Conflict Is Neutral
About the Guest
Conflict in marriage is neither good nor bad. It's how you resolve the conflict that affects the relationship. Dave and Ann Wilson say conflict can even improve your relationship, when it is resolved constructively. Jim and Carol Shores join the Wilsons to illustrate the complexity of conflict.
Conflict in marriage is neither good nor bad. Dave and Ann Wilson say it can even improve your relationship when it is resolved constructively.
Bob: Is it good or bad to have conflict in your marriage? Pastor Dave Wilson says, “It’s neither.”
Dave: Conflict is neutral. How you handle it determines how it will work out in your marriage. You hear me? It’s true! I actually would even say this: I think conflict can be really, really good. If you learn—we’re going to talk about it tonight—some ways to handle conflict from God’s Word and you start to resolve conflict, you will be more intimate / you will be closer in oneness than you ever would get by avoiding conflict.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We all have conflict in marriage. The question is: “Do we know what to do about it when we have conflict?” We’ll get help from Dave and Ann Wilson today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.
It can be kind of fun when a couple decides to demonstrate what a good fight can look like in a marriage. We had that happen recently when some friends of ours—Dave and Ann Wilson—decided, for the sake of the audience they were speaking to, that they’d just have a little pretend fight right there in front of everybody.
Dennis: It was entertaining, as an observer.
I was thinking, as you said it—you know, when someone is having an argument, it’s no fun—I mean, you’re getting hurt; and you’re hurting someone else. A lot of times, we get in a downward spiral; and we don’t know how to get out of it. In fact, I am convinced that one of the things we do best at the Weekend to Remember® is we equip couples to know how to handle conflict in their marriage constructively.
Bob: We’re going to get a chance to hear some of that today as we hear from Dave and Ann Wilson, who speak at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. Mixed with them in this message are our friends, Jim and Carol Shores, who will do the demonstration of what the conflict looks like.
But this is a good spot for us to remind listeners that the Weekend to Remember getaways that we host each year—we’re about to kick off our fall season. And right now is a good time to sign up for that because, this week and next week, FamilyLife Today listeners can register for an upcoming getaway. You pay the regular rate for yourself, and your spouse comes free—it’s a buy one/get one free opportunity.
You can get more information when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link for the Weekend to Remember, and the information is available there. If you have any questions, give us a call at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” We’re happy to answer your questions over the phone.
At this point, we want to hear a little coaching on conflict resolution from our friends, Dave and Ann Wilson. Dave is one of the pastors at Kensington Community Church in suburban Detroit, Michigan. He and Ann speak at the Weekend to Remember getaways all across the country. He’s the chaplain for the Detroit Lions.
Dennis: And they are a hoot—
Bob: They are.
Dennis: —together. They are entertaining. This message has to be one of the top ten messages I have ever heard on this subject from anyone. They did an absolutely fantastic job presenting how couples have conflict and how we need to resolve conflict with one another.
Dave: Relationships/marriage—all relationships are both wonderful—right?—they’re awesome; and they’re really hard. We’re the typical couple—dated, fell in love / over the top in love. In fact, we went to the Weekend to Remember two weeks before our wedding.
Ann: The marriage conference.
Dave: The marriage conference—you know, FamilyLife Weekend to Remember.
Ann: We said this earlier today—but all these people [conferees] are writing notes, and they’re crying. We’re like [as an engaged couple]: “What are they doing? Why are they writing notes? How hard can it be?!”
Dave: “This can’t be that hard!” [Laughter] “We love each other. We love Jesus. We’re perfect—
“I mean, come on!”
Well, guess what?—we got married. We’re driving to our first job in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be the Cornhusker’s chaplain. [Cheering] That was our first job. So, we get there, and it was the worst year of our life—not because of Nebraska—because of our marriage.
