1. Closeness fosters conflict.
When we open our hearts and our lives to our spouse, we can no longer hide our struggles. They will discover our sinful selves.
“People crave closeness with one another, but are repelled by the sin that such closeness inevitably uncovers in themselves: the selfish motives that are unmasked, the pettiness that spills out, the monstrous new image of self that emerges as it struggles so pitifully to have its own way,” says Mike Mason, author of The Mystery of Marriage.
The good thing is that with closeness comes love . . . love that overlooks our offenses. Love that comes alongside us and helps us to grow in our weaknesses.
2. Through conflict, we can grow closer to our spouse and to God.
When I have conflict in my marriage—when I mess up, God’s Spirit prods me to repent. With repentance comes humility, and though it hurts I admit my mistakes and my brokenness to my spouse. When I approach John after messing up (which I’ve had to do more times than I want to admit) I give him a glimpse inside me. Sure, it is a glimpse of my sinful, human nature, but it is a glimpse all the same. And as John looks into my brokenness, an amazing thing happens. Conflict becomes the doorway to intimacy.
Confessing to my husband is a big step for me. As I mentioned before, my natural tendencies lean toward hiding, withdrawing. Thankfully, the more time I spend with John and learn to trust his heart, and the more care we give to each other, I begin to understand this.
As spouses learn from each other, they also discover trigger points. (Oh, do we discover them!) As we open up and talk, we also understand how the past sometimes still effects the present. Conflict may be considered the school of hard knocks, but it’s a school all the same.
Sometimes you will run headlong into your partner’s pain. You may not realize it until you’re blasted with reaction—perhaps a flash of deflective anger, or stony silence. When your partner’s response seems inappropriate or out of proportion with the situation, it’s a cue that you may be confronting very old fears or beliefs, often learned in childhood—always learned the hard way. Use these clues. They are valuable opportunities, not as insights for gaining leverage, but to see more deeply into your partner. Volatility is a sign that you’ve touched a nerve in your partner, viewing a place that few ever see. Rather than press your advantage, tread respectfully and ask rather than demand. Let change unfold as your partner can tolerate it.
Over time, John has learned to understand the way I handle conflict. He’s learned my triggers. He’s heard how I react, and why.
The same is true with me.
Through our growth and learning, facing up to our mistakes becomes easier. Through struggles, we butt heads and then join arms again, and we learn new things about each other and the grace given to us by God.
“Conflict is not something to be avoided but something to be navigated,” says Dr. Greg Smalley. “If we want to get to the deeper levels of a relationship, we have to go through conflict. By entering the door of conflict, we learn more about each other and our relationship.”
Sometimes conflict builds up over years, but other times it hits us when we least expect it. One of the most challenging things about married life is cutting out independence and instead fostering interdependence. When married partners solve problems together, we grow closer, instead of letting the challenges get the best of us.
How do you work through conflict?
© Tricia Goyer author of Generation NeXt Marriage