Marriage and the Family: Conflict Resolution

A marriage without differences is not realistic. Yet the Lord intended two people to be so united as “one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31) that their marriage would be free from strife. Scripture purposed that a man leave his father and mother and commence a new headship. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). But ingrained habits die a slow and painful death. Though both partners leave the childhood home, they bring much from that home with them. Many times this is at the root of conflict in marriage.

With one guidebook, the Word of God, we may wonder why there is such a broad spectrum of values, beliefs, and behavior in believers-even within the same assembly. The short answer is: the Word of God is not adhered to in daily life as closely as we profess. This accounts for more strife than there should be when a young couple marry.

The good news is that God Himself gives us the pattern for resolving conflict. The Scriptures are filled with records of God’s controversies with His people and how He dealt with them. Looking at the very first conflict on earth in the garden of Eden, we discover principles upon which every conflict can be resolved.

Firstly, the Word of God must be the only standard. Failure to observe this started the problem in the garden. Adam and Eve had violated God’s Word and could no longer walk with Him. How can “two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3). If a couple makes the choice to have the Scriptures as the only standard for their home, they have taken the greatest step toward a happy union. When misunderstandings arise, they can ask, “What does the Word of God say about this?”

Some couples, of course, were not believers when they were married and this brings its own challenges. The ultimate solution, however, is always the same. To minimize conflict and to resolve difficulties, we must test all practices by the Word of God and bring them into conformity with it.

This is exactly what God had in mind for the nation of Israel. The book of Deuteronomy was the guidebook for the nation as they left the isolation of the wilderness and entered a hostile cultural environment in the land. It is filled with directives for their preservation. They were not even to inquire about the practices of the other nations. Moses warned, “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? Even so will I do likewise” (Deuteronomy 12:30). God’s laws were to be the standard of behavior and obedience; these laws came with the promise of blessing. When a Christian couple submits to the Word of God, they increase the possibility of harmony in their home.

Sometimes, of course, a couple will realize they have been mistaken about God’s will. At such times they should seek fresh guidance from the Lord and, together, go a different direction.

Secondly, they must always maintain mutual respect for one another, but especially so when disagreements arise. Where respect is lost, there is no desire to communicate at all. Adam and Eve knew they had not respected God’s will, and they went into hiding. Each living creature has territorial rights (even in a fallen creation) and violation of those rights always leads to conflict.

In contrast to the garden scene, we have a beautiful picture of conflict resolution in the letter to Philemon. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him but recognized Philemon’s authority over Onesimus. Hence, he wrote: “But without thy mind would I do nothing” (Philemon 14). We have no doubt that such a gentle appeal from the apostle Paul had a favorable effect. Respect for one another greatly increases the prospect of a happy outcome.

Thirdly, an atmosphere of peace increases the probability that differences will be overcome. In the garden, God waited for this atmosphere before approaching Adam and Eve: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). God was walking. He did not rush in to settle the violation of His will. Moreover, He did it “in the cool of the day.” Often disagreements end in heated arguments because people do not wait for the right moment. When the timing is wrong, tempers flare and harsh words cause injury. Instead of seeking the right opportunity to resolve the difficulty, some couples engage in heated and hurried handling of a problem that exacerbates the misunderstanding. The right moment, with a couple in the right frame of mind, is vital to solving a problem.

Fourthly, although the Lord knew the whole problem, He asked questions rather than making statements and laying blame. He let Adam and Eve lay out the problem and gave them opportunity to explain. An atmosphere of inquiry and a willingness to hear the other person’s viewpoint indicates a readiness to reconcile differences. How often, in the heat of the moment, two people begin to push their point of view with such vigor that neither one is hearing the other’s perspective. Quiet conversation and careful listening is more likely to produce the right solution.

Finally the problem is resolved and God had to make changes to adjust their relationship with Him and their relationship with one another. After a difficulty has been settled (or in order to settle it) couples will have to do the same. There will always be a need for adjustments. We are imperfect human beings. We never have the total picture and we never will. Thus adjustment and change will be our lot for a lifetime.

Yet, if we have the right standard, the right atmosphere, the right approach, and make the right adjustments, we will be much closer to living at peace together and living in a wholesome, happy atmosphere that we can truly call “home.”