With the right approach, conflicts in marriage can be constructive
By Tek & Goldie Chong
“You’ve been married for so long, you surely must have sorted out your differences by now,” our friend expressed disbelief on hearing that Tek and I still have conflicts even in our 51 years of marriage. No couple can remain lovey-dovey all the time. Yes, till death do us part but quarrels are bound to separate and isolate. But through the years we have learnt that conflicts in marriage need not part us; it can bind us together even more.
No keeping of records
We keep away the little foxes that gnaw at our relationship by keeping short accounts. We don’t sweep things under the carpet but work at resolving every issue. If we can’t agree, we agree to disagree.
Our motto is: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in everything else, love.
Build Up A Credit Balance
Over time we have strengthened our marital foundation by showing kindness and thoughtful behaviour, supporting each other, and being tolerant and understanding. It’s like making periodic deposits into our bank account. Negative withdrawals during times of conflicts are less likely to undermine a relationship when our emotional bank account is healthy.
Use Spiritual Weapons
Once when we were arguing and getting more and more heated up, Goldie said, “We better stop now. I’m going to bed. Let’s pray.” Our habit is to pray every night—and fights have not stopped us praying. Usually the moment we pray, reconciliation begins. That night we had been sitting on opposite sides of the dining table. At first it was difficult to start praying. There was a long silence. Then Tek moved over and sat beside me and held my hand. The closeness started to soften us, praying became easier until we could pray in our usual way. After praying, peace and joy returned. The next morning, while still in bed, we hugged and Tek declared, “I nullify all the negative words I said yesterday … I will work together with you.” Goldie also declared, “We will not let the enemy destroy our synergy as we serve God together. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” We realised that besides prayer, renouncing negative words and substituting them with positive affirmations were powerful spiritual weapons.
Exercise the gift of discernment
It took us a long time to discern the devil’s part in our conflicts. Often in the midst of our heated argument, the Holy Spirit would alert one of us that we were not only in a physical battle but also in a spiritual war. We need to put more blame on the enemy whose aim is to kill, steal and destroy our peace, joy and relationship, so he adds his attacks in every fight and makes them worse than what we make them. When we discern the culprit we bind and cast out the spirits of strife, anger and division, we defeat them in the spiritual realm and are set free from their influences.
When we are worn out and tired, we are prone to say hurtful things which cause us to regret later. Proper rest enables us to get a better grip of ourselves in an argument. Once when we were arguing over an issue, we could not come to an agreement. The next day, feeling more refreshed, we brought up the subject again. With more time to examine and discuss more thoroughly, we were able to reach a mutually acceptable solution and so brought closure to the discussion. Tying up the loose ends after a quarrel helps prevent future conflict over similar issues.
Avoid Negative Patterns
Clarify some rules to reduce negative patterns of behaviour. We may not be aware that some behavior are irritating. For instance, Tek walks away and Goldie clams up. So we have learnt to give feedback on our preferences. Goldie explains, “I feel rejected when you walk off, so don’t go away in the midst of a quarrel.” Tek explains, “I’m really frustrated when you assume I know why you are angry, so don’t give me the silent treatment.” Through feedback we know what to do and what not to do, thus lessening frustration and improving communication.
A golden Rule
In the heat of anger, no matter how tempting it is to wound, hurl insults or even kill each other, we should control ourselves. A relationship that takes years to build can easily be destroyed by one careless word or act. So we rather forego a moment’s pleasure than destroy our relationship; it is too heavy a price to pay. We should attack the issue, not attack each other. We must not say or do anything which has irrevocable consequences. George Sala, a writer, said: “it is difficult not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment”. The apostle Paul wisely advised,Ask the Holy Spirit to guard our mouths. Remember we should present our views not to blow off steam.
The term “quarrel” should be changed to “discussion”. Instead of arguing who is right and who is wrong in a quarrel, we must have the mindset that we are merely expressing our viewpoints, exploring alternatives before choosing the best option. By labelling it a discussion instead of a quarrel, we reduce the tension, become calmer and more logical.
In frustration, Goldie complained, “But that’s not what I said. Don’t put words into my mouth. It is often difficult to express myself and even more difficult for Tek to catch my intention, so he clarifies by asking “Did I get you right? Did you mean…” There is often a disparity between what is spoken and what is heard, so it is advisable to check with the speaker if that is what he meant. Patience is needed during good times, more so in the heat of an argument. So think before you speak and listen patiently, not only to the words but also the emotions behind the words. All this takes time, so avoid arguments when you are in a hurry.
After The Conflict
Goldie recalled, “The other night, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if we didn’t make up, so I got out of bed and went to Tek to say I was sorry. Though I didn’t believe I was wrong, I could still apologise for my part in the quarrel. So I humbled myself and initiated reconciliation.” There are times we are not able to arrive at a solution by bedtime but by mending our relationship, we are able to go to bed as friends. We feel God’s injunction has saved us many sleepless nights:Certainly driving the devil out from our bedroom is conducive to better sleep.
By practising the above principles, all our conflicts have turned out to be positive—our relationship has strengthened. We have come to know and understand each other better. By releasing forgiveness and asking for forgiveness, we remove barriers and love each other more. We don’t mind having more good fights!
This article is modified from Fight A Good Fight! – Asian Beacon: Aug-Sep 2009 (Vol 41, No 4, p34-5)