The holidays can bring out conflict within a marriage. With both Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, how can we approach that conflict with a lens of gratitude? In today’s #MarriageMonday, we’re exploring five steps to shift our perspective of conflict.
Mark: To be honest, I am not someone who likes conflict at all. There was too much of it when I was growing up so I wanted my own family to be conflict-free (can you say “unrealistic expectation?”). One of the most significant ways God has worked in my heart is in redefining what conflict does and doesn’t mean.
The stress and expectations around the holidays always have a way of bringing about conflict in nearly every relationship. However, today we want to suggest a change in how we view conflict. In fact, it’s something I’ve personally been doing and I’m finding it’s making a difference in my head and my heart. Just as we approach this time of year focusing on gratitude, I want to invite you to actually be grateful for conflict. I know it sounds crazy, but stick with us for a minute!
Jill: Having a heart of gratitude–even for conflict–keeps our heart at peace during the conflicts. It normalizes it and even recognizes that conflict is actually growth trying to happen.
Let me say that again: Conflict is growth trying to happen.
Mark: I am a guy who has unrealistic expectations in just about every part of life. It’s not surprising then that I would have unrealistic expectations in relation to conflict. Truthfully, I’m the “Where is the easy button?” guy. When reality hits my unrealistic expectations, I can find myself shutting down or angry. Both of those reactions fuel discontent and that quickly leads to discouragement.
Jill: Prolonged discouragement leads to disillusionment, which leads us to disconnect in our marriage. Unchecked, this string of emotions can lead to death within a relationship. We’re not talking about a physical death. We’re not even talking about the death of THE relationship. Instead we’re talking about death WITHIN the relationship: death in opportunities (because we shut them down with our disconnect), death in “us” (because we’ve isolated our heart), and death in unity (because we no longer cooperate in decision-making—and yes, going passive is not unity).
Mark: So this is how gratitude works regarding marital conflicts:
The first step is to actually stop in the midst of the conflict, look directly into your spouse’s eyes, and say we need to thank God for this conflict. Start a conversation with God that looks like this. “Thank you, God, for this conflict. This reveals growth is trying to happen. We don’t know how to proceed, but we need Your help. Please, Holy Spirit, reveal to us how to move forward in unity and make the right decisions together.”
If you’re not accustomed to praying with your spouse, this will feel awkward. However, it may be just the surprise to change the approach both of you have to the conflict. If your spouse doesn’t share your faith, this can be a silent prayer to get your own head and heart in the right place.
Then we accept the conflict and own it. This sounds like this: “Of course conflict is showing up right now. The enemy wants to divide and conquer, but God is giving us the opportunity to grow and get stronger in our relationship.” It is also huge to state that you both love each other and you want to approach this conflict in a productive rather than accusing way.
Now we confess. The first two steps help you to calm down so now is the time to own your part of the conflict and to ask for forgiveness. True forgiveness brings closure and resolve: “I’m so sorry for how I just spoke to you, and I know that it hurt you, and it made you feel _____________________. Will you please forgive me?”
When your spouse is able to forgive, it brings closure to the conflict. The closure is the part most of us crave and miss out on when we offer half apologies. (A half apology is “I’m sorry.” A full apology is “I’m sorry for________. I know it caused you this pain ________. Will you please forgive me?”)
Now we decide. We make a decision to be respectful, to listen to each other and to be cooperative. You may not feel like it, but you can choose to move forward differently and to cooperatively choose the right next step.
Now we hug. The last step is to love each other and to express that love in long, standing holding hug. This action keeps us together in the conflict. It keeps our heart at peace and opens the door to more opportunities of growth. (We shared more about this over on Instagram!)
Jill: Mark and I invite you to approach conflict with gratitude this holiday season. This really is growth trying to happen, and if we approach it with a heart of growth rather than trying to run from it, we can deepen connection with our spouse. As we do, we’ll begin to understand “The Prince of Peace” in a new and exciting way.
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