Ann: We were fighting continually. This one night, we went to bed, having another fight. I woke up—
Dave: Every day—every day—
Ann: I woke up at three in the morning. Dave wasn’t in bed. I go downstairs, and he’s on the couch with his Bible on his lap. I’m thinking: “That’s cool. Look at him spending time with God / hearing from God.” I’m like, “What are you doing?” He goes: “I am just praying. I just sat here, and I read tonight what Paul said—to live is Christ and to die is gain. And I, honestly, am asking God, ‘Take me to be in heaven, because it would be better than to be married to you.’” [Laughter] I know! Who says that out loud?!
Dave: I mean, think about this, though—look back—I mean, like six months, eight months—
—a year before that—if you would have told me that’s where I’d be in my first year of marriage, I would have said: “No way! Not with her / not with him.” And that’s true! I would have rather died at that moment.
Here’s what was going through my brain—maybe, this has happened to you: “I married the wrong person. We should have never gotten married—she’s 19 / I’m 22. I come from two alcoholic parents and a broken family. My dad took vacations with me when I was five years old with his girlfriends and abused—I mean, just a bad situation. She comes from sexual abuse, and here we are. You look at it on paper, and you say: ‘Yep; bad decision. You probably shouldn’t have done this.’ And that’s what we’re starting to feel—six/seven months in. Well, guess what? We made it. [Cheering] We’re making it—seriously! [Applause]
It’s amazing how important it is to be able to resolve conflict because everybody has conflict—everybody. So, you have conflict. Here’s what most people don’t do—they don’t know how to resolve it.
We’re really good at having it; we don’t know how to resolve it. Our kids don’t know how to resolve it—they don’t see us resolve it. So, we get to spend some time talking about that.
Ann: We’re so passionate about this topic. Honestly, we’re passionate about it—not only for you / for our marriages—but for our kids and our legacy because our kids learn how to fight and have conflict. They model what we do. So, for us to model it in a way that is healthy and glorifies God, I want that; don’t you? I want to have that. I want my legacy—that goes out of us—to experience that and for healthy marriages to come from us.
Dave: Okay; so, if you’re going to write something down, here’s the first thing you write down—the four styles or patterns of handling conflict. You fit in one of these, and it’s actually in the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember. We heard this, when we went to that conference as an engaged couple—never listened to it.
Ann: So, as we say these, think about: “What are you when it comes to ‘How do you handle conflict?’”
Dave: And they are really fast: The first one is “win”; the second one is “yield”; third one is “withdraw”; the fourth is “resolve.” You fit into one of those.
When a conflict comes, some of you are winners—you know a winner. A winner—man, they are good!—they can debate, they have eye-witnesses, fingerprints, GoPro videos: “You’re wrong! I’ll show you. Here’s the video, right here. You’re going down.” I mean, winners are really good at conflict.
Yielders, usually, are this—they’ll lose the conflict because—what?—they say: “The relationship is more important than this conflict. I’ll give it to you.” Actually, I don’t know any yielders, but they say there are some. So, there are yielders. [Laughter]
The third one is a withdrawer. A withdrawer just leaves. They don’t like conflict / they hate conflict. They’ll leave the room / they’ll leave the house. If they can’t leave the room, they’ll shutdown emotionally—you can’t engage them.
Then, you have people who will do whatever it takes to resolve. They will not stop until “We get to a resolution.”
So, Ann and I get married; right? We don’t know any of this stuff. Even though we heard it, we don’t know this stuff. I don’t know what I am / I don’t know what she is. But let me ask you this: “What do you think she is?” Just take a guess. She’s a winner—she goes at it. She grew up in a family that: “If you’ve got a conflict, let’s talk about it; and let’s deal with it.”
Guess what I am? Yes; I’m a withdrawer. I grew up in a home—
—and you can’t blame it, but I model what I saw—two parents that never resolved anything. Conflict, whenever it happened—usually, Dad got drunk. He was not a happy drunk—he was a mean drunk, and it got ugly; and it ended in divorce. My perspective on conflict is: Always bad / always avoid it.
