“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,  but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.“ – Proverbs 15:18

Is there such a thing as a healthy conflict? Is it possible to have a fight with your spouse and do it well? That sounds like a trick question, but it isn’t. Most married couples would think it is far better to eliminate conflict rather than do it well. Minimizing conflict is admirable, but it is also unrealistic. There really is such a thing as “healthy conflict” in marriage.

There are basically three belief categories for married couples about marital conflict. One is the couples who enter marriage expecting an unrealistic level of agreement and perfection in their relationship. If they’re truly happy and meant for one another, they believe, there shouldn’t be any conflict. That’s not a very realistic view of human relationship.

Another group of couples understand they’ll have conflict, but they believe the solution is to put the gloves on and go at it until they vent all of their anger at each other and somehow arrive at a solution. There’s a lot to be said for making your point and getting important issues on the table. But just going at one another is potentially very damaging.   

In fact, there’s a lot of research to show that poorly handled conflict impacts more than just the couple themselves. For example, children; here are the two most important people in a child’s life, and here they are yelling and being nasty to each other. Seeing their parents arguing and being uncivil to each other causes stress and confusion. Our children function best with emotional stability and safety in the home.

And that leads to the third group of couples. If you find yourself in either of the first two groups, our goal of Sunday’s message on conflict is to move you closer to this third one. The third group are couples that resolve conflict in a way that honors God and builds up their relationship rather than eroding it.

How do we go about doing conflict well? Here are a few things to consider. Try to listen better.  Many couples are so determined to get their point across they don’t really listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings. They want to win the argument instead of resolve the problem. Secondly, try to harness your emotions and stay calm. No matter how passionate they feel about their disagreement, healthy couples avoid getting nasty. Not only will overreacting not solve anything, it’ll drive a wedge between a husband and wife. That causes even further conflict down the road.

Finally, never threaten divorce: Emotions can run high in the midst of a conflict. If you find yourself in that situation try to walk away to calm down. Then come back and continue the conversation. But do not make threats to end the marriage. At best it may help you manipulate the situation to get your way. But at worst, could damage the relationship well-beyond the conflict the couple finds themselves in. 

Here is the bottom line: We can develop or improve our communication skills and learn how to disagree with our spouse without being disagreeable. It is possible. Remember that even couples with healthy, happy marriages disagree. But, also remember those marriages remain healthy and happy because they treat each other with respect even in the midst of conflict. It is not about the husband or wife winning the argument, it is about resolving the problem while protecting the relationship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Healthy conflict resolution requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.  Agree or disagree?
  2. Healthy conflict resolution requires defeating selfishness. Agree or disagree?
  3. Healthy conflict resolution often involves loving confrontation. What does this mean to you and what is the difference between loving and regular confrontation? Healthy conflict resolution requires forgiveness. How can we use forgiveness to resolve a conflict?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you develop a godly, loving way of dealing with conflict.