that way. I gave her time to voice how these decisions would affect her schedule and routine. In the end she had a difference of opinion but couldn’t clearly identify what those reasons were. Women usually need extra time to identify their reasons. So again, a possible argument was diffused. Instead we are praying and working through the discussion over days. During our discussions, I did spot one concern.
She didn’t have confidence in my leadership. I had not voiced how I was thinking over the issues of changing curriculum and the impact on her schedule. I calmly tried to explain how I was thinking about that matter. As I did this, she could calm down a bit. A typical problem of husbands is to fail to discuss with their wives what they have clearly thought through. The wife might assume her husband has neglected to care for that area when in fact he had already given much thought for it.
Most issues are resolvable when the husband and wife regularly pray and talk together. If the couple finds themselves too busy to talk and enjoy each other’s company, then they will tend to argue and fuss more. A great marriage takes time, but every second is worth the while. Wouldn’t you rather discuss than argue?
Study questions, footnote and revised edition can be found in our BFF bookstore.
In order to grow in our marriage, we need to better understand temptation. Here is a short video on Temptation.
This Building a Great Marriage is a long series. We have printed or download ebook editions which make it easier to read and are available with BFF's other great books in our store.