So, we get married. We don’t know any of this; right? We have a conflict in our first couple of months of marriage. We were living with her parents, raising support as missionaries, now, on Athletes in Action staff. We’re going to be sent to the University of Nebraska to be their chaplain. We’re raising money back in our hometown. It’s a summer afternoon. Everybody is gone, windows are open, and we get into this fight. And I do what I do—don’t even know I did—I just got up and started to leave the room. That’s what I do—I just walk out.
Ann: And I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never seen anyone get up and leave the room when we’re in the middle of a fight. So, I yell at him, “Come back here and fight me like a man, you, chicken!” Wow!
Dave: That’s what I hear. I hear that—
Ann: Wow! That’s helpful!
Dave: —as I’m walking into the kitchen, I hear that, I turn around, I walk back in, and I’m like: “You want a man? Watch this: Bleep you!” And I walk away.
Now, I know you can’t believe I cursed; but I did. [Laughter] And I just start walking away. Then, I hear, from behind me, from the couch—go ahead.
Ann: I said, “Well, bleep, bleep you!” [Laughter]
Dave: And I’m not kidding. I turned around, and like: “OHH! You cursed! Oh my goodness!” Then, I walked out. I was like, “I can’t believe this.” So, I’m going upstairs to the bedroom, closing the door. She follows me! [Makes a sound] Radar. I sit down on the bed. She sits down right beside me; and she goes: “We’ve got to talk about this. We’ve got to resolve this—this is what you do when you get married. You resolve conflict.” I’m like: “What are you doing right now?! Get out of here,”—because I had never in my life resolved conflict. You know why? I thought conflict was bad / you avoid it at all cost.
You ready? That’s not the truth. The truth is this—you ready?—conflict is neutral. How you handle it determines how it will work out in your marriage. You hear me? It’s true! I actually would even say this: “I think conflict can be really, really good.
Ann: I do too.
Dave: “If you learn—we’re going to talk about it tonight—some ways to handle conflict from God’s Word and you start to resolve conflict, you will be more intimate / you will be—
Dave: —“closer in oneness than you ever would get by avoiding conflict.” So, I’ve changed in 35 years of marriage. I do not withdraw anymore—it’s still in there.
Ann: And you don’t curse at me.
Dave: It’s still in there, but I—yes; I never curse at you.
Ann: You don’t.
Dave: It doesn’t happen. But I mean, that’s just a glimpse into our marriage at that time.
Now, I’m going to give you one main truth: “The health and future or your relationship is determined by how you handle conflict.” Now, I’m not talking about the God part / I’m only talking about the human part. “The health and future of your relationship is determined by how you handle conflict.”
I get this from John Gottman—do you know the name?—marriage researcher / marriage writer. He’s the guy who is known worldwide. He’ll sit for 15 minutes with a couple—watch them argue—and tell you if they are going to get divorced or not. He’s 98 percent right in 15 minutes. He says this: “The number one indicator of whether you’ll make it or not is how you handle conflict.”
So, we’ve got to talk; and we’ve got to get a grip on how this works.
But before we tell you a lot, we thought it might be better just to show you how to resolve conflict—so watch this.
Carol: Hey, look at this! Look at what I’m in the middle of.
Jim: [Phone conversation] What? No; the course is a complete disaster. Do you understand? I mean, I’ve got students calling and complaining about it. I’ve got a father who just withdrew his daughter from the course. So, now, it’s becoming a retention issue.
Carol: Hey, Thad just texted. He needs to be picked up from basketball.
Jim: [Phone conversation] Right.
Carol: Can you do that?
Jim: [Phone conversation] No; well, you asked me to call you specifically about this course if there appeared to be some problems. So, there are some specific problems about the course. That’s why I’m calling you right now. Yes; of course—yes; we can do it on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting. I will document it, of course; certainly. You too—thank you. Bye.
[Speaking to Carol] Oh my word!
Carol: What was that?!
Jim: Claude Levy asked me to handle something one way. He completely about-faces and thinks I’m the problem.
