Conflict Is Necessary
About the Guest
A healthy relationship without conflict is a myth. Failing to resolve conflict in marriage leads to stagnation, providing the perfect conditions for bitterness and resentment to take root, making it hard to extend and receive forgiveness. From the FamilyLife Today vault, hear classic conversations about conflict and forgiveness.
A healthy relationship without conflict is a myth. From the FamilyLife Today vault, hear classic conversations about conflict and forgiveness.
Bob: Have you and your spouse ever experienced any conflict in your marriage? Author and counselor, Gary Rosberg, says you are not alone.
Gary: I got conflict. You got conflict. All God’s children got what?
Gary: That’s right! We got it! You see, it is not: “If we have it…” / it is: “When we have it, what are we going to do with it?” The goal of marriage is not to be conflict-free but to handle conflict correctly when it occurs.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Dennis and I have learned a lot about marital conflict over the last quarter century. Some of it we have learned on our own, but we’ve gotten a lot a help from some friends as well. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.
So I’m just curious—how many years does it take for you to be married—at what year does the conflict part stop? How many—and I’m asking for a friend—this is not anything I need to know personally. I’m just asking—[Laughter]
Dennis: Of course. Of course, you know the answer—you’re smiling as you ask the question—[Laughter]—of course. Well, I can tell you from my experience last night. [Laughter]
Bob: You haven’t reached the golden—
Dennis: I have not!
Bob: —the golden rainbow yet? [Laughter]
Dennis: Barbara said to me, at the end of the day—this was after several just back-and-forth misunderstandings— “You know, you and I are just not in sync; are we?”
The answer is: “I don’t think—until you cash it all in, Bob—[Laughter]—and it is til death do you part that there really is going to be no conflict, because what happens between two imperfect human beings—who tend to be selfish, and hardnosed, and not teachable at points—we communicate with one another imperfectly, even with the best of intentions!
Bob: We had a weekend—I was kind of depleted near the end of the weekend. MaryAnn still had some expectations for energy from me that I just—I mean, I probably could have mustered it up; but I didn’t really want to—I wanted to stay in the chair.
Dennis: You know, here’s the thing, Bob—you experienced that sitting in the chair and I experienced it last night. You’re never going to outgrow the need for asking for forgiveness and learning how to grant forgiveness. I think marriage is God’s greatest school. Maybe the only thing that comes close to it, that’s in second place, would be family—your immediate family / your kids—but then, beyond that, your extended family. I mean, you are going to have a lot of opportunity to miscommunicate, misunderstand, and hurt one another. I think we are not talking enough about this subject of forgiveness, because it is at the heart of what Christ came to do for us.
I’ll just read the verse—maybe the most oft-quoted verse that we’ve had, here in 25 years, on FamilyLife Today. By the way—25 years—we’re celebrating it all this year. We’re about to share with you a few clips from broadcasts in the past.
Here’s what Paul said in Ephesians, Chapter 4, verse 32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” It’s not optional.
Dennis: It is the glue of the marriage relationship and families. How else can you go the distance all the way to the finish line, without practicing asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness?
Bob: I don’t think I had that verse memorized 25 years ago when we started FamilyLife Today, [Laughter] but I do today.
Bob: It’s one that my kids have memorized / it’s one that we’ve needed in our family.
Dennis: Yes; it’s interesting how soon it can show up. We’ve had a guest on FamilyLife Today, Sara Groves, who is an outstanding musician/singer. It started on her honeymoon.
Bob: She and her husband Troy were here, talking about how much they benefitted from one of FamilyLife’s HomeBuilders groups, which they had gone through with other couples. They talked about how the whole issue of expectations can lead to conflict in marriage.
Sara: One of my favorite conversations ever was about honeymoon expectations. It was so great because we just—we all just admitted that you have all these—the woman wants this totally romantic—I mean, the poor guys, what are they going to do? They’re set up from the beginning. You expect all the most perfect things—you’re just bound to have something go wrong. With the stories that morning, we were just—I still remember that. We just were—
Troy: The sandwich—
Sara: —on our sides; yes.
Bob: Wait, wait, wait! The sandwich—what about the sandwich?
Dennis: Yes! What’s with the sandwich?
Sara: [Laughter] That’s my own personal story.
Dennis: Well, you’re turning red—so it must be a good one.
