Reflections on our Twentieth Wedding Anniversary How we have handled differences and conflict. The two words “differences and Conflicts” are worth reflecting upon as they are inevitable in any marriage. This condition is necessitated by a number of factors, but primarily due to our fallen nature that we constantly need to subject to the word of God. Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines difference “as the way in which two people or things are not like each other”. A couple cannot be like each other in all respects. God has made us uniquely different from one person to another. Having agreed to wed, a couple would have agreed on major aspects as part of the agreement to live as a couple. However, as days are lived together, knowledge about each other is widened and differences are widened conversely. There is therefore need for a couple to manage those differences to manageable levels. The question “Why do differences arise” should be answered from the genesis: God made us differently; as a result, we reason differently, we are psyched differently, our backgrounds and upbringings are different, our spirituality levels are different etc. Thus, even having reached comfortable compatibility levels that led to our union in marriage, differences will even be more visible in marriage even in Godly couples. A spouse may want to accept a Job in another town for instance, while the other spouse may not; what has occasioned the two different opinions? We are basically two different people with varying interests and aspirations. These differences in opinions, and perspectives, however, should be managed for the good health of a marriage. The twenty years of our marriage have taught us that there are fundamental truths that are essential in managing differences. We need to acknowledge our differences in the first place. My wife is extrovert and so loves the crowds and is very expressive. On the other hand, I am introverted and so naturally love solitude and generally reserved. Secondly, we have sought to explore ways and means of complimenting each other. She has what I don’t have and equally, I have what she does not have. We have acknowledged that “Opposites attract." In acknowledging these differences, we have sought to allow what could be described as “Rate of Tolerance”: The rate of tolerance will provide allowances for both of us to explore ourselves and be fulfilled without infringing on the liberties of the other. These liberties are assumed to be within the Christian liberties that Christ has secured. These differences which are ordinary and meant to compliment the couple may, and often go beyond the acceptable limits and sadly may turn into sin. If an ordinary difference has not been handled and managed well, it may result in to a conflict. Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines conflict as “a situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in an acute disagreement or argument." Can a Christian couple be locked in a grave disagreement or argument? This will occur if a difference has been mismanaged and may lead a marriage to malfunction. However, a marriage will simply solidify if a difference or conflict is well managed. The progression of a conflict originates with having a difference of opinion which leads to a disagreement. This disagreement causes differing parties to wedge war against each other, and this war may occasion sin against each other and against God. Our journey in marriage has taught us that God is not pleased with conflicts. He is God of peace and commands all men to live at peace with God and with men. Conflicts grieve God who wants us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3); they also are offensive to other (1 Cor. 10:31, 32); they are suggestive of failure to forgive our offenders (Matt. 5:44, 45) and are expressive of a failed effective communication in marriage (Matt. 5:21, 22). Apart from differences arising from natural causes such as Abilities, Knowledge, Likes, dislikes and Perspectives, differences do arise from our sinful nature in the form of offenses (Prov. 17:27), pride and the flesh (Prov. 28:25; James 4:1-3; 5:19-21). These may be expressed through our incorrect thoughts, wrong Words and wrong actions towards each other. Our marriage experience has taught us the wrong and correct ways of reacting to differences and conflicts. Sometimes we have just kept quiet hoping time will heal us; other times we have stayed away from each other; rarely we have pretended it never happened or tried to bury it in the sand. Waiting for the other person to initiate a conflict-resolution process has been a common feature. In rear cases, would we have intended to punish each other so that the other party may submit and take all the blame. All these reactions, however, have proven to be hurtful. It is a route that none should take if hurts in marriage should be healed. As the years have progressed, maturity in conflict resolution has been our great lesson; Maturity being an essential ingredient in managing some of the thorny issues in marriage. This maturity has come with growth in physical stature, but has also been in terms of growth in intellect and wisdom. Additionally, maturity has been an eminent spiritual growth in both favors with God and with men. A person can be described as mature to handle differences and conflict in marriage if they have the ability to control rage when it raises its long neck so that a potentially volatile situation can be handled in the absence of violence. Thankfully, with the help of God, violence in any form has been absent in our twenty years’ journey. Perseverance has been another mark of maturity. This has been the ability to keep on exploring alternatives or corrective actions despite the odds against the tide. It has not been easy, especially when a solution