Series: Improving Companionship In Your Marriage #3
Lee and Annie Gleason had a disagreement about how much money she had spent on buying sugar. The year was 1931, and the Great Depression had just begun.
In an angry fit because of the disagreement, Annie saddled the old mule and rode into the town Anahuac, Texas. She bought—in the days of the Great Depression, remember—a fifty pound bag of sugar. It could have used up all the money they had!
When she got back, she rode straight to the barn where her husband Lee and his brother were shoeing a quarter horse. She took a jackknife out of her apron pocket and jammed it into the bag of sugar, which flowed out onto the barn floor.
Lee looked at Annie and said three final words—“You silly…” and one more I won’t repeat. That was it. They stopped talking to each other that day. They still lived in the same house. They still slept in the same bed. They still ate at the same table. They just stopped talking to each other—period.
This went on for ten years. If they had to communicate something—a grocery list, for instance—they left a note. Later, they sort of start to anticipate each other. If Annie needed lard for the kitchen, Lee had already somehow bought a jar for her at the store.
One Sunday—Annie had gone to church for some sort of all-day event—a nephew showed up on the farm. Lee immediately recruited him for a project on the house, on which they worked all day. In the late afternoon, Annie came driving up in their old Jeep just in time to see them pulling her half of the house away with the tractor.
They had sawed right through the house—roof to floor—and split it, clean as a whistle, down the middle. Then they nailed rough-cut planks over the open sides and that’s how they lived (with some pine trees in-between them) for the next thirty years until Lee died. (Mary Carr, The Liar’s Club [New York: Penguin, 1995], 35ff.)
We’ve been looking at how to improve the companionship aspect of our marriages. Lee and Annie Gleason missed out on the companionship they could have had. Why? Because of a conflict that arose. If we want to have good companionship in our marriages, we’ll have to know how to deal with conflicts when they arise.
UNHEALTHY WAYS OF COMMUNICATING IN A CONFLICT
In the last lesson, we looked at improving the companionship in our marriages by improving our communication. Closely related to communication is the subject of conflict. The cause of conflicts, the process of conflicts, and the resolution of conflicts all have to do with communication at one level or another.
Christian marriage counselor Gary Chapman has identified four unhealthy styles of communication that he describes using different kinds of birds. Each of these styles contribute to conflict in one way or another. They also shut down growth in companionship. As I share each style, think about which one you are most like.
1) The Dove
The dove communicator tries to keep the peace. They will apologize—even if it’s not their fault. Their favorite phrases are “Whatever makes you happy makes me happy” or “That’s fine.”
The dove might think that they are being biblical because they are keeping the peace, but they are actually eroding the intimacy and companionship in their marriage. Why? Because the dove begins to avoid contact in order to keep the peace.
2) The Hawk
Regarding the hawk, Chapman says,
The hawk blames his/her spouse for everything. The blamer is the boss, the dictator, the one in charge who never does wrong. Typical hawk statements are, “You never do anything right. You always botch it up. I don’t understand how you could be so stupid. If it weren’t for you, everything would be fine.” (Gary Chapman, Covenant Marriage: Building Communication & Intimacy [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 45)
The problem with hawks is that, while they think they are strong, they’re actually very weak emotionally. They attack others, including their spouse, because it makes them feel better about themselves.
3) The Owl
The owl is the person is less emotional and more logical. They view themselves as wise. While the hawk might be more hot-tempered, the owl is often cool, calm and collected.
You might be thinking that the owl is a healthy communicator, but you are wrong! Chapman relates a wife’s testimony that shows us why the owl is actually an unhealthy way of communicating:
A wife once said to me, “My husband drives me crazy being so reasonable. He takes hours explaining things to me as though I am a two-year-old who knows nothing. He never gets upset with me. He lets me speak, but he hears nothing I say. Consequently, most of the time I don’t even say anything. It does no good.” (Gary Chapman, Covenant Marriage: Building Communication & Intimacy [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 47)
Finally, the last bird is…
4) The Ostrich
The ostrich is known for sticking their heads in the sand. The human ostrich thinks by ignoring problems they will just go away. If the other person says something that they disagree with, they try not to respond at all.
