Shelley and I talk often about redemption. We try (as best we can in the face of adversity) to stay eternally optimistic that everyone’s story can lead to redemption. We trust that change is possible. We get emails every week from husbands and wives who want a glimmer of hope and to know that somehow, on the other side of this pain, God might use it. Use them.
Last week I had a client’s wife say something very profound.
“The absence of conflict is not connection.”
Dang! I hate that that saying is right. Sometimes I want so badly to just let sleeping dogs lie and not rock the boat. We’re okay if she’s not mad at me, right? Do we have to engage intense fellowship or can we just leave well enough alone?
You know the answer. I do too. Conflict is inevitable. I’ll even go a step farther and say, Conflict is vital.
Conflict is intimacy too, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. If we always agreed, all the time, not only would it be scary, but it would mean there is no diversity, no alternative view. We would remain stuck inside the same patterns of thinking that blew up our lives in the first place!
I love that Shelley challenges my thinking. I highly dislike the conflict, but when it’s there I know we have the opportunity to go deeper in our relationship. Now that’s different for me. I used to think every fight was just the next iteration of a setback; but it doesn’t have to be. We can go through it and grow through it. Here are 3 keys that help me navigate our conflicts for growth, both within myself and our relationship.
Reminding myself that I’m not a monster. Silly as it sounds, when Shelley is mad at me it taps into my shame and within seconds I can feel like a big, dumb, idiot that has no business being in any type of relationship, much less a marriage. She can be mad at me for something innocuous, like not putting my shoes away, and I’ll tie it back to my infidelity and jerkiness (I just made that up) from early on in our marriage. Once that train has left the station, every stop it makes is onboarding more negative self talk. So I cannot allow it to depart. I have to fight the earliest inklings of shame with the truth.
I am not that man anymore. I am a new man.
God is redeeming me and us.
I am dearly loved and infinitely valuable. I am not a monster.
Reminding myself that she’s not a monster. It’s so tempting to make her out to be the villain. Truly, she didn’t wake up this morning to make me feel like an incompetent man or husband; as much as I’d like to assume she did. She didn’t. She isn’t trying to push my buttons (most of the time).
Reminding myself to listen and try to understand. I want to be heard. I want to be understood. I want to feel respected and like my opinion matters. I want to know she actually cares what I have to say and think. I should get a little grace even if I raise my voice and act like a petulant child. I deserve the dignity of having a voice. Newsflash – so does she. And in my Biblical understanding, I’m called to extend to her what I want and expect. I have to go first. So practically that means not interrupting, correcting, excusing, manipulating, downplaying, blameshifting or going into 50/50 mode. It’s 100/0 at that point. I am 100% responsible for modeling the love of Christ to her by giving her grace, listening and trying to understand. Then I can hope she’ll extend the same in return. Sometimes that happens in a back-and-forth, give and take sort of way. Sometimes that happens in a she-just-has-to-vent-and-I-need-to-zip-it sort of way. No what I mean? Oh and by the way, rarely does she tie something like my misplaced shoes to my infidelity. I do it way more than she does.
Remember, conflict is intimacy too. It doesn’t have to be a setback, in fact it can be a growth moment. I can tell you there have been so many fights that have later resulted in one or both of us saying Thank You to other one, because we saw and experienced such character in the other person, right in the middle of the conflict.
God used the prophet Hosea to communicate to his people that he loved them and desired a restored relationship with them. How? In a most unlikely way. God commanded Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer. As soon as Hosea and his wife’s children were born, she prostituted herself and, in time, became enslaved. In response to God’s command, Hosea then redeemed his wife from slavery and restored her to the family. God intended this demonstration of unconditional love to symbolize his own love for the people of Israel.
God treated his people with mercy and compassion even though they rejected him and his will for them time and again. But though God was angered by the unfaithfulness of his people he never rejected them completely. Neither did he condone their sin by extending unqualified mercy. He allowed the Israelites to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. After this, however, he promised to restore them when they repented.
While the story of Hosea’s gracious love for Gomer is the story of God’s love for the wayward Israelites, it’s also the story of God’s love for you. You, too, choose the way of disobedience that leads inevitably toward suffering and exile. But as God did with Israel, he often uses the pain of exile to bring you to your senses and lead you back to him. Then, through God’s unfailing love, you can be restored and enjoy an intimate relationship with him.