What makes a story great? What keeps the reader coming back to flip a few more pages? Every story has key elements, but conflict is what most engages the reader.
In learning, the highest gains come during the level of deepest engagement, and an intellectual struggle demands investment. As a teacher my job is to develop a lesson challenging enough to engage the student and maximize their learning.
Could conflict in marriage serve the same purpose? Shakespeare seems to think so. “The course of true love never did run smooth” he wrote. More importantly, the Word of God tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, that there is a time for every emotion under the sun, and a purpose for each as well.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak… (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7)
Conflict in marriage, like in storytelling and academics, beckons – requires even – our full engagement. The purpose and benefit of conflict is in the challenge it presents.
In storytelling, academics, and love, challenge is the tension between where we are and where we want to be. Better yet: who we are, and who we want to be. I dare to venture that the same is true of life, but that is for another post.
Conflict, therefore, is an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves, and to get our marriage to a place we have yet to imagine. But this will only happen if we take charge. Our present response to conflict will shape our future marriage. But what exactly is the “right” response?
Here are a few questions I ask myself during our conflicts:
- How did the conflict start? What was the exact comment or action that began the conflict?
- Starting at that comment or action and going backwards, what pre-existing thought or feeling did I have that was triggered? Am I sharing that perspective?
- In my quest to fix the problem, is the solution centered around me – making me feel better, proving why my view was valid, or getting buy-in?
- During our interactions as a couple in conflict, am I considering how my comments and actions might make him feel? Do I look for non-verbal clues of the emotions he may not feel comfortable telling me at the moment?
- Am focused on giving or taking? Speaking or listening?
- Am I taking responsibility for my part in creating a safe environment during our conflict? or am I busy taking cover and launching attacks?
- As a woman – who is more naturally nurturing and relational – am I courageously allowing vulnerability and care to come through, or am I taking a cold, hard stance?
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
Sisters, there are only two sides to marital conflict, and Proverbs 15 confirms gentle words on one end leave no room for rage on the other. While we are only one half of the argument, our response can elicit a completely different reaction – shifting the aim of the conversation from winning as an individual to growing as a team. This his how I went from to weathering the storm to enjoying the ride.