How they don’t respond depends on their personality. They may start talking about other things. They may get a blank face and remain silent. They might busy themselves with activity. The issue at had never gets dealt with, and it drives a wedge deeper between the husband and wife. (Gary Chapman, Covenant Marriage: Building Communication & Intimacy [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 44–49)
What communication style do you most often default to? Dove? Hawk? Owl? Ostrich? An important step in change is understanding what you are doing wrong in the first place. When we understand how we contribute to conflicts in our marriages, then we can go further, with God’s help, in making changes that will help us to have good fights instead of bad fights.
What’s the difference between a good fight and a bad fight? We will have conflicts in our marriages. No two people are exactly alike nor will they agree on everything. So we will fight. A good fight will be one where we keep our anger in check, where we listen to the other person’s argument, where we explain our reasons and our motives for our position, and where we resolve the conflict in a biblical manner.
But why do we fight in the first place?
WHY DO WE FIGHT?
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:1–3)
James describes a prime reason why we get into conflict—our “lusts” or what we would call today selfishness or self-love. We desire to have for ourselves. It might be something petty, like watching the television channel we want to watch or something more serious, like how exactly to discipline a disobedient child.
Another reason that we have conflict is because of…
10 Only by pride cometh contention: But with the well advised is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:10)
The contention here is of the unhealthy kind, of course, because we can contend for something without being prideful.
Prideful contention or conflict is terrible in a marriage (or any relationship) because we are unwilling to admit that we’re wrong (or at least we aren’t all right).
Insecurity is another reason that we fight. Few people admit it, but we’re all insecure to one degree or another. Even the strongest and boldest and most outspoken person has insecurities. (some people are even strong and bold and outspoken because they are insecure!)
One wife who was raised in an alcoholic and abusive home was stunned when her new Christian husband raised his voice. She thought that he was going to be like her father and it scared her.
After the first fight she and her husband had that included raised voices, she suggested that they needed marriage counseling. He was shocked. Raised voices were just a natural part of working it through. But she took it to mean that the relationship was on the rocks!
The husband understood he had to take steps to be more sensitive, but she also had to come to the understanding that he was not her father, and a conflict was not the end of the relationship. (Paul and Terrie Chappell)
What are some biblical principles that can help us in our conflicts?
BE SLOW TO GET ANGRY
The Bible does imply that there is a place for righteous anger (see Mark 3:5 where Jesus is angry and Ephesians 4:26 and the famous line, “Be ye angry”). But folks, the Bible says a lot more about avoiding anger in the first place.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (James 1:19)
29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: But he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
To immediately get angry is foolish. When a conflict arises in a marriage (a conflict does not necessarily mean anyone has to be angry), we need to take the time to listen to one another and find out what is really behind it all—swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
How often have you discovered that the reason that you are fighting has nothing to do with what started the fight?
I think most marriage conflicts are like that. A little thing starts the fight, but it’s something bigger underneath that is the real cause. Only by listening can that real cause be determined. So we need to be slow to anger.
RESOLVE CONFLICTS QUICKLY
Ephesians 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
It might surprise you that the Bible says, “Be ye angry,” but there is an anger that is righteous. At the same time, however, anger is a dangerous emotion that tends to eat away at the person who is angry.
If your anger stems from a selfish cause, like not getting your way, you can be sure it’s wrong.
Rather than to debate when it’s right and wrong to be angry, the Bible simply states: “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” No matter what your anger is, righteous or not, don’t hold on to it for very long.
Many married couples have committed to never going to bed angry and that’s a good commitment to try to keep.
But I doubt that the phrase “let not the sun go down” is meant to be taken in a strict literal sense, as there are some cases of righteous anger that perhaps should last longer than a day. There are also some cases of anger that taking time to cool off before reconciling might be a good idea.
