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On Marital Conflict

I was recently asked to share some of the ways Nelson and I have grown or learned to do conflict better since being married, specifically from the viewpoint of an intercultural-couple.

My husband and I are celebrating our second anniversary in July! I feel unlearned to answer such questions, having little experience compared to others who have been married for 10 or 20 years. Yet we have learned so much and even before we were together had seen how we didn’t want to do conflict. And so, I am going to give, from my perspective, a few practical things I’ve learned about dealing with conflict well in my short season of being a wife.

First, let me say, my husband is the only man I’ve ever dated or loved so our intercultural relationship feels normal to me. I’ve never had a same-culture relationship to compare to. It’s funny for me to think our relationship is odd or a thing of special interest to those outside of it, as it’s all I’ve known. Some of our experiences may be unique to us intercultural couples, but even so I think all can be applied to any couple in some shape or form.

Dealing with conflict the right way begins with a true God empowered, hearts desire, to love your husband well.

I would also like to point out that dealing with conflict the right way begins with a true God empowered, hearts desire, to love your husband well. If you don’t get that vital aspect right, all other efforts are useless. If loving your husband well is your motivation, humility is the vital ingredient that makes it possible. Pride opposes unity, it is impossible to hold on to your pride and simultaneously apply the practices I am about to share. Pride damages us. It minimizes, rationalizes, and blame-shifts our behavior towards our spouse in the moment of disagreement. Pride is dangerous to marriage.

Now for some practicals from Nelson and my marriage.

Know Who He Trusts

A friend’s wife called my husband one evening. He put his phone on speaker. She was sharing some concerns about her husband’s behavior lately. She didn’t know what to think or do about it. After sharing she calmly said, “Please talk to him, I know he’ll listen to you.”

I kept thinking about that. I realized that I really didn’t know who my husband would “listen to” if I ever had a concern as she did. Or if I just needed a guy’s perspective on his actions. So, I asked him. He gave me a list of four men whom he looks up to and would trust their judgment of a situation. Men who know him, know me well, and would give good counsel to both of us.

This has become a huge blessing for us! Every couple should seek to put themselves around godly men or other godly couples who will speak truth into their lives on a consistent basis. If you run into a problem that feels too big for the two of you to handle or from time to time need to be reminded of why you married the man in the first place this is helpful.

Note: It is vital to ask him for his list and not come up with one on your own. Most men will not take corrections from just anyone. Especially a man who comes from an honor/shame culture where correction can easily become shaming if the person doing the correcting is not a someone he trusts. But all men should have at least someone whose advice they’d respect.

Combat Negative Emotions With Prayer

Nelson knows well when I am pushed beyond my limits. The times when I have a billion things in mind to say and instead whisper, “God, help me love this man right now”. If I take this approach first it is harder to say the hurtful things I might be feeling. When I ask God to help me be gracious towards him I no longer want to hurt him back. This is great practice to develop when in the heat of the moment.

It is also helpful in prayer times together to share how I am specifically praying when he expects me to lash out instead. Through prayer my heart is revealed to him, a heart that might be temporarily wounded by an argument, but still wants to love him well in the midst of it.

This not only softens my heart as I draw strength from the Lord. It also calms negative emotions I might be feeling towards my husband, and lets him know I do desire to love him well. Without putting him in the uncomfortable place of listening to and feeling attacked by all my complicated emotions.

Let Him Think

I assume most guys are like mine. The opposite of most women, like me. In conflict I want to immediately talk it out. I’ve come to realize when I say “talk it out” what immediately comes to my husband’s mind is an emotional puddle on the floor choking out my feelings through sobs. I may feel better when that’s over with, but for a man this is very uncomfortable and confusing. Nelson likes to think, but when my emotions are pouring out at his feet, the only thinking he is doing is “Get me out of here!”

If I give him time and space to think and get out some of my emotions alone before composing myself to speak civilly, we get further. Sometimes he needs a few hours, or a day. There have been occasions where it has been so long I have moved on, thinking we are never going to talk about it, then weeks later he says, “You know a while ago when we had that conflict about… I’ve been thinking and…” Then it is dealt with as it should be.

In rushing to solve things we often make them worse. Let him think. Some things we don’t get around to discussing, but in that time I come to see them differently and am able to move on without a discussion. The important things we always come back to. When both of us are ready and have had time to think at our own speed.

Clarify Definitions

This one is especially needed for intercultural marriages, but there are times I believe every couple could benefit from clarifying definitions. For instance, my husband desires my respect, right? In my mind I have checked all the respect boxes. Serving him food first, responding immediately when he calls my name, not raising my voice, speaking only well of him to others, etc.

I’m respectful, right? But what if my husband’s understanding of respect has nothing to do with letting him eat his fill before I pick up a fork. What if I were to ask him what respect means and he were to say respect is doing everything with love and gentleness. Not being distracted with other things when he’s talking to me. That even when there is conflict one who respects another would not say humiliating things in anger.

If I keep failing to meet my spouse’s needs in an area, it may be, not that I don’t want to please him, but that I do not understand what he is wanting from me.

There are many facets of love, respect, affection, and the like. If I keep failing to meet my spouse’s needs in an area, it may be, not that I don’t want to please him, but that I do not understand what he is wanting from me. If we keep going back to the same conflict point it could be that I don’t understand his viewpoint. This is one of the reasons conversation is so important for couples. Seek to understand each other’s definitions!

Sleeping On the Couch

We’ve all heard that old Biblical warning to not let the sun go down on your wrath. So much so that we take it for granted or think, I’ll feel better in the morning. I do not take this to mean everything must be talked out before bed or that no conversations can be left for tomorrow or the next day. What it does mean, is exactly what it says, don’t go to bed holding onto your anger.

