Conflict — it’s inevitable even in the healthiest of marriages.
While there is a type of healthy conflict that can help guide couples toward decisions and a greater understanding of each other, unhealthy conflict can result in just the opposite. When you bring two sinful people together into a relationship, at some point there will be disagreements, misalignments, and arguments that can temporarily strain a marriage.
The good news? God has not only given us grace to navigate these moments; He has also given us guidance on how to do it.
Maybe you and your spouse are working to break through “stuckness,” or maybe you want a better way to manage conflict the next time it pops up.
Wherever you stand, here are four steps to repairing conflict that can actually bring your marriage closer – not farther apart. As you practice these, remember that wherever you can find personal responsibility in the situation, you will find opportunity for change.
1. Recognize the dance.
What dance? We call it the Fear Dance. It is the continuous cycle that couples create when their “fear buttons” are pushed, which then leads to a coping reaction in the other person. It is this dance that couples often step into with conflict, where they avoid approaching things head on and skirt around a situation — let’s call it “beating around the bush” — in a way that often causes assumption, misunderstanding and frustration that the other person doesn’t seem to value finding a resolution over making a point or being right.
It’s only when we can call out the problem by name that we can resolve it. You can’t put a band-aid on a wound that you haven’t found.
2. Create safety for yourself.
If you have started to approach conflict in a way that wasn’t healthy or didn’t help move toward resolve, call a timeout on yourself.
We said it — toddlers aren’t the only ones who need to pause and think about how they’ve handled something.
This move is on you. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do in a conflict with your spouse is step away, communicate when you’re coming back, and then come back with a clear head and fresh perspective.
When you do come back ready to work through the situation, you could say something like, “That didn’t go well. Can we try that again?”
It sounds simple, but the weight of it can do wonders for the other person’s heart.
3. Take responsibility for your heart.
It’s not necessarily our first instinct to take the responsibility when we’re engaging in a conflict, but there is always something that God can reveal to us about the state of our heart when we ask Him to.
Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart…”
It’s truly as simple as that. In following step 2, take that time away to redirect your heart toward God and allow Him to reveal the areas where you may need to take a different posture.
Do a self-audit on your emotional pain. Maybe there is bitterness, anger or pride that has driven your actions or words. Rather than digging in your heels, uproot those feelings and let God do His work in you.
4. Choose to repair and reconnect.
Just as loving someone is a daily — often hourly! — decision, so is repairing conflict.
This conversation could play itself out in a number of ways, depending on what you’re feeling and why the conflict escalated in the first place. These are a few ways to navigate the final step toward repair:
This comment takes it one step further by asking what can be done to make things right and repair any feelings or layers of trust that may have been damaged along the way. This may be as simple as handling the same topic differently the next time, or it may require more time and intentionality to bring true healing. Each conflict is different and will need its own special attention to be repaired.