Sara: It’s a good one. You can choose to air this or not. I’ll tell it—I don’t mind telling it. I had a girlfriend that got married just a couple months before I did. So, she was my only template. She had gone out and bought these—for basically a seven-day honeymoon—she had seven little outfits. I had done the same thing. I was just going to be as cute as I could be. The thing of it—we were on our honeymoon. We would be—we would start—he’d start to be romantic. I’d say, “Wait right here.” I’d take off for an hour, getting ready for this romantic moment—I’d just kill the mood; you know. [Laughter]
While I’m in there, getting ready, he’d ordered a sandwich; and—
Troy: I turned on the basketball game.
Sara: —and turned on the basketball game. When I walked out—again, my expectation is extremely high—I’m expecting him to throw the sandwich across the room—like: “Who would eat at a moment like this? You just look ravishing,”—you know—and turn off / at least, turn off the game. He looks up and “Hey, how are you doing?” He takes another bite of his sandwich. It didn’t take much; you know—I just blew. [Laughter]
Troy: It was Day Four. It was the fourth outfit—[Laughter]—if you know what I mean. [Laughter]
Bob: It had taken an hour! It had taken an hour to get the outfit on!
Sara: I know! And he was hungry; you know.
Dennis: You kind of forgot what it was all about!
Sara: I start saying: “Do you think I wear this ‘cause I like it? I don’t!” You know, I would just freak out on him—poor guy.
We just had a ball that day, talking about all the expectations.
My mom called me right before Easter—we got married in January—so right before Easter she called me. Now, she knows me really well. She said, “Sara, I do not want to get a phone call on Easter morning, crying about how he did not get you this and he did not get—there was no basket.”
She said, “You tell him, right now, what kind of basket you get / what kind of candy you have in,” because my mom is a real—she does traditions. Our family does traditions. She said, “You do not set him up like that.” She said, “You tell him, ‘This is what I need from you.’” So that was—
Bob: And did you come through with the basket?
Sara: —that was our first Easter.
Troy: Did I come through?
Sara: You came through.
Dennis: Did he come through?! I mean, the guy knows better. [Laughter]
Bob: Dog bite me once, blame—[Laughter]
Dennis: I have no doubt about it; you know? [Laughter] But what is marriage?—but one lifetime process of learning the expectations of your spouse. If you have never been to the Weekend to Remember® getaway, I think it is one of the best training conferences in the world to teach you how to forgive your imperfect spouse and how he or she can forgive his or her imperfect spouse.
Bob: The thing that’s so encouraging at a Weekend to Remember getaway is—you recognize you are not alone.
Dennis: Everybody’s laughing, just like you and I were at them, because it’s happened in our marriages.
Bob: Every couple lives through these things and has to learn how to—how to deal with conflict. In fact, one of the couples who spoke, years ago, at our Weekend to Remember getaways, Gary and Barb Rosberg—Gary had written a book called Dr. Rosberg’s Do-It-Yourself Relationship Mender. I think that’s what it is called, and it was all about resolving conflict. He spoke at a getaway and talked about how this is common to all marriages.
Gary: I got conflict. You got conflict. All God’s children got what?
Gary: That’s right! We got it! You see, it is not: “If we have it…” / it is: “When we have it, what are we going to do with it?” The goal of marriage is not to be conflict-free but to handle conflict correctly when it occurs. You see, everyone’s got conflict.
A lot of people think, “We don’t have conflict when you’re dating/premarital.” Oh, yes, you do!
There’s a couple that I wrote about that were just real dear people. I was treating them a couple years ago—they were getting ready for marriage. They were getting married between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I go through all sorts of things in pre-marital counseling, but I got to the issue of conflict—I said: “Alright; let’s talk about conflict. This is one of my favorite topics. Let’s talk about this.” They said, “Alright.” I said, “You guys, what do you do when you have conflict?” Then I sat back, got my pen out, and got ready to take notes. They said, “Well, Dr. Rosberg, we’ve never had conflict.”
I said: “Well, let me rephrase the question. When you have—you know, when you’re ticked off—you have kind of a fight with each other / argument—how do you deal with it?” Then I sat back, waiting for the answer. And they said, “Gary we’ve never had an argument.” I went to check their pulse to make sure they were alive. [Laughter]
I said, “You’ve been dating 11 years, and you’ve never had an argument?” They looked at each other, kind of grabbed each other’s hands, squished up their nose, you know, like pre-marrieds do. [Laughter] I looked at them, and I thought I was in the twilight zone; you know. I said, “You’ve never had a conflict?” “No!”