I may not yet understand why my husband said or did something that hurt me. We may not yet have a conclusion to our conflict. But, that is no reason for me to turn my back on him in bed or move to the couch. Despite any conflict of the moment it is not my dear husband who is the enemy, there are dark forces at work under the surface, Satan does not want to see our marriage thrive.

Despite any conflict of the moment it is not my dear husband who is the enemy, there are dark forces at work under the surface, Satan does not want to see our marriage thrive.

There will be confrontation in marriage, when two people from completely different backgrounds and viewpoints choose to live together and strive for harmony, there are going to be bumps in the road. One should never angrily leave the other, especially in the moment they are most open and vulnerable to you. Your marriage bed is a sacred place. It should be a place where conflicts are set down for the night and closeness is embraced.

I don’t have to pretend I’m not hurt but I should never let my hurt drive me to turn what is so precious into a battle ground. “I’m not going to sleep next to you if you don’t do what I want.” “I’m not going to acknowledge your presence beside me if you don’t tell me right now the reason for your actions.” These statements belong nowhere in marriage.

Note: Take this one seriously. Despite normal marital conflict, a healthy marriage should never have one partner sleeping on the couch!

View Him Through a Lense of Praise

What if you were constantly telling your husband “I’m so thankful when you…” That this became the lense you view him through. Yes he has faults, he’s not perfect. But as his wife, his imperfections should not be your focus. How can you be a help for your husband, build him up, support his calling in life, inspire him to become the man God wants him to be if you are always tearing him down. I see things I’d like to change in my husband, but I also see one million things to be thankful for.

When I focus on the positive things about Nelson, the ways he makes my life beautiful. How he loves me in spite of my imperfections. When I encourage him and overlook his flaws, he flourishes and those faults become less stark. Maybe my heart is softened towards him or maybe my praise encourages growth in him. Maybe it is both, but it works.

Looking at him through a lense of praise. Being vocal when he does something right. More than when he fails. These make for less conflict in our marriage and more joy.

Don’t Play Around With Words

I’ve heard it many times. A playful little “I’m going to leave you for that…” or “let’s split up.” These may just be words said for fun, with little real meaning, but words carry weight and from the heart the mouth speaks. Despite whatever is going on, we should never play with our spouse in this way. So many marriages end in separation, it is not a thing to joke around with.

If you constantly say these sorts of things jokingly it makes your promises sound cheap and I can assure you when conflict arises and things are not so wonderful, your spouse will be thinking about your words and wondering if you meant them. So just don’t say hurtful things lightly even if they aren’t meant in seriousness.

Restorative Affection

It may feel like the very last thing you want to do at that moment. Show affection to the man you are still kind of upset with. And yet, this is one of God’s amazing gifts to us in marriage. There is something restorative and strengthening in intimacy. When you choose to affirm your love to your husband in a tangible way after that love has been tested in a conflict it puts your heart in the right position to extend grace to him. By humbling yourself in this way you show your spouse that at the end of the day he’s still the one you love, the one you care deeply about, the one you want to please.

This was not something I originated, Nelson displayed this sort of sacrificial love for me first that caught me off guard. I vividly remember one night we had a significant conflict. All day I had been longing for time with him and he was aware. We came to an understanding finally, though getting there left the atmosphere tense. I knew I had ruined my chances of any affection from him that night.

He would have had no issue going to bed right then, but he chose not to. He told me, “You know I’m not happy right now. I’m far from in the mood. But you’ve waited all day for me so I’m going to make an effort right now.” We can both attest that it was one of the sweetest nights of our marriage!

It is not in the fairytale moments when we are both caught up in emotion that we will discover the depth of the other’s love, it is right there, in the tense moment of disagreement, that a sacrificial and unselfish love shines bright.

Why? Because, it is not in the fairytale moments when we are both caught up in emotion that we will discover the depth of the other’s love, it is right there, in the tense moment of disagreement, that a sacrificial and unselfish love shines bright. It was in the middle of what felt like a battle between us that I discovered how deep my husband’s love for me really was.

Christ showed us a pattern for marital love, not based on what I can get out of it, but what I can give in the good moments when I’m feeling it and when I’m not. If your spouse has to earn your love then you might ask yourself if you really love them truly, or not.

Closing Thoughts

Do you have a relational conflict? Then you also have a beautiful invitation from the Lord to show the redemptive power of the gospel.

Do you have a relational conflict? Then you also have a beautiful invitation from the Lord to show the redemptive power of the gospel, to allow more of his grace to flow through you to your spouse by humbling yourself. It is an invitation to submit yourself to God. To pour out love and reap the sweet reward of unity.

Our relationship isn’t perfect, but when we are intentional to guard our hearts against the advances of the enemy, when we choose to love and keep on loving. Despite all. Marriage becomes something beautiful. Breathtaking and exciting and worth every moment of effort it takes to dwell together in unity.

Let’s Talk About It

  • What are some ways you combat confrontation in your marriage?
  • When did you realize that your spouse didn’t just feel love for you but chose to love you, flaws and all?

3 Responses

  1. I absolutely love this …. Wow , only Seeking Gods word & His ways can produce this kind of wisdom from such a young couple !!!
    Just beautiful… I love how u both seek Him & how He is using u guys as His instruments in multiple ways !!! ❤️

  2. A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you should write more about this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but typically folks dont talk about such issues. To the next! Cheers!!

  3. Itís difficult to find well-informed people in this particular topic, but you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

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Hi! I’m Rachel. Through a series of God orchestrated events I ended up in Haiti, in 2017.  Through years of serving with a ministry there I came to love the country and its people. I met Nelson and we got married in 2020. It was the best decision of my life! 

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