Listen; no matter how much you may not want to admit it, conflict is common to all marriages. Consider the fact that you start with two selfish people, from different backgrounds, personalities and perspectives. Now you add a few habits and quirks, throw in a multitude of expectations, and then turn up the heat with the grind and challenges of daily living. Guess what? You are going to disagree with your spouse about something. It’s unavoidable. Since every marriage has its conflicts it isn’t a matter of avoiding them, but knowing how to deal with them. Conflict in marriage can lead to growth or isolation. You and your partner must decide how you will respond when conflict arises.
Step one: Resolving conflict requires understanding, accepting and accommodating your differences.
Have you ever wondered why opposite people find themselves in the same home. Why are people drawn to someone whose traits are opposite of their own? A task-oriented person marries a people person. The punctual person marries the one who struggles to be on time. The talker needs to do more listening and the listener needs to do more talking. Your spouse added a variety, spice, a different focus that it didn’t have before. We put ourselves in a position to learn, grow, and appreciate a different way of responding and then we refused to change. The differences and uniqueness that should create a more effective team end up dividing and becomes a wedge that pushes marriages apart. You may find that your backgrounds and personalities are so different who wonder how and why God put you together in the first place. It is important to understand these differences, and then accept and accommodate or adjust to them. Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept God’s gift to you. Is it possible that your spouse completes you in ways you haven’t learned of accepted yet?
Step 2: Resolving conflict requires eliminating selfishness
Is it possible to say that all marriage conflict begin selfishness? When a couple starts dating, it is generally all each person’s own interests. “I like what you do for me. I like the way you make me feel. When I am with you I am happy. You make feel validated.” Often marriage is the ultimate in narcissistic expression. The reason you got married was because of what he/she did for you. But then you get these two people together and something has to give. Couples who are able to make the transition from selfishness, me-centered thinking, where the husband and wife realize they are not going to get everything they want are the marriages that make it. Unfortunately, the opposite also applies.
Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. My wife and I have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives and in our daily interactions. We have not changed each other, but God has changed both of us. The answer for changing selfishness is found in Jesus and his teachings. He showed us that if we want to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must be willing to serve. Instead of trying to save our lives we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves. In other words, if we want to eliminate selfishness we must give up your will to Christ and then find it possible to give up your will for your spouse.
Step Three: Resolving Conflict requires confessing your faults instead of finger pointing.
When there is conflict between you and your spouse, first understand and determine your part. Is it your attitude, defensiveness, tone of voice, actions, or your choice of words contributing to the conflict? Begin by sincerely confessing your contribution to the conflict before considering your mates faults. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the speck out of your brothers eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 5:3,5). Honesty is the quickest way to resolve any conflict. When you humbly acknowledge your faults your spouse doesn’t have to convince you where you need to change. Plus it is hypocritical to point your finger at your spouse when personal change will go a long way to resolving the conflict.
Step Four: Resolving conflict requires forgiveness.
No matter how two people try to love and please each other, they will fail. The result of failure is hurt. And the ultimate relief for hurt is forgiveness. The key to maintaining an open, intimate, and rewarding marriage is to ask for and grant forgiveness quickly. The ability to do that is tied to a person’s relationship with God. To forgive is not an option; it is a command. Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11: 25, 26). This of course would include your interaction with your spouse.
It would be good to remember that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. A choice to make a positive decision, to please God and keep short accounts with your spouse. Most of us never feel like forgiving anyone. The feeling of forgiveness only comes as you choose to forgive. Therefore, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Decide to show mercy and forgive. Doing so is the beginning of finding solutions in your marriage.
Step Five: Resolving conflict requires blessing rather than insulting your spouse.
First Peter tells us, “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.” Husbands and wives can become very good at trading insults. Some couples don’t know any other way to relate to the other. What does it mean to return a blessing for an insult? It means to change your natural tendency to lash out, fight back, or get even. It means refusing to return to retaliate if your spouse gets angry. It also means doing good. Sometimes a few words spoken kindly and gently, or perhaps a hug, or a special act of kindness and service goes a long way.
Step Six: Resolving conflict requires taking action if your spouse will not.
When you take action to love, forgive and change even when your spouse will not, this brings powerful encouragement to respond in kind. Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” (Matt 7:12). Apply this principle to your marriage. How do you want your spouse to respond to you? Then respond to them accordingly.