Carol: So, can you do this?!
Jim: Do what?
Carol: What I was asking you?
Jim: What were you asking me? I can’t ever make out what you’re doing when you do that [Carol’s motioning while he was on the phone].
Carol: Well, I’m trying to communicate with you without interrupting.
Jim: Well, I can’t interpret mime and hold a conversation on the phone at the same time—like, “What do you need from me?”
Carol: I just need to know if you can do this, or if I need to extricate myself out of all this.
Jim: Do what? Can we introduce some nouns into this conversation?!
Carol: You don’t need to be like that. Look, Thad texted. He needs to be picked up from basketball. I’m wondering if you can do it!
Jim: Right now? I just walked in the door. Come on; can’t you do this one?
Carol: Well, it’s just—I’m on—I’m like in the middle of this!
Jim: In the middle of what?
Carol: This—taxes! I had to start the taxes because this deadline for FAFSA is coming up, which we need to fill out in order to get Jennifer some financial aid for college. So, I started the taxes, but it’s pretty complicated.
Jim: Okay; so, this really isn’t a question—I’m doing this.
Carol: No! Brother! I’ll do it!
Jim: No; I’ll do it. Oh, my goodness—I’ll do it, or I’ll hear about it all night!
Carol: I’m not going to say anything.
Jim: Oh, that’s when you’re absolutely the loudest!
Carol: When have I ever done that?
Jim: The oil change.
Carol: Oh, not the oil change again. That was fine.
Jim: It was not fine! It needed to be synthetic, and you didn’t tell me until after the oil change.
Carol: You know that was over a month ago!
Jim: I know, and you know what? That night you said nothing about it, and you might as well have had a bull horn.
Carol: You know what? I thought the car might be ruined. So, I was worried.
Jim: Okay; fine. We need to decide who is picking up Thad here, and let’s not change once it’s decided. Is it going to be you, or is it going to be me?
Carol: I don’t know!
[Speaking to Conferees]
Dave: Freeze. [Laughter] You know this; right? Often in a conflict, the conflict you are talking about is not the conflict. You know that?
Ann: Do you see it?
Dave: I mean, she’s doing taxes / he just is dealing with the thing at work.
Ann: Is it ever good to—like when you’ve had a hard day, is it ever good to get into something right when you walk in the door?
Ann: It’s the worst; isn’t it?
Ann: It’s just a—anything will explode.
Dave: So, there is all this stuff under the surface that is creeping into this thing. They think it’s about this, but it’s about something else. Let’s see how they do. Action!
Jim: So, I’m doing this; right?
Carol: Doing what?!
Jim: Picking up Thad.
Carol: I don’t know! You know what? I need you to find the last three years of tax records for this FAFSA form.
Jim: Wait!—right now?
Carol: Well, soon. I mean, I’ve done everything else. I’ve already figured out all the utilities and the charitable donations, but I’ve got to call three of those organizations. They sent me 1099s that do not match up with all that we gave and the canceled checks.
But I’ve already been on the phone for two-and-a-half hours today—changed your dental appointment from next week to next month. Then, I had to deal with that whole email problem—they’re passing me from person to person to person to person until I’m back with the first person, who says I need to talk to the tech expert.
So, I have dealt with just enough people today on the phone.
Jim: [Reading phone text] He’s on the phone?
Carol: What?! [Audience laughter]
Jim: [Phone text] Oh my word! He just scheduled this meeting for tomorrow. This is a complete train wreck!
Carol: Then, there’s the email I got about the million dollar settlement in a bank in Nairobi that has our name on it. I think I’m going to respond to that just so I can skip the FAFSA altogether.
Jim: What? [Audience laughter]
Carol: You’re not listening.
Jim: I am listening. Thad needs to be picked up. I’m putting out another fire, and you need the tax records in two minutes.
Carol: That is not what I said! Oh, my word!
Jim: Is there anything to eat before I go pick up Thad?
