Biblical Communication: A Marriage Survival Art Session 6 Notes

Biblical Communication: A Marriage Survival Art

Session 6

Conflicts in Marriage Must be Handled Well 

Feedback Ask students to share their home application experience this week:

Refer to the Good Listener column of the “Good Listening Chart”. Each spouse should privately rate both herself/himself and her/his spouse in each of the 19 statements.  Ratings scale: Most of the time = 4;  About 50/50 = 3; Some of the time = 2; Almost never = 1.

Then, both spouses compare ratings and discuss, especially those traits rated as 2 or 1 and traits where there is a rating difference between spouses of more than 1.   

Getting up to date.

The first major subject was communication in marriage is difficult. We teased this out under seven reasons why this is true. I hope that we have learned some keys to communicating effectively and we have learned the importance implementing those keys. They are not just theory. 

Now we come to our second major subject, “conflicts in marriage must be handled well.” You may recall that one of the reasons God gave us the ability to communicate was so that we can solve conflicts. If we are going to increase our oneness and communicate effectively we must learn how to deal with conflicts.

Agree or Disagree: Ask for show of hands for agreement or disagreement with this statement: “Conflict is inevitable in any marriage.” ( Wright, Leader’s Guide p 47)

Class Response: What issues do you think are the greatest sources of conflict in marriage? (Try to get consensus of top three - recruit scribe and use white board)

When two sinners are thrown together in the institution called “marriage”, we can predict the outcome! Disagreements are inevitable. Two people simply cannot agree all the time. However, we would argue that quarreling is an inappropriate response to disagreements. So, I offer some tips regarding what to do when a disagreement breaks out.

Simple Suggestions for Managing Conflict in Marriage

(#1-10 as modified from Communication, Key to Your Marriage, p 141-158, Norman Wright)

In random order….

1.Resist using the silent treatment as a means to avoid conflict. 

a.Someone said, “silence is golden, but sometimes it can be yellow.” Often we respond to conflict with silence because we want to avoid being hurt; or because we know we are wrong; or because our spouse has not demonstrated good listening habits in the past and we think, “why waste my breath.” 

b.Be honest with yourself about this tendency. Is the husband is most guilty of this silent response? 

c.Silence, can be appropriate (time to process {James 1:19}; or covering the matter in love {Prov 17:9}. However, if the conflict persists for either party, it will never be solved by silence – it will only fester. At some point you must talk!

d.The vocal partner needs to realize that his/her pleas to talk about it often reinforce the silence. Thus, he/she needs to allow the silent partner time to talk. 

2.Do not save emotional power chips.

a.Some people save up irritations for use at a strategic time like they collect points that can be turned in for free merchandise. They just can’t wait to lower the hammer in the middle of a conflict. 

b.Issues must be handled contemporaneously. Keep short accounts. Think in terms of a statute of limitations. Deal with today’s issues today! (Of one piece with Ephesians 4:26, “don’t let the sun go down on your anger…”)

c.  Illustration: Lady who pulled a notebook filled with all the crimes her husband had committed against her in the last 10 years.

d.  Philippians 3:13, “…forgetting what lies behind…” An important reminder regarding forgetting and forgiving: When you forgive someone who wrongs you, you may not be able to forget the incident. However, you must not bring it up again to God, the person who wronged you, others, or yourself. 

3.Plan when and where you will air your disagreement.

a.Carefully choose the time and place to discuss the problem. The dinner table may not be the best choice. In front of the kids may be unwise.

b.It is okay to defer solving a conflict until the circumstances are right.

4.Focus on the disagreement, not each other.

a.Attacking one another is not helpful. The problem is the problem. So, try to keep the discussion as impersonal as possible. However, this nearly impossible.

b.Jokes or slurs about his/her family or personal appearance, or idiosyncrasies are off limits.

c.No crying or threats (self harm, tell the world, etc) – these are often a means of manipulation.

5.Refrain from tossing around feelings.

a.You should freely inform your spouse how you are feeling, but you should not be shocked if your feelings do not carry the argument! In fact, you should not use your feelings as supporting arguments for your viewpoint.

b. Always shoot straight; be diplomatic, but nonetheless honest. Husbands, how would you answer this question, “How do you like this dress?”

6.Stay on point.

a.Define the disagreement (what are you arguing about anyway). Often, the argument expands into other disagreements. Usually this is not helpful. Stay on that subject unless there is mutual agreement to move to another issue. One subject at a time.

7.Offer solutions with your criticisms.

a.A litmus test question: “Am I solution oriented?”

b.It is easy to criticize and be unhappy; however, resolution only happens when someone offers a reasonable solution. 

8.Avoid using absolute terms.

a.“Always” and “never” are generally not helpful and often just dishonest.

b.Even if you avoid using absolute terms, be careful not to exaggerate or speak in sweeping generalizations. Examples: “All men are like that.”  or “You’re always late.” 

9.A disagreement is usually not the time for comedy.

a.Even though it helps to laugh, especially at yourself, an attempt at humor often makes matters worse. What you think might lighten things up actually blows things up. 