This is all about pursuing the other person. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” To live at peace with everyone means pursuing peace. It means taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take a step.
Step Seven: Resolving conflict may require seeking out a professional Christian counselor.
A Christian counselor can help you gain a clear understanding of the Biblical and heart issues involved in your conflict. He or she can provide support, insight and fresh strategies to help you and your spouse move toward fresh perspective and growth. Christian counseling can be a powerful resource to help you and your spouse. When couples get the help they need, combined with a desire to love and nurture their spouse, they will experience the change and growth they are looking for.
Advice for the Blended Family
Today, there are just as many, if not more, blended families as there are traditional family units. As a result there is a growing need to address blended family problems. Parenting is never easy, but the challenges that blended families face are altogether different from the challenges traditional families face. Failing to understand how to deal with these issues places additional stress on your marriage and can ultimately lead to conflict and divorce.
Here is some advice on how to make your blended family one of peace and harmony:
- Support the role of the biological parent.
Stepparents should find a role that compliments the biological parent. Even though this might go against your initial reaction, the step relationship needs time to develop. It is important not to be the heavy, but you can’t disappear either. Maintaining your presence and at the same time supporting the bio parent is challenging, but will produce positive results. The reality is that when you relax and support the bio parent, the relationship with your stepchild will form faster. As a step parent you can become a sounding board for your spouse. You can provide input and observation without forcing your views on the biological parent or openly disagreeing with them. The result will inevitably be counterproductive and bring conflict. In time, the biological parent can pass on the parenting role in front of the children. Be sure your role has your spouse’s blessing.
- Don’t compete with your counterpart.
Don’t compete with your counterpart, rather, support them. In other words, don’t try to be a better mom than your step kids’ bio-mom, or a better dad than their bio-dad. No matter what you think of their parenting style it is important to respect and acknowledge the biological connection. Pressure to abandon, to demean or ignore the existence of the parent places the children is an intense loyalty bind that will inhibit his or her ability to form a relationship with the new step parent. Find a role that compliments the role of the same –sex biological parent and do not fail to include them in the important events of the child’s life
- Allow the role to reflect your unique strengths.
The step parent’s role is an expression of their own unique style and strengths and can complement the style of the other parent. Be patient, there will be opportunities where your strengths and input will be valued. Be yourself; allow the role to develop gradually.
- Discover and explore your stepchild’s interests.
What are the things your step child likes? Start off as you would with any friendship: find some common ground and do things together you both enjoy. Remember, you are there to build a solid relationship and not take the place of their biological parents. In other words, start out with a relationship other than “parent” in order to build a relationship.
- Avoid jealousy.
Let your spouse have one-on-one time with his or her children – without you. This helps reduce the displacement and loss the child might be feeling, and assures them they haven’t been displaced by someone else. In all blended families, this reassures the children that they still belong and haven’t lost the love of their bio-parent to the new spouse.
- Act lovingly even if you don’t like your step kids.
It is to be expected that you may never love them or for that matter like them. And remember, you can’t make your step kids like you, either! You are the outsider. But even if you don’t like them, you can act lovingly toward them. Love is an action; so decide to express love toward your step children. It may surprise you what develops over time. It is important to recognize and understand the pain kids experience after divorce. They may act out, not having the skills to talk it out and express what they are feeling. If parents are able and willing to gain the skills to listen and understand what the child is going through, over time, the children will usually respond positively.
- Get Family Counseling.
There is no reason to feel bad if you find that your recently formed family needs family counseling. All blended family’s go through growing pains when they are first learning to live together and the family dynamics of a blended family are almost always complicated. New step parents are unsure of their footing. Newly stepped children are usually worried about where they should place their loyalties. Family counseling will offer access to a trusted individual who will not take sides or play family members against each other. Another benefit is the lessons each family member will get in proper communication. There is no shame in taking part in family counseling, only the satisfaction in knowing you have done your best for your family.
- Place God in the center of your home.
Additional thoughts if space allowed would include, establishing new family traditions while being sensitive to old traditions, maintain a strong bond between the husband and wife, and clearly define and consistently follow through with family rules and priorities. But, the ultimate key to every family's success, no matter the makeup of the family, is choosing to make God the centerpiece of your home. To be the kind of parent or spouse want to be requires patience, wisdom and love. The best way to develop these character traits is to have a vibrant relationship with God. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Matt. 6:33