I said, “Now, you guys are getting married between Thanksgiving and Christmas.” And they said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, I’ve got a question—where are you going to spend your last Thanksgiving as single adults?” [Laughter]
They looked like two parakeets—you know, on the little stick? At the exact same time, they said, “My parents’ house.” [Laughter] Then they turned to each other and I went [clap]: “We’ve got a conflict!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Let’s just call it what it is; okay? Name it! [Laughter]
Bob: I remember how things like that emerge during the first years of marriage—things that you had not anticipated. You just had a fixed idea about who takes out the trash, about who dries the dishes, about what Saturdays are supposed to look like at your house; right?
Bob: You had some conflict around that.
Dennis: We did.
Bob: You just can’t anticipate the areas where this stuff is going to show up.
Dennis: Bob, I don’t care how long you have been married—two days, two weeks, two months, twenty years, forty years / fifty years—it’s really a healthy process of admitting you’ve been hurt.
Call it what it is—“Yes, I’ve been hurt,”—and then try, if you can, to articulate how you were hurt and how it made you feel. But then invite the other person / invite your spouse back into fellowship and back into relationship; because all of us—if we live long enough, Bob—we’re going to grow old together or grow alone / isolated from one another. To me, that’s really a tragedy; because that is not—that is not what God had in mind for a marriage relationship.
Bob: Some people, when it comes to conflict—they just stuff it; because they think that it is somehow unspiritual to be hurt by somebody else, or to acknowledge that you’ve been hurt, or that you got angry. So they just try to pretend like it didn’t happen.
Dennis: I think that’s what happens in a marriage relationship, Bob; because two people do hurt one another, and then we start believing the worst about them. We start believing that they take advantage of you.
I don’t think—I really don’t think there are very many women at all, listening to this broadcast, who—if they had a husband, who came home tonight and said: “Sweetheart, you know, I’ve just been thinking through what happened the other night / the other day. It hurt me—I just need you to know that. I want to make things right in our relationship.” I think a wife, who’s got a heart for God and wants to follow Jesus Christ, is going to do what Ephesians 4:32 commands us to do—forgive one another and ask the other person to forgive you so you can both enjoy the forgiveness of Christ.
Bob: We had a conversation, years ago, with our friend, Dr. Dan Allender, who is a well-known author/speaker. He was here to talk about conflict in marriage. He made the point that—when we can have the courage to acknowledge conflict, and hurt, and pain in our relationship—it can actually take the relationship to a deeper level than if we just stuff it all the time.
Dan: I talked to one couple—they were nearly in their 70s. He assured me, with this great warmth: “I love my wife,” and “We have had a marriage that, literally for 50 years, we have never had one conflict.” Part of me wanted to rejoice with them, but I couldn’t fully because that’s not true love. Love opens the door to a kind of conflict, where the things in the heart that need to be disrupted are disrupted.
Dennis: So you’re saying it’s not just a one dimensional or kind of a vanilla flavor; but it’s more of a Technicolor, multi-colored experience of a relationship.
Dan: Absolutely! What it means so simply to love is: “I want to give you a taste of God. When I love you, I am giving you a taste of His character, which involves—we know God is merciful—so to give you a taste of tenderness; that is, a taste of ‘I have a kindness of heart towards you.’”
Frankly, that’s disruptive. We like people pleasant; but we don’t want people that kind, moving toward us with that kind of warmth, and generosity, and care.
On the other hand, you have—God is not just merciful but holy, righteous, pure—which means, at one level, I am to move toward you with a sense of strength. When I offer you both, mercy and strength, there’s no question, I’m going to disrupt your life, just as you are going to disrupt mine. At that level, we’re talking about a kind of relationship in a marriage or in friendships that goes well beyond the vanilla / well beyond peace at any cost.
Bob: It’s was great point that you made—that if you’re living a conflict-free existence, you have to wonder: “What are you talking about? What’s going on in your relationship? How surface are you staying to stay conflict-free?”
Dennis: I wonder what the elevation was of your rug, too; [Laughter] because, if you’ve not had any conflict, you basically have got a mountain in your living room that has been swept under there for a number of years.
Bob, I’m reminded of a quote—I’m not going to get this exactly right—but I think it was—I think it was Teddy Roosevelt, who talked about going for great victories, striving and doing great deeds and great battles rather than being a part of a group of people, who lived in what he called the grey twilight, that knows neither victory nor defeat. I think there’s a lot of marriages, who live in that grey twilight, who’ve never—never experienced the mercy of God from their spouse when they blew it; because, somehow, they’ve smoothed it all over and never had to express mercy—and frankly, never been stretched by providing mercy and growing in your own faith, realizing you’ve got a responsibility to love an imperfect person. I think this subject of forgiveness really does need to be revisited, because it is at the heart of the gospel.
