Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not Going to Extremes

Being stubbornly silent or verbally explosive during marital conflict doesn't honor God. Finding balance in marital conflict resolution expresses honor and love for God.
A husband and wife were fighting. They refused to talk. Getting ready for a business trip the next day, and not willing to be the first one to cave in and actually speak, the husband wrote his wife a note, "Please make sure I'm up by 5:30 a.m. I must catch a flight."
At 9:00 a.m. the next morning, the husband awakens and realizes he's missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't awakened him, when he noticed a note by the bed. It read, "It's 5:30 a.m. Wake up."
Who wins in a situation like this? Have you ever felt like you and your spouse are spinning your wheels in an argument you both know will never go anywhere?
My wife has always been better at keeping her mouth shut than I have. I mean this as a compliment. I tend to open my mouth too early, too often or too much (note to self: never again ask a woman if she's pregnant or just took the gray out of her hair).
The downside of my wife's verbal reticence was that early in our marital conflicts she could leave me talking to a blank stare for days on end. She could shut down the lines of communication with a flip of some mental and/or emotional switch.
It wasn't healthy, because the silent partner in marriage holds all the cards. The silent partner controls the emotional tenor of the marriage. The one who chooses obstinate quiet over talking through conflict stunts the growth of the marriage.
It's the same with our relationship with God. If I choose to hold back in my prayer life, to be stingy in those things I share with God, then I'm stunting my spiritual growth. And who does that hurt? God? I think his omnipotence can handle my freeze tactics. The silent treatment hurts my relationship with God and with my spouse. Obstinate silence changes the balance of power in any relationship for the worse.
Lest you think I have it in for quiet people, consider the other side of the coin. I know those whose verbal tirades have left their spouse literally quivering in fear of what comes next. I know husbands and wives who, in the name of "being real" or being "honest" in their marriage, let loose with biting, stinging words that wound their spouses to the core.
Instead of hurting the marriage by holding back verbally, these folks hurt the marriage by lashing out. These couples sell the same damage in a different wrapper.
To find the balance between these extremes, recognize that marriage, like our relationship with Christ, takes communication. Just as you won't grow spiritually without some form of consistent prayer life, you won't grow in your marriage without some form of consistent communication. If you're the spouse that likes to hold back verbally when you're mad, and you don't take the initiative to come back to truly resolve whatever conflict you're facing, you cheat yourself and your marriage out of God's best. If you're trying to keep the balance of power in your favor by holding back verbally, you're probably succeeding – but at what price?
Maybe you're the spouse using words to tip the balance of power in your favor. You trample on your spouse's feelings, self-esteem and dignity with every hurtful verbal exchange. Maybe you find yourself rationalizing your communication style by saying, "She needed to hear that," or, "I know the truth hurts, but somebody has to tell him." If this is you, I'd caution that there are very rare, limited cases when a married individual should take this stance of being marital judge and jury.
Instead, in humility, we would do better to take whatever "she needed to hear" or the "truth that you had to tell him" before the throne of grace. Earnestly ask God if your heart and attitude are right before ever going back to your spouse for the kind of conversation that could once again trample your spouse's spirit.
Find balance in your style of managing marital conflict. Silence hurts. So does verbally lashing out. Neither is a healthy way to resolve conflict in your marriage. In extremes, both styles of resolving conflict are futile relational power-grabs. If you're the quiet one, learn from your blabber-mouth spouse. If you're the talker that shoots verbal darts non-stop, learn from your tight-lipped spouse. Stop doing things the way you've always done them, and begin looking for different results.
Most importantly, though, don't focus solely on the balance of power in your marriage. Focus on the balance of power between you and your Maker. Balance this scale, and the rest tends to take care of itself. Are you talking with God? Or are you the silent partner?
Copyright © 2008, Matthew D. Turvey