Carol: You know what? I haven’t had a chance to think about that because I’ve been dealing with this all afternoon, but—you know what? I think this is a perfect time for me to just go in the kitchen and deal with that. So, I’ll go look for something—okay?—
Carol: —before I say something I am going to regret!
Jim: What did I do now?!
Carol: Oh, forget it. Just stay here.
[Speaking to Conferees]
Dave: Freeze! Alright; so, sometimes, in the middle of a conflict, you know what you need?—timeout.
Dave: They’re getting to a place that’s getting heated, getting heated, getting heated. It’s okay, sometimes, to take a timeout. You just don’t take a timeout for a month—
Dave: —or a week. It’s a small timeout to simmer down and calm down a little bit.
Alright, let’s go back and see how they do. Action!
Carol: Okay; so, here’s a hunk of cheese to balance your blood sugar. [Audience laughter]
Carol: But you can’t eat it at the table, because I cannot move this stuff.
Jim: I’ll just stand over here and gnaw on this.
Carol: Thad’s texting again. He wants to know if we can pick up Dylan and Tom at the practice and bring them home also.
Jim: Wait a minute. They live way over in Magnolia—that’s like 45 minutes. Come on! Do these kids not realize they need a ride home until—ding!—the practice is over?
Carol: You know what? I’m just going to pick up all of them; alright?
Jim: No; no. I’ll pick them up. It just would be really helpful if you gave me some warning on this.
Carol: Warning?! I just learned two seconds ago!
Jim: No; I’m talking about picking up Thad. I walk in the door, and it’s just—wham!
Carol: You mean you’d like to give me a warning that I would need to do the taxes all by myself.
Jim: I never asked you to do the taxes.
Carol: Oh, well, somebody has to because you never have a minute that you can start them!
Jim: Okay; now, I should have done that too. Maybe, you would like to walk through my day with me and see how much open space I have to get anything done.
Carol: Well, maybe, you’d like to experience my day and know why I am so freaked out about this FAFSA coming and the taxes aren’t done! SHUT UP! [Audience laughter]
[Speaking to Conferees]
Dave: Freeze. This isn’t working. We need to rewind. You need to go back a little bit and approach this a little bit differently. [Rewinding noises] Start!
Carol: Okay; Thad’s texting—says he wants to know if we can bring the whole rest of the team home.
Jim: What?! [Audience laughter] When did this go from picking up Thad to, like, giving the entire team a ride home?
Carol: I don’t know. I feel like something happened, and we missed it.
Jim: This is going to take like what?—about an hour? You want me to do all of this?
Carol: No. Do I want you—yes! I want you to do all of this. I do / I do—but if you can’t feel that you can do all of this, then, of course, I don’t want you to do all of this.
Jim: That’s not what I said. What I said was that I think that, maybe, you should see what is going on with me. If you actually—
Carol: I should see what’s going on with you.
Jim: —see what is going on with me, you would think—you know what?
Carol: You know what? I can’t see past all these papers here!
Jim: I feel like we are on a loop tape—we are on a total loop tape.
Carol: I can’t see past the papers.
[Speaking to Conferees]
Dave: Stop. Now, here’s the amazing thing—that when you get to this point in conflict, at some point, somebody has got to make a move toward resolution. Am I right? Somebody has to. This thing is not going anywhere good. It’s just spinning and spinning out of control.
Ann: And if you’ve read Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerich, what does he say?
Dave: “Who should make the first move?”
Ann: “He who is most mature.” Who do you think that’s going to be? [Audience reaction]
I’m going to vote for her.
Dave: I’m voting for him. [Laughter] Let’s find out who’s most mature. Go!
Carol: I’ve got to just find, like, this one piece of paper that’s in this pile before I forget about it.
Jim: [Softened voice] Look; I really—
Carol: [Emotion in voice] I just need you to know this is just—
Jim and Carol: I’m sorry! [Audience applause and laughter]
Carol: I am sorry you had such a hard day. I started doing these taxes as a gift to you. Then, I got overwhelmed; and I just got resentful. I should have just let you, at least, land here before I started in with the ride for Thad. I just was mad, and I took it out on you. And I don’t have an excuse really because I did, and I’m sorry.
