I taught a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships. In the class. we regularly did breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question or issue. In one of our classes, we asked the men and women to split up and, as gender groups, identify their top five areas of marriage conflict. Both groups came up with the exact same list of conflict areas.
Any guess as to what they came up with?
In no particular order:
1. In-laws. Not everyone is blessed with wonderful, supportive, and caring in-laws the way I am. Some people have real conflict with their in-laws—conflict that results in fights, hurtful words, and even hurtful actions. One of the problems in dealing with difficult in-laws is that there is only so much you can do when it comes to other people’s behavior. In fact, you can’t do anything about their behavior. But you and your spouse don’t have to do anything with their behavior. What you can do is work on your responses to their behavior.
The Bible tells us that the marriage relationship is the beginning of a new family unity. While there are still ties to the old family, we are told that the man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife and the two become one. Simply put, your spouse becomes an extension of you! Now extend the logic: if your parents have a problem with your spouse then you should see it as though they have a problem with you (and vice versa). We need to be supportive of our spouses and “have their backs” even if it means coming against our own parents. If we take the Bible seriously about the unity within the marriage bond, then taking our spouse’s side against family is imperative. Too many “support” until conflict with the family occurs, and then we quickly throw our spouses under the bus. Don’t fall into that trap. Get your partner’s back.
2. Money Issues. Always a biggie, isn’t it? One word: Budget! It’s important for couples to sit down and work out a family budget together. Each one should have a voice and give input for what the budget should look like. This should happen every month. The more you do it together, the easier it gets. Also, it is important that spouses do not keep financial secrets from each other. It’s not “my money” and “your money,” but “our money.” Remember, the Bible prioritizes marriage as unity. How can we be united if we’re keeping parts of our lives from each other?
3. The Ex. Yikes. It seems that many people have a lot of problems with an ex. I’ve seen exes do some pretty crummy things. I’ve seen exes intentionally goad the new partner, pushing buttons and being an all-around jerk. My advice? Treat exes like online trolls (people who search for ways to stir up trouble)—all you can do is ignore them. If you engage, you take the bait and get caught in the trap. There is no good way to deal with a troll. They can’t be reasoned with. You can’t convince them of logic or fact. So ignore and walk away.
On a relational level, think of the ex in a similar way to the in-laws. The new marriage is what is important. You ought to be supporting your partner above your ex. That person is not part of the unity any more. There might be kids involved. There might be shared property involved. It doesn’t matter. Marital unity is what matters. Get each other’s backs, and leave the ex out of it.
4. Child Discipline. This one can bring up a lot of difficulties whether the kids are part of a two-parent household or if you’re in a blended family. The difficulty lies in the fact that we’re trying to get two adults to agree on the best course of action on how to raise and discipline other human beings. There is no easy way to help to people come to agreement on the best way to raise kids. There are many different theories on the “best” ways. What I can say is that it is possible for parents to find compromise. Each partner can up with a list of “non-negotiables” and a list of “preferables.” The preferable is where we strive to compromise (yes, that might mean giving in and letting your spouse win the day). This is not going to be a quick discussion, and there might be lots of give and take over the course of years of parenting. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and quit. Stick with it and work together. No matter what, even in disagreement, always show a united front before the kids.
5. Score Keeping. This is sometimes called quid pro quo which means “this for that.” It really comes down to keeping a tally of who did what and using that tally to try to motivate our spouses to do something for us. Healthiest relationships don’t keep score (“I did it this time—it’s your turn to do it now”). In biblical marriages, each spouse seeks to serve the other no matter who did what or how many times he did it. If I really love my wife I should strive to meet her needs, whatever those needs may be. That means that sometimes I will be the one cleaning the bathroom several weeks in a row (even though I really don’t like cleaning bathrooms). It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it. I will do my best to serve her. And she ought to have the same attitude towards meeting my needs and serving me. It’s mutual. When this happens we can drop the score keeping and be confident in the fact that our spouses will do whatever they can to love and support us.
What do you think? Have you had personal experience in these areas of marital conflict?
Would you add anything to the list?