This last clip we are going to play here is by Dr. Voddie Baucham. Voddie, for a number of years, was pastor of a church in Houston, Texas, and is now in Zambia, leading a seminary—training pastors from all over the continent of Africa. Voddie believes that our understanding of forgiveness is tied to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Voddie: So why don’t we forgive? One reason we don’t forgive is because we do not comprehend the gospel. When I am constantly and consistently reminding myself of the price that was paid for my sin / when I am constantly and consistently rejoicing in and praising God for the forgiveness that is mine in Christ, I cannot harbor unforgiveness toward you—I can’t do it!
When I am constantly burdened down under the weight of the majesty of the forgiveness that I have received / when I am constantly reminded that the precious, spotless, sinless Lamb of God was crushed and killed—crucified at the will and beckoning of his own Father—and that that perfect life was exchanged for mine, it is impossible for me to continue to harbor unforgiveness toward you. If you are harboring unforgiveness, I want to point you back to the gospel / if you are harboring unforgiveness, I want to point you back to Christ.
Secondly, I harbor unforgiveness because I’m wrong about the definition of forgiveness.
For example, some people hold onto unforgiveness because you believe forgiveness means you have to forget. That’s a common cultural saying, but it’s not Bible. “It says that ‘God casts our sins into the sea of forgetfulness’!” Yes; see—you ain’t Him. [Laughter] Literally, what that means is that God casts off the punishment due to your sins when you understand what forgiveness means.
Now wait—it’s not the beauty of forgiveness / the beauty of forgiveness is not that you can’t remember what happened—the beauty of forgiveness is that, in spite of the fact that you remember and may never forget, you give up your right to punish. That’s the beauty of forgiveness. [Applause]
Bob: Pretty good definition there: “…giving up the right to punish.”
Dennis: I was getting ready to share it if he didn’t. You can tell if you’ve forgiven someone if you have given up the right to punish them. I want to apply this in three areas.
First of all, to husbands and their wives—to the little ways we hurt each other and the big ways. You can harbor it, you can let it fester, and let it grow a root of bitterness in your soul—and it’s going to poison you, your spouse, your marriage, your family, and your legacy—maybe for generations. You’ve got to give it up. You have to say to the other person: “I forgive you. I give up my right to punish you any further. You are forgiven.”
The second group of people I want to address are those who have parents, who hurt them deeply. There are some listening to this broadcast who have not yet given up the right to punish their parents because what was done—the damage / the hurt that was done when you were growing up—
—maybe it was evil, maybe it was beyond harmful, it was unthinkable what was done—find somebody to help you move through and move past that.
The third group of people—these are people at work. As I have thought about this illustration, Bob, I actually thought about the Capitol in Washington, DC—a group of elected officials, who do hurt one another. I want to tell you something—I cannot imagine being a senator, or a representative, or an appointee, or the President or Vice President, regardless of the party—I can’t imagine today—because we are in need of the fresh winds of forgiveness filling the souls of our leaders in Congress, and in the Executive Branch of government, and in the Supreme Court.
I would just challenge any of you, who are listening today: “Would you be the one who begins to reach across the aisle? Ask your friend / your fellow patriot to forgive you for something you said. Begin to practice the wisdom from above.” James talked about it—it is peaceful, it is righteous, and it is healing. It provides and promotes unity, whether it’s a marriage, whether it’s a family, or whether it’s a nation.
Bob: You and I have met enough couples at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway who are—they’re stuck. We’ve got a book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center that was written by one of the couples who speak at our getaways, Tim and Joy Downs. The book is called, Fight Fair. The subtitle is Winning at Conflict Without Losing at Love. Tim and Joy give very practical help on how you can navigate your way through a conflict so that you can get to a loving conclusion, which is where we want to get to.
We’ve got copies of the Downs’ book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, along with other resources available on the whole issue of forgiveness and conflict resolution. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for more information about the resources we have, including the book, Fight Fair. Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call if you have any questions or if you’d like to order the books by phone—1-800-FL-TODAY is our number—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, you talked earlier about what a privilege it has been, for almost a quarter of a century now, to each day offer practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk more about resolving conflict in our marriage relationship. We want to talk about a verse that you’re probably familiar with but that you may have not understood the way you ought to understand it. It’s the verse in Ephesians that says don’t let the sun go down on your anger. We’ll talk about what that means and what it doesn’t mean tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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