Written by Gary Smalley:
Maybe your marriage is riddled with conflict today, or perhaps you never fight. Whatever your past or current experiences, how do you perceive conflict? Are these images positive or negative? Conflict has the potential for beauty, but at the same time, there is also a “beast” lurking in it if we mishandle our conflicts.
In an unhealthy sense, if we avoid conflict, pretend it doesn’t exist, gossip to others about it, get angry, or intimidate others into doing what we want, the greater the problem will become, and the greater the relational damage will be. Couples who do not work out their differences and manage their conflict issues are at risk for divorce.
The apostle Paul recognized this when he wrote, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
Many couples hate to confront disagreements and hurts because they’re afraid of rocking the boat, so they choose to keep the peace at any price and sweep their issues under the rug. However, this strategy usually does not resolve the problem, because suppressed conflict is always buried alive, and it often festers until it becomes a much bigger problem. In the end, buried issues end up exploding like a massive volcano, leaving our spouse and family members in its wake of destruction.
In Matthew 5:23–24 we are encouraged to deal with relationship problems so that our hearts will be right when we worship the Lord. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
The difficulty with mishandled conflict is that it creates an unsafe environment. Spouses feel like they are walking on a thin layer of volcanic crust, while underneath rages a river of molten lava ready to consume those trapped nearby. And when people feel unsafe, their heart closes and they disconnect. This is why, when asked about divorce, Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard” (Matthew 19:8). A hard heart is the kiss of death to a marriage, and that is exactly what prolonged, unhealthy conflict creates: a hardened heart!
Indeed, not confronting and managing conflict often causes long-term resentment, which eventually destroys feelings of love in a marriage. The bottom line is that your marriage may not last if you do not work through issues.
Let’s face it, few people are genuinely excited about conflict. And yet it’s essential that we recognize conflict for what it is: an unavoidable and potentially beneficial part of being in a relationship with another human being.
Conflict is inevitable. Any person involved in a sustained relationship is bound to experience conflict with that other person eventually. It’s a part of getting to know and adjusting to a person, his or her habits, values, and ways of functioning. Two people will never have the same expectations, thoughts, opinions or needs.
Absence of conflict suggests the presence of deadened emotions or a hardened heart, or that one spouse is being suppressed or giving in to his or her mate. This might be acceptable over the short term, but over the long term, it’s very dangerous to the marriage. Anger is likely to build to the point where the conflict, when it surfaces, will be more intense than it needed to be.