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's Unfair Not To Fight

Avoiding conflict in marriage isn't fair to yourself or your spouse. Learning to embrace and resolve conflict healthily leads to a better marriage.
Remember June and Ward Cleaver – that oh-so-happy couple that chuckled through life's lessons with nary a care? The couple that never seemed to have any conflict? Never seemed to fight? Gee, Beav, weren't they happy?
June and Ward were my parents. They never seemed to disagree, to argue or to have any conflict whatsoever. I remember hearing my parents have a serious disagreement only one or two times during my formative years. If you grew up in a family where fighting was the norm and days of peace were something only the neighbors experienced, you may be jealous.
There are two sides to this coin, however. I came out of adolescence and into adulthood fearing conflict. I detested conflict. I didn't have a clue how to handle it. Conflict brought up emotions I didn't know how to handle. I had no backbone in my personal relationships – all because I didn't want any conflict. I ran scared.
Fast forward to marriage. God placed a wonderful woman in my life who was much less noticeably afflicted with conflict-aphobia. True to past form, I spent the first years of our marriage trying to avoid conflict and fighting. I hated the emotions dredged up by conflict, and I didn't know what to do when my wife brought up issues that were difficult for me to deal with. I wasted huge amounts of time avoiding conflict, hiding from it and trying to sweep it under the rug without dealing with it. I was doing all this while thinking it was best for me, best for my wife and best for our marriage.
However, instead of having less and less conflict (my inherent goal in avoiding it), my wife and I started having more frequent, more intense and more completely unsolvable conflicts. The very conflict I was running away from kept coming right back at me. I was running down a mountain away from an avalanche that wasn't slowing down.
I didn't allow my wife to have any negative emotions – or at least not to let me know about them. Through my words and actions, she understood I couldn't be bothered – or wouldn't be bothered – with conflict.
I was communicating to her, "If you have a problem with something in our relationship, don't tell me about it. It's your issue. You figure it out, and then tell me about it with a big fake smile on your face. Don't tell me about your pain. I don't want to know that you're feeling pushed out of my life because of my utter lack of willingness to deal with reality."
Our marriage arrived at a tipping point. Something had to give. The "my way or the highway" approach wasn't working. My wife couldn't go on with not being able to express herself to me. I couldn't go on hiding and avoiding the conflict gurgling right under the surface. I was destroying my marriage in my short-sighted efforts to make it my version of "better."
It was at this point of hurt that a series of events and connections with godly people led to me a life-changing revelation. I realized it was unfair not to fight. How selfish and arrogant of me to think that marriage had to be my way or the highway – especially when my way wasn't God's way.
For too many years I had been cheating my wife out of the chance to be heard. I was squashing vitality and life out of her and our marriage without even knowing it.
So I began to change. I began to accept that conflict done right is a wonderful thing. It's a crucible through which we take our relationship to a deeper level. We learn something about each other that lets us love deeper. When we accept our own shortcomings and the faults of our spouse and we work through them honestly, we get an incredible opportunity to extend God's grace to another person.
I soon realized I had also been cheating myself out of a huge part of marriage. I had not allowed myself to experience the emotions I was so scared of. When I paused and felt – really felt – the emotions that previously terrified me, I grew in ways I didn't imagine possible. Taking off my emotional sunglasses led me to see the world, my wife and my marriage in a full spectrum of new clarity. Life wasn't so one-sided anymore.
Maybe you find yourself in a marriage where your spouse "can't do" conflict. Or maybe it's you that can't do conflict. It's not fair to continue on this path.
Remember a few key principles to guide you through the process of fighting fair:
Emotions are nothing to avoid or be afraid of. Emotions just are. God gave them to us. Let's celebrate them in all their messiness, complexity, joy and pain.
Emotions are signposts that help you navigate the journey of marriage. Embrace the emotional expressions of your spouse and look for the message behind the words. What does your spouse's anger mean about their current experience and satisfaction in marriage? Learn from these emotions.
You make a better marriage when you work through conflict and honestly confront emotions. It may not sound macho, but my ability to cry with my wife and to better understand her pain led to increased intimacy in other areas of our relationship.
I'm not trying to be Ward Cleaver in marriage anymore. My wife and I no longer avoid conflict in our marriage. We see conflict as a chance to find the deep and rich rewards that come from living examined lives. We've learned to fight for our marriage – which is only fair.
By Matthew D. Turvey

Thursday, June 3, 2010

From Tragedy to Victory

We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.
— James 5:11
It is easy for us to read Job's story and critique him at certain points. But we need to keep in mind that Job never read the Book of Job. He didn't know it would turn out well in the end. He didn't know about the conversations between God and Satan. He didn't know why everything was happening. All he knew was that one day, it all was going beautifully, and the next day, the bottom dropped out with no real explanation that he could see. Yet Job persevered in his faith and integrity.

We are told in James 5:11, "We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy." God's plan finally ended in good, but Job could not see that midstream.
There are things about life that we don't understand. God can bring good out of bad. It doesn't mean that bad becomes good, because bad is bad. But it does mean that God can bring good despite bad, and our tribulations can bring forth good things. As Hebrews 12:11 says, "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way."

Before disciplining a child, a parent sometimes will say, "This will hurt me more than it will hurt you." Meanwhile, the child is thinking, Yeah, right! That is how we feel when we are being disciplined or are going through hardship. It hurts. But it also brings forth something good.

God can take the greatest of tragedies and turn them into the greatest of victories.

Greg Laurie