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Several weeks ago, I had a disagreement with a close friend with whom I was organizing an event. The crux of the disagreement — spontaneity versus preparedness — struck on some core differences between us. The conflict escalated into a heated argument in front of some other friends. After our meeting was over, I offered a quick apology for my reaction and my friend offered to stay and talk.
It seemed to me that the more we talked, the more uncomfortable things became. It was clear we were not going to agree on this issue, which I considered very important. I also felt justified in my position. In my hurt and frustration, the first thought that flashed across my brain was, I'm SO glad I'm not married to this person! My second thought: Oh, no! Maybe this is what marriage is like!
My friend and I managed to reconcile. We agreed to not let our conflict go public in the future and instead to deal with it privately. We affirmed that we valued one another. We agreed to each work on weaknesses in our lives that might lessen the tension. Still, the resolution wasn't completely satisfying because we didn't share the same opinion. We had to agree that sometimes his desires would win out and other times mine would.
I talked to a married friend about this situation, and she confirmed that these moments do indeed happen in marriage. As a single person, I encounter them rarely. Carolyn McCulley offers a good explanation of this. She writes:
As singles, it's easy for us to simply avoid each other or run away when the conflict is not easily resolved. I think that's the revelation of marriage: I can't run away any longer. I am in a covenant relationship with my spouse and I must deal with this conflict to make this marriage work. But we should have the same mindset as singles. There are important relationships in our lives, too: family members, church members, long-time friends, pastors, bosses, etc. We should be sowing toward faithfulness, charitable judgments (or thinking the best about others), humility, and perseverance in those relationships, too.
I am thankful that my friend offered to stay and talk with me instead of avoiding the conflict. Even though we didn't entirely agree on the issue at hand, we did agree that our relationship was important enough to work things out. Such a response, though uncomfortable, establishes godly habits that will extend to many relationships now and in the future.
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Comment by Amy:
This idea of not straying away from conflict has been very important in my life in the past year and half. I read the book "The Peacemaker" and it has turned my prior ideas and actions upside down. I definitely don't always act on the principles, but I'm learning how to face conflict Biblically and to see conflict as a means of glorifying God. I have the tendency to run away from conflict because I feel a temporary peace, but in the end it's a pseudo-peace. Thanks for the encouragement to see re-look at conflict in light of a future marriage.
Comment by Ame:
yep! that's marriage! and the thing is, you cannot control the other person. you have to choose for you; they have to choose for them. if the goal for you both is the relationship, other things CAN be worked out -- even if it means "giving in" to the other person -- picking your battles.
that's extremely difficult in a relationship with no covenant committment, and i think you did a great job handling it!
Comment by RobertJEspe:
I think the reason singles don't encounter this as much, is that there is no need to. I'm not in a relationship where I'm unconditionally dedicated to anyone's good, so I don't have to worry about disagreeing with anybody.
For example, whether I disagree with my boss never matters, I'm not responsible for how things turn out at work. I can share an idea, but if he doesn't like it, I just do whatever he says. I get to go home at the end of the day, and it doesn't really affect me.
The same goes for pastors, family, and friends. I don't really think you need to (or even can) work on marital conflict resolution outside of marriage, because outside of marriage you either are in charge, or you aren't, and everything you do is voluntary (so even if you choose to work on something you don't want to, it's not the same. You didn't HAVE to).
Marriage of course turns all of that on its head, which is what it is supposed to be. But it is also why your relationship with your spouse is unique, they are the only one you have to have that level of forebearance with.
Comment by ChrisKrycho:
Interestingly, I had a conversation like that last night... and I'm hoping the friend and I can resolve the situation tonight in a follow-up we scheduled. This is a lesson a lot of singles seem to have yet to learn. It's one reason I'm extremely grateful for having grown up with my two little sisters. Though I regret some of the fights we had, I know that we all learned a great deal from them about resolving conflict, about not leaving issues unresolved. It finally hit one of my sisters and me at one point that by leaving the conflicts unresolved, we were causing our relationship to get progressively worse - and in so doing, sacrificing one of God's greatest gifts to us. We were also failing to take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to interact with people in general, and people of the opposite sex in specific. I learned from that the basic patterns of conflict resolution that I now use in most of my relationships, and plan to use when I get married.
Comment by BeckyF:
I've been married for six and a half months, and while we've had our conflicts and minor arguments, we have not had disagreements like Suzanne described (yet!). I think part of that goes with finding the best type of person for you to marry.
One thing that my husband and I joke about is that he could never have married my sisters, and I could not have married any of their husbands, we would all drive each other nuts!
My husband and I certainly do not agree on everything, and there are a lot of things we haven't had to discuss in depth yet. Yes, it is true that you will each make up your own mind and that you must sacrifice your own view for your spouse's at times, and vice versa.
That's what marital conflict resolution is about. Finding ways for a sinful person to love another sinful person in a Godly way. And no, you can't run away from the conflicts or they will escalate until you give up, and maybe that's why there's so much divorce. People listen to their natural instincts to run away, but we have to learn to work through the uncomfortableness and love each other.
Comment by Beth:
Growing up my mom would say "You can't wake up the day after your wedding and expect that you are your spouse are suddenly going to get perfectly, and any disagreements that you do have will be worked thru a in mature and loving manner. You have to build good communication habits now." She also said that how we treat the people that we were closets to then, (i.e. our siblings) would be how we would treat our spouses. So if we wanted to to treat them well, we need to learn to treat our siblings well. And think about it like this, if you can love & deal lovingly with your siblings, over whom you have no choice, it will be that much easier to deal lovingly with the people that you do choice to have in you life.
Comment by iGirl:
Recently I discovered in a "best friend is my roommate" situation that life can be pretty miserable when 2 people are together a lot and trying to be good friends but don't see eye-to-eye on many issues. I realized that my typical response was to avoid conflict by always giving in, or keeping my mouth shut if I couldn't give in. But after a few months the constant giving-in really wears on you and you are forced to find a new strategy! My backup plan was to gently assert my opinion, and retreat if the other person got upset, but I found that doesn't work either because it just makes the other person more upset, and they end up trying to follow you around because they think you're ignoring the issue. It was a rough road, but I think I learned a lot about conflict management, and I'm glad I learned this difficult lesson in a roommate situation and not a marriage situation!
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