Jim: I’m the one who should be apologizing. I feel like work trails me home, and it never ends. Then, you have your own list; and then, this is our son.
And of course, you are stressed about doing taxes; and I did not handle this well. I’m sorry. I really am—I’m sorry. Thank you for diving in and doing the taxes. I really appreciate it.
Carol: You’re welcome.
Jim: What can I do to help?
Carol: You could find those tax records by—tomorrow morning is when I need them. Thad’s texting again—he wants to know if we can take him to that place that he likes to eat.
Jim: What place?
Carol: You know that place—the place—it’s the new place that’s across from the old place that has the thing on top.
Jim: Oh, that place? I love that place! I’ll take him / I’ll pick him up. I love you. I’m picking up Thad. Bye. [Kisses]
Carol: Oh, no; you’re not! You’re not going to get to have fun without me. We can—
Jim: Yes; I am!
Carol: —argue about it in the car. [Audience laughter]
[Speaking to Conferees]
Dave: Yes; give Jim and Carol a hand. [Applause] That was awesome!
Ann: Aren’t they amazing? [Cheering]
Dave: We sent them a script and a video of us doing this at our church. They said: “We’re going to do a different drama. We’re going to write it.” And they did—they wrote that.
So, I really—we’ve been praying, and I know people have been praying over you in this room; because there are some people in here—maybe, a lot of us—that are really stuck in a conflict—maybe, a bunch.
Ann: Because what happened—that conflict is so normal. That’s so normal for all of us. It’s just—life gets messy, and our emotions start to flair. So, it’s very normal to go through that. So, I think let’s just start out praying too.
Father, thank You for tonight. Thank You for every single person in this room. It’s not an accident that they are here, but You have appointed each one of us. So, Lord, we pray that You would speak to us now. We pray Your Holy Spirit would nudge us, and encourage us, and inspire us, and convict us—and You, God, would speak directly to our hearts, and You would help us to make a difference in our marriages and in our legacy. We pray this in Your name. Amen.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson, together with Jim and Carol Shores, as they’ve been helping us understand the problem and how it happens. Honestly, if you want to deal with a problem, one of the things you first have to do is understand what the problem is. That doesn’t cure it, but that does get you down the road a little bit.
Dennis: I think most couples get married, totally underestimating the number of ways they are different and the various ways they are going to be set up to have a conflict in their relationship—whether it’s kids, money, sex, the schedule, priorities. I mean, there are so many decisions made in a marriage relationship. This is absolutely essential—that a couple understand the biblical basics of how to resolve a conflict when it occurs. And Bob, as you know, that’s what we give couples at the Weekend to Remember.
Bob: You’re right. And right now—this week and next week—we’re encouraging FamilyLife Today listeners to join us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
We’re about to kick off our fall season. We’ll have about—I think it’s about 40 events this fall—cities all across the country.
And the reason we are stressing this today is because, if you sign up this week or next week, and you pay the regular rate for yourself, your spouse comes free. It’s the best offer we make throughout the year. If you’re interested in attending, now is the time to sign up.
Dennis: Every marriage needs both the husband and the wife to be finding ways together to invest in their marriage. And I think the Weekend to Remember is one of the very finest investments you can make.
Bob: You can sign up online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Just click the link for the Weekend to Remember, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or if you’d like to register over the phone.
Now, if you are listening to today’s message, and you thought, “I wish I could see what was going on—on the stage,” you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and watch the video of Jim and Carol’s performance—and Dave and Ann with them as well.
Again, look for the video on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; and it really is fun. You might want to watch it together, as a couple, tonight or pass it on to some friends you know because they did a great job with this message.
And in fact, tomorrow, we’re going to hear Part Two of what Dave and Ann have to share about how we resolve conflict in marriage. So, I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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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