I used to scoff when someone would say that you can’t have a healthy marriage without fighting. I thought that fighting was a bad thing, and so obviously a couple that fights often must not have a healthy relationship.
But the reality is that we are all fallen people living in a sinful world. Anytime you get two people living in close quarters together there is going plenty of fuel for arguments. This is especially true when you have kids, because with each kid you are adding another fallen person into the mix, and one who is still developing their sense of right and wrong.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with conflict itself. In fact, learning to deal with conflict in a healthy way is an important part of building a successful marriage.
Two Ways We React to Conflict
Most people react to conflict in one of two ways. We naturally tend to respond with either the Fight or Flight response. Take a look at the post I made on Facebook the other day:
Neither of these responses are inherently right or inherently wrong. Sometimes handling conflict while you are angry is the worst thing you can do, and you need to back off for a little while to cool off before dealing with it. At the same time, it can be way too easy to shove things under the rug and never come back to it again until the next time the issue comes up.
Understanding the Source of Conflict
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” James 4:1 (NIV)
Conflict is the result when you are denied your desires. Some translations say evil desires or lusts. The Greek word here is hédoné, which implies strong desires of the flesh. I will go ahead and refer to them as sinful desires.
James goes on to talk about how these sinful desires lead to murder and fighting, but he also gives the cure to the problem.
The Cure to Conflict
6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”c
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6-7 (NIV)
The key to handling conflict is to approach it with humility and by submitting yourself to His will.
Let’s say you get into an argument with your spouse over how to handle discipline with your kids. This may not seem like it is coming from your sinful desires. After all, this is an important area of parenting that needs to be handled properly. The problem isn’t that you want to do a good job. The problem is that you are pridefully insisting that your way is the “right way” and your spouse’s must therefore be the “wrong way”. In most of these cases there is no fine line between a right way and a wrong way. There are as many different approaches to disciplining children as there are people in the world.
The sinful desire, in this case, is the desire to be right. A humble person will be willing to acknowledge the merit of the other person’s approach and maybe work out some kind of compromise or discuss the problem calmly.
Note that disagreeing or handling the disagreement in a calm way is not sinful. This is a healthy type of conflict that helps us better understand how to live with others and makes us more Christ like. It’s only a problem when it’s handled in a sinful way.