is nowhere in sight and frustration has seized us; discomfort has crept in, and defeat seems imminent. Sometimes, the solution has been in the ability to say, “I am in the wrong." Saying “I am in the wrong” has been a form of humility and kept us in check with our wedding commitments and pledges. Peace with God and submission to God for situations we have no control over is what we have always coveted. The best practices and God honoring ways of resolving differences and conflict are not farfetched. Often, we have discovered this to be true after exhaustion in pursuant to futile solutions. Expression and actual communication of love and care at the time of disagreement has been effective by giving preference to one another (Rom. 12:9-10). Doing more of listening than talking has been a good medicine too (Prov. 10:19; 25:11). This practice has often eliminated the possibility of hearing what is not being spoken. When turns come to speak, a gentle answer has been ideal (Pro.15:1). If convicted of any sin, confessions have not been withheld (Psalm 139:23, 24) and asking forgiveness from the offended party, and to God has been the only way out. The desire to resolve the differences and conflicts has always been a much-needed feature whose absence has been sought. The overarching pillar has been the interest in the glory of God rather than in self-gratification and appeasement (Joshua 22:5). A model place and time to talk quietly and openly without interference has been another essential skill. The bedroom has been a perfect place and sometimes an outing to some quiet place. There have been, regrettably, a few incidences when this rule has not been observed and an innocent discussion had resulted into an open difference in the presence of our children either in a car or in the living room. What started as a mere discussion would escalate to an open dispute.. We have regretted such incidences and avoided them as much as possible. What we are yet to learn is to say sorry to the children if they catch us in such a tiff. Other essentials have included staying on the subject and not allowing deviations, being open and Frank with each other, showing respect to each other, being positive for a solution and avoiding the blame game. A well-managed conflict will yield positive fruit. Discussed here below is a standard process we have leant from. The real problem would have been identified. The common ones are around finances, estates, submission, headship and neglect of our wedding pledges. Having identified the real problem, the major causes should be identified as well. These may include not living within the budget, for instance, or spending too much time with friends than with family. There will be things both husband and wife will agree on and those that they don’t. Based on the two lists, all possible solutions should be outlined and a simple evaluation of their merits & demerits done. If done thoroughly, choice of the most acceptable solution can finally be agreed upon and commitment to implementation made. Periodical reviews of the implementation plan are basic to ensure non departures as well as inclusion of essential modifications to agreed causes of action. Additionally, we have always found the standard approaches for resolving conflict outlined in the scriptures very beneficial. One such approach is the one described in Matthew 18:15-20 which reads “Moreover, if brother sins against you go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. Nevertheless, if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he re refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” In relation to marriage, a couple should, first of all, seek to resolve their differences between them without involving other parties. We are thankful to God that this has worked well for us. We have managed, for the last twenty years, to deal with our own differences and conflicts. If this first option fails, then the value and advantages of bringing in third parties can be considered. If this is decided, the couple should agree on who the third party will be. This person should be mature and trusted. A third party can be a pre-marital counselor or a selected grown-up Christian, who can be confided in. There are advantages and disadvantages of having a third part. The advantages are an independent opinion and objectivity on the part of the third party, while the major disadvantage is security of the private information thus shared. The last option is to tell it to the elders if even the third party cannot resolve the difference and conflict. The elders can be trusted to handle the issue. It is hoped that at this stage, the elders would assist the couple find a solution. If no solution is found, it is most likely that sin has entangled the couple and is not willing to amend their ways. If this is established, disciplinary action, such as excommunication, may be instituted. Since we are not those who fall back, we have committed to perseverance even in the midst of differences and conflicts. Experience has taught us that we need to work at our marriage to sustain it, else weeds will grow and the plants will be chocked. We have been called to peace, and that is what we should be in marriage: peace makers. “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8,9). We have found the following five elements necessary to quench conflicts that would potentially wreck marriages beneficial: Harmony (be of one mind); Compassion (being open and positive to the spouse’s needs); Love (treating each other as we would treat our own bodies); tenderheartedness (affectionate, sensitive and caring); and Courteous (considerate as not to inflict pain of any fault, and willing to offer encouragement). May the Lord of Glory continue to sustain our marriage. Amen
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