10.When you are wrong admit it; when you are right shut up! (Ogden Nash)

a.You might actually be wrong! Practice saying “You are right; I missed that.” 

b.When sin is in play, be quick to ask forgiveness (no false humility however). 

c.Be forward looking. “Where do we go from here?”

d.Stifle the “I told you so” temptation. 

11. Do not even consider giving up. 

a.Every season of your marriage will have its own unique set of conflicts - pre-children, children, post-children. Count on it. So do not despair.

b.Because we are all stubborn and self-centered, resolving conflicts is hard work. So, dig in for the long haul.

c.We must learn how to solve conflicts – most are not born with that ability.

d.   It is helpful to be optimistic – “we can resolve this particular issue.” Also, it helps to see the good in your spouse. 

12. Focus on yourself. 

a.God holds you accountable for only yourself.

b.But, God does hold you accountable for how you respond to your spouse and your life situations.

c.You can only change yourself, not your spouse. So give it up already!

d.  Use the log list concept based on Matthew 7:3-5. Develop a specific list of your weaknesses and blindspots as a person, partner, and parent. Then let your spouse amend and annotate the list. Then get to work. 

13. Broaden your perspective.

a.Allow your spouse to hold different opinions than you.

b.There may be loads of people who see things the way your spouse does! 

c.   Also, be willing to lose the argument  for the sake of the marriage.

14. Ask whether or not the Bible addresses the issue.

a.If so, the disagreement is settled in favor of God. Concentrate on working out a plan of action. 

b.If not, you must choose wisely between the competing viewpoints. 

15. When all else fails, try prayer! (I exaggerate, but sadly it is too easy to resort to prayer only after we’ve tried everything else to no avail.)

a.God might amaze you by enabling you to see things differently or to realize that the disagreement is insignificant. 

b.Have you ever prayed while you are debating? 

16. Mutually determine in advance who has primary responsibility for various family functions.

a.This should be a written document that should list who has primary responsibility for items such as but not limited to:  (use white board)

Finances (earning, spending, saving, giving, budgeting, bookkeeping, paying bills, etc)

Household (cleaning, furnishing, repair, maintenance, etc)

Property (tools, yard, garden, maintenance)

Health (physicians, insurance, etc)

Children (discipline, schedules, hygiene, school, activities, chores, allowances, etc)

Food (meal planning and preparation, shopping, etc)

Auto (purchase, maintenance, etc)

Spiritual (devotions, church, service, etc)

Family (vacation, activities, recreation, hospitality, memorabilia, photography, etc)

Clothing (purchase, laundry, ironing, repair, etc)

Major decisions (house purchase, moving, retirement, etc)

(Examples: “Who’s Responsible for What?”,; Sorting out Responsibilities Checklist p 189-90, Preparing for Marriage God’s Way, Mack).

c.  When you are unable to reach a mutual resolution of the disagreement, then the person who has primary responsibility for that area is required to make the decision. He/she must make the decision in the best interest of the entire family not just his/her interest.

17. Try living by the golden rule. NAUMatthew 7:12, “…treat people the same way you want them to treat you…”

Case Studies.  Divide into small groups. Your group is to discuss the case from the standpoint of the counselor or friend. You should consider what the presenting issue is, what the real issue is (if different), what Biblical issues might be germane, and what courses of action you might recommend. 

Select a leader and recorder, one of whom will report findings to the entire class.

Conflict Case Studies

Stay Home?

A Christian woman is married to a non-Christian man. She has been attending church and Sunday School with the children. Her husband decides that he wants her home on Sunday morning to fix breakfast for him when he gets up at around 10:00. He tells her that she cannot go to church anymore. He also doesn’t want her reading the Bible at home. How should the wife handle this? What Scriptural teachings might apply? Should she obey or not? Does she have any alternatives? 

Source unknown


A Christian husband and wife have lived in the same town for 10 years. They are very active in their church and the husband has a fine position with a company, although he does not like his work. The husband is offered another position 2000 miles away in a colder climate and at less pay. He wants to take the position because it is the type of work he has always wanted to do. He talks with his wife and tells her he is strongly thinking of taking the position. She does not want him to do so and cites her reasons. Finally, she says she will not move. How should the husband handle this problem? Has he missed anything? 

Modified from p 58 Leaders Guide Communication Key to Your Marriage

I Walked Out!

“Now let me get this right,” says the counselor. “You only had three conference tables, and two of them blew up in arguments?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Paul and Jan reply simultaneously. “And what’s more, the third one wasn’t very profitable,” Paul adds.

“What caused the first blowup?”

“Well we were talking about finances, and I got mad at something Jan said.”

“What was that, Jan?”

“I just said that we are in financial trouble now because Paul has never helped me or given me any leadership in organizing the budget.” 

“And when I saw her attitude I didn’t want to talk any more,” Paul blurts out. “Besides, it wouldn’t have been any use. She didn’t want to talk. She wanted to criticize.”

“Now, was the the blowup over the same issue?” asked the counselor.

“No, it was different, “ says Jan. “I wanted to discuss Paul’s defensiveness with him. The thing that happened at the first conference is typical for him. Whenever Paul’s failures are mentioned, he becomes defensive and stops talking.”

“And what happened when she mentioned this, Paul?”

“I got mad and walked out. I don’t have to stand for that kind of stuff!”

The Christian Counselor’s Casebook, p 128

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