This week we’ve been looking at how to effectively deal with conflict in marriage.
I’ve said that too often in Christian circles women feel as if submission means that they may state their opinion, but then they back off and let him make the decision. They don’t question; they back down. They “duck”, so to speak, and let God deal with him.
I argued that I don’t think that’s a helpful way to look at conflict in marriage. Our aim should be to seek peace, not the absence of conflict, and I explained yesterday what the difference was.
I fear that too often when conflict arises in marriage, we think of it as a submission issue when it’s really just a communication issue. And that’s because we tend to see conflict as bad: we disagree, and so one must submit, or else the conflict will keep going. But what if handling conflict effectively means that you each find a win-win? What if not all conflict is win-lose? And what if conflict can actually be one of the routes to oneness–which is actually what we want in the first place?
Today I want to look at a specific issue and show the different models I’m talking about.
A woman recently wrote in saying:
We recently had a conflict after reviewing a source from Dr Jim Burns, it was a marriage minute. I thought it’d be fun to connect. It had suggestions to re-connect. It had ‘surprise your wife.”
I asked my husband if he ever thought of surprising me, and he became so defensive. He became mad and said if he sat at home all day and wasn’t so busy and overwhelmed he could do stuff like that. We are empty nesters and I watch our grandson.
He claims we have no money. I said we didn’t have to spend money, could use hotel points or a family cabin. He told me I was nagging him and he felt like he was being grilled.
We have started date nights and that is going well. We do some wkds with me planning it all, thought it would be nice is he took the reins maybe one time. What should I do?
To reiterate, she had an idea that she felt could make their marriage fun: he plans to surprise her this year! She expressed her desire to her husband, and he became very defensive, saying that she didn’t appreciate all he did.
1. Now let’s say that she reacted with the first model, where she submits (using the meaning that I used in this post, not what I believe is the biblical meaning of that word).
She says to herself, “he is the leader, and I am to submit to him. If he doesn’t want to do this, I need to be okay with that. I need to forgive him, and let it go.”
So she genuinely does. She says to him, “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to put such pressure on you. I know you work hard for our family. I know you value our relationship. I respect you, I love you, and I love our marriage just the way it is. I know we will have fun this year regardless.” And she gives him a kiss and walks away. She honestly has forgiven him, though she sighs wistfully a bit.
What is he thinking? He realizes he’s off the hook, but he still knows that he has disappointed her. Sure she’s not holding it over his head, but he knows that she wanted something that he chose not to give her. So he still feels a little angry at her for wanting that. And he still feels a little defensive. That feeling may stay for a few days, under the surface, or even for longer.
Has she made peace? She has, after all, given up the issue. She has “submitted”, using the meaning of the word that I often see in comments and blogs. She has left the ball in his court to do anything, and she is not demanding that he try anything else.
2. Now let’s look at another model–what I will call the “healthy conflict” model.
In this model the goal is to understand each other and work through something so that you grow more intimate. The goal is to value each other and honor each other’s feelings. To explain this one, I’m just going to tell it as a story.
Jane says, “I see that you’re really upset by what I suggested, and that was never my intention. I really don’t want you to feel that I think you don’t love me or that I think you’re not a good husband, because that’s not true. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”
John grunts a bit and folds his arms, and says, “I’m never good enough. You want the fancy hotel away from home and the fancy restaurant and I’m not that kind of person. I’m a stay at home and watch football kind of guy. When I’m not at work I want to relax, not worry about planning some vacation that’s going to cost a ton of money!”
Jennifer replies, “So what you’re saying is that you enjoy doing things at home, that don’t cost money, when you can feel really relaxed, right?”
John says, “Exactly. Why do we need to go do something fancy? Why do I have to plan that? Can’t you just be happy with our life?”
Jennifer then says, “Absolutely. I am happy with our life. And I love the new date night thing that we’ve started. But to me, one way of experiencing love is to realize that you have been thinking about me, studying me, and trying to please me. It isn’t the restaurant that matters; it’s the fact that I know you thought of something, or that you spent time thinking of what I might like. I know that can sound intimidating, though. Is there a way that we can make it easier? That I can not ask so much of you, but I can still feel as if you’ve been thinking of me?”
John: “Why do you think I don’t think of you? I think about you all the time. How come the only way I’m allowed to think of you is if I plan a date to a restaurant?”
Jennifer: “It isn’t. You know what would really help me? Can you tell me the last time you thought about me when you were at work?”
John: “Well, this morning I was passing the water fountain and two secretaries were talking about how to bribe their boyfriends into buying them expensive diamond rings. I thought to myself, “I’m so glad Jennifer doesn’t expect a diamond ring. She’s practical and appreciates being responsible about our retirement savings.”
Jennifer: “Really? I never knew you appreciated that about me. Can I ask a favor, then? How about the next time you’re at work and you’re grateful about something to do with me, can you text me and just tell me? That’s it. Just text me and tell me. That would make me feel so amazing! Now, what’s something that I can do that can make you feel so amazing?”
…and the conversation went on.
Can you see the difference? There was no name calling. They were talking THROUGH the issue, and at the end the couple found out new things about each other. They found out they were on the same page–they did want to show each other love. They did value each other. It’s just that sometimes it went unrecognized. By talking it through it brought those feelings out into the open and they felt better about the relationship.
That’s what I’m talking about. Sometimes we focus so much on “not causing any conflict” or on “submitting” that we actually work directly against building intimacy.
We turn submission into a goal rather than just an action. We think that the highest goal we can have in marriage is to learn to submit, when really the highest goal for marriage is oneness. We should be aiming for oneness!
A peacekeeper simply avoids conflict. When there’s a disagreement, they retreat. A peace-maker is aiming for much more: they’re aiming for reconciliation. And reconciliation is active, not passive.
Don’t avoid conflict because you think that’s the biblical model. Work through it in a healthy way. Validate each other’s feelings. Talk through solutions. Be open to new ways of showing love. That’s a healthier model of marriage than one where the wife says, “I will always defer to you because you are the man.”
What do you think?
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