That said, we ought to strive to finish our anger as quickly as possible. Anger is an emotion that eats away at us. The biblical counsel here to end it quickly should be heeded. Spurgeon told this story:
Two good men had a sharp difference with each other in business.… And one of them, as he walked home, very much ruffled, saw the sun going down, and the passage occurred to him, “Do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph 4:26). He thought, “I will go back and offer an apology, for I believe I have spoken much too strongly.” He went back toward his friend’s office, and halfway he met the other coming to him on the same errand. (Charles Spurgeon, 300 Sermon Illustrations from Charles Spurgeon, ed. Elliot Ritzema and Lynnea Smoyer [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017])
Christians should love God and his word so much that obedience to it leads to quick reconciliation with one another.
DON’T LET SATAN GET A FOOTHOLD IN YOUR MARRIAGE
Why should we be careful not to be angry for a long time? We find the answer in the next verse:
Ephesians 4:27 Neither give place to the devil.
Being angry for too long can give the devil an opportunity to exert his influence in our lives. Satan wants to drive a wedge between married couples.
Think of the lasting harm that he accomplishes by pushing a husband and wife into an angry marriage or even a divorce.
Marriage and the family is the most basic of God’s institutions on this earth. Whatever Satan can do to break a marriage apart, he will do because it will have ramifications later on.
We are in an era where the divorce rate is higher than ever. If you think that hasn’t effected the moral climate of our nation, you’re sadly mistaken. Satan has succeeded in breaking down the family and therefore breaking down the moral fabric of our culture.
Stop Satan’s tactics in your marriage by being slow to anger and quick to reconcile.
A nurse, David Slagle, tells about a married couple who arrived in the ER, both with gunshot wounds. David explains what happened:
He had awakened late for his first day on the job because his wife did not set the alarm. He expressed his displeasure by shooting her in the arm. Not to be outdone, she went to another room, got a shotgun, and shot him in the arm.
As I gathered their paperwork, I heard something one would only expect to hear in a country song.
Separated by a deputy sheriff and handcuffed to their respective stretchers, the husband began, “I love you, baby, and I’m sorry I shot you.”
The wife responded, “I love you too, baby. I’m sorry I shot you.” (Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008], 266–267)
Well, at least they were quick to reconcile!
SEEK GOD’S WISDOM AND WAYS ABOVE YOUR OWN
3 Through wisdom is an house builded; And by understanding it is established: (Proverbs 24:3)
So, let’s be honest. How many times do we stop and pray when we are in the midst of a marriage fight? Not often. But we should. Maybe we’ll have to separate and spend some time in prayer separately before coming together to pray.
When you do get alone to pray, the first thing you should pray is not, “Lord, make her see things my way!” Instead, you should ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal to you your true motives.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)
Christian marriage counselor, Dave Harvey writes—
Did you imagine that a divine examination of your deepest motives and desires would uncover nothing but the purest and most Christ-like intentions? If so, you were on a dangerous stretch of road with no guardrail at all, and probably well on your way to hurtling down into the bottomless canyon of self-deception. (Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage [Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2007])
After God has revealed your real motives in the conflict, you’ll probably have little problem in figuring out what to do next. It’s our impure motives that often keep us from doing the right thing.
God’s wisdom can come to bear in our conflicts in many ways. It might be that God wisdom reveals to you that you are not fulfilling your roles and husband and wife. Or perhaps the thing that you fought over isn’t important at all. Or he may show an alternative way through the conflict.
The point is, we need to stop and pray and ask for God’s wisdom.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
Let’s build our marriages on the rock of God’s wisdom instead of the wavy oceans of our emotions. When we do, we’ll find that conflicts are easier to navigate and make our marriages stronger as a result.
Levi Durfey—LDM-Marriage-3-The Good Fight-Improving Companionship In Your Marriage-20191027FBCAM-SERMON