ROMANS 12:17--21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Conflict often makes our beloved seem like an enemy. We can easily begin to think, "It's me against you!" when we're supposed to be on the same side. Yet when we start picking a fight with our spouse and, in effect, try to take vengeance by getting our own way, we're certainly not trusting God to fulfill his promise to work in someone's life. If we're supposed to give food and water to our enemy, then let's resolve our conflicts with our best friend--our mate! Here's how to identify the four main kinds of conflict and what to do about them:
1. Faults and Weaknesses. Everyone has faults. Faults aren't sins. Faults could be based in the weaknesses of your spouse's personality. A person who seems to talk too much is a gregarious kind of person. You may judge that she talks too much, but that's because you may not talk much at all. She is most likely thinking you don't talk enough. This is not a conflict about sin; rather, it is a lack of compassion and understanding about who God created your spouse to be.
If your conflict comes from trying to change your spouse, remember that only God can change someone. It isn't your job. Don't allow conflict to separate you emotionally because of his fault or weakness. At the same time, you can gently point out how too much talking prevents both of you from contributing to the conversation. Speaking "peaceably" means inviting a dialogue--not haranguing your spouse for what you perceive is wrong. Ask God to make any changes that he wants. Believe it or not, he might not plan to change that person at this time, and you can relax and eliminate the conflict knowing that he has his perfect timing.
2. Unintended Emotional Injury. When someone hurts your feelings and he didn't intend to (although we might think he did), we can easily fall into the trap of blaming and taking it personally. Each person thinks he is right.
It's important to express your hurt by saying something like, "I know you didn't intend to hurt me, but I felt . . . [and share your feelings]." Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. He loves you, and most of the time, what you think is meant to hurt you isn't intended that way. It was most likely a misunderstanding, or he inadvertently touched on something that is a wound within you, possibly even from childhood.
Acknowledging the underlying causes of why this "triggers" you is essential. Most often, things from our childhood are at the root. For instance, a wife was neglected by her father, and so any slight by her husband takes her back emotionally (without her knowing it) to those longings of wanting her daddy to love her. Because of this trigger, she will need to take responsibility for her own reaction. The person who inadvertently hurt his or her spouse can remember this: "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out" (Proverbs 20:5). God wants you to compassionately invite your spouse to address her hurt and possibly her wound from the past.
The "offending" spouse will need to walk "peaceably" by not reacting in kind with anger or hurt. By keeping your cool, you will cover the situation with a calming balm. Proverbs 15:1 urges us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
3. Preferences. During your courtship, you most likely appreciated the differences that completed you as a couple. If one of you is outgoing and friendly, the other person is most likely more reserved. You liked how your spouse made friends easily so that you didn't have to put out so much effort. But now that difference has made him or her into an enemy. You may feel that he is so friendly with everyone else that he ignores you.
Living peaceably means recognizing that a preference isn't sinful. Just because you think one way doesn't mean your spouse's opposite thinking is wrong--it's just different. Different isn't wrong. Your conflict is based in thinking that there's only one way to think about something or do something. But look at Proverbs 27:14: "If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse." If because you're an early riser you think it's pretty close to a sin to sleep in late, the Bible says you're cursing your friend. Some things just aren't in a sin category.
If your spouse thinks strongly about something, then it may be even more of a conflict if you feel that you're going to be forced to abide by your spouse's preferences. That's why you need to try to feel his passion or preference. That doesn't mean you need to change your preference, just understand how much it means to him. You may both choose to do your "own thing" separately if one person doesn't enjoy the desired activity, but leave room for both of you to do what you want at some point. Or take turns. If your conflict is about where to go on vacation, decide that one year you will go to the lake and the next year you will go to the mountains. Or find a place that has both a lake and a mountain.
If you feel that your own preferences aren't ever honored, first look at the word ever. Is that really true? Or is your spouse giving in on some things thinking she is pleasing you, except that particular thing isn't that important to you so you don't give her credit for her effort? But when you say "You never let me" or "We don't ever," your spouse may point out something that she thought she was doing for you but you hadn't noticed because it's not your important preference. This is why it's important to communicate what's valuable to you. And if your spouse tells you you're not really hearing what she says, listen! Really listen and try to feel her passion. Understand that just as your activity is important to you, so also is her activity to her.
4. Sin. When your spouse sins, he can certainly seem like the enemy. Yet Romans 12:17--21 tells us we have a choice whether to live peaceably with our enemy. That doesn't mean overlooking his sin or doing nothing about it, but it does mean having an attitude of good that isn't overcome by evil. And most of the time in conflict, evil means being angry. Being angry means that you're trying to be in control instead of allowing God to be, and that won't get you the result you want. Yes, you'll still need to call your spouse's attention to the sin. If it's horrible and terribly painful, like adultery, and your spouse refuses to remove himself from the sin, then you may need to separate legally. But most of the time, we're dealing with sin that is grievous but not liable to end the marriage. What then can we do?
God calls us to righteousness if we are the offended party. This is not a self-righteous, I'm-better-than-you attitude, but a humble heart like the one 1 Peter 3:8--9 describes: "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."
Compassion means thinking, "I could do something like that, and even if I haven't, I've done something equally bad or pretty close." Sin is sin. Regardless of the degree of sin that we have committed, we've all fallen short. We all stand on equal ground before a holy God who has forgiven us. In those moments, Galatians 6:1--2 is a good reminder: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (NKJV). We could have done the same thing if we were tempted in the same way.
Compassion also means forgiving our mate, but forgiving doesn't mean we're saying the sin didn't happen or that he or she shouldn't suffer the consequences of sin. But it means releasing our anger and our need to take revenge. Then set up a plan for accountability and strength for your spouse to turn from the sin so that the two of you can be reconciled.
How Others See It
Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Agree on a follow-up plan. "If I notice something again, how do you want me to help you? What do you want me to do?" This way you become a team member to deal with the problem and not a police officer. You might want to talk to him about bringing other resources to the problem as well, such as friends to hold him accountable. The important issue is that you are together as a team to fight the reoccurrence.
Becky and Roger Tirabassi give seven motivators for forgiving others:
To forgive someone benefits you.
To forgive doesn't mean you allow the person to continue to hurt you in the same way.
Most people don't intentionally try to hurt you.
God wants us to forgive others.
It won't be long before you will need to be forgiven.
Forgiveness becomes easier when you look for similar behavior in your life.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision!
This article originally posted on November 5, 2007.
What's in the Bible for Couples © 2007 by Kathy Collard Miller, D. Larry Miller, and Larry Richards, Ph.D.