Our Marriage Mechanic

Pastor James Aderman, Fairview Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI

Determining, “Who’s to blame?” requires spouses to be on opposing teams. Husbands and wives become teammates when they ask, “What exactly is wrong, and how do we fix it?”

“You’re late. We started supper without you.”

Ice-sickled words. I heard them many times during my quarter-century of marriage. I always had just one more task to finish in the office, one more phone call to make, one more minute to spend with a member.

But this time I was saying the words . . . to my wife. Her job as office manager has brought her home past normal supper time with increasing frequency. Delicious, if not comic, irony. And conflict.

No one desires conflict, especially in marriage. But occasional contention is a normal part of every relationship. Sinful humans living in a sin broken world can’t avoid it.

But there’s an upside to conflict. Like a kachunk-kachunk sound from under your car, marital discord is the symptom that something is wrong, that something needs to be fixed or the problem will act worse. Even better, marriage problems drive us to the Prince of Peace for repair. Conflict leads to asking these questions.

Is my love Christlike?

One of the reasons relationships fray is that we fail to “live a life of love, just, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1,2). When we take our eyes off the Savior’s sacrificial grace, it’s impossible to love like him, to love with an unconditional commitment for the imperfect people in our lives.

Conflict usually dissipates when we recognize how Jesus’ love compels us to be patient and understanding, and to view other’s actions in the best light. Strife in a marriage calls each spouse first to examine his or her own relationship with Jesus, then their relationship with each other.

Do I neglect or avoid dealing with the issues?

Cars will not run long or well without attention to those funny noises they sometimes make. The scraping sounds of a clashing relationship must also be addressed. Avoid confronting a spouse’s sin and it will happen again, probably worse. Neglect repenting of sins against your spouse, and trust and love will erode.

Couples must find a caring way to talk about conflict potholes in their marriage. Certainly, “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29), but do talk.

Do I listen or react?

Words icy enough to match a cold supper should have signaled me to listen until I understood my wife’s complaint. If I had, I would have discovered that the real issue was not that she was disappointed because I was too late to enjoy a meal with my family. Instead, she was disappointed because my lateness showed a lack of respect for her and my daughters.

But I tended to react rather than listen. I grumbled under my breath or dismissed her complaint as inconsequential or ignored her frustration. I missed any hope of addressing her basic concerns. The clatter of conflict means it’s time to listen closely — to ask sincere, probing questions and put what we’re hearing in our own words–so we learn which gears aren’t meshing: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” (James 1:19).

Do I seek a remedy or merely to defend myself?

When conflict is discussed, the goal is a solution, not self-justification. I did nothing to remedy the situation when, coming home to a half-eaten supper, I excused my tardiness with tales of ministerial necessities.

Determining, “Who’s to blame?” requires spouses to be on opposing teams. Husbands and wives become teammates when they ask, “What exactly is wrong, and how do we fix it?”

Brainstorming a remedy often works. That means recording as many ideas as possible–any idea is acceptable no matter how outrageous–in a short time span. Then evaluate the list for a workable solution.

Do the same issues keep resurfacing?

A car’s suspension system is built to handle occasional potholes. When it’s fed a steady diet of potholes, however, shock absorbers, tires, and tie rods quickly fail. Relationships can also weather occasional rough roads, but when we constantly revisit that same stretch of corduroy those relationships are fast to fatigue.

The kachunk of conflict urges us to ask, “How often have we been down this road? For everything we’ve tried, are we still in the same place?” If so, it’s time to call in a Christian friend, your pastor, perhaps even a Christian therapist. A caring and wise counselor will often see the formerly invisible and vastly better routes God has in mind. Don’t allow pride to stop you from using these special gifts from your Father.

Conflict is a blessing, but only when the Prince of Peace serves as our mechanic.


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