Resolving Conflicts in Marriage (1)

June 13, 2004 / No. 3206

Dear radio friends,

Today the Reformed Witness Hour has a special guest, probably well known to many of us:  Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma of the Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church.  Pastor Bruinsma recently spoke at a marriage conference on the topic of “Resolving Marital Conflict.”  We are going to air today the first half of his message.

We have him with us and thought we would ask him a few questions to whet our appetite for the message.

Pastor Bruinsma, welcome to the Reformed Witness Hour.  What have you found, as a pastor, to be a primary cause of conflict in marriage?

“It’s not only sin but pride.  In fact, in the speech that will be aired, we are going to emphasize that fact as well — that we all have within us a sinful flesh.  And within that sinful flesh is found pride.  It is easy for us, even as children of God, to become bitter and resentful toward others.  Those kinds of things can build up within a marriage and often times cause conflict between a husband and a wife.

“That is probably the main cause for conflict.  There are a lot of little things that can arise in marriage that can cause problems but it is basically a sin or pride problem.”


That is so very true.  And I’m sure that every child of God who is married has to acknowledge that.  What, then, about some remedies against this terrible self-centeredness that we find in ourselves?

“We have the fruits of the Spirit within us as God’s children.  Those fruits of the Spirit must be actively put on by the child of God.  He must exercise himself in meekness and humility, kindness and gentleness, and that applies not only in general to everyone, but especially within the relationship of marriage.  We must find within us that work of Jesus Christ where He Himself shows us the way to meekness and to kindness.  And we have to deal with our spouses in that way, too.  Especially humility and meekness where we put our spouses before ourselves and give of ourselves to them.”


Here is the first half of Pastor Bruinsma’s message on Resolving Marriage Conflict.

Whatsoever ye do, do it unto the glory of God.  That is a principle found in I Corinthians 10:31, which is the one guiding principle in the life of every child of God.  It is the guiding principle that we use in the thoughts that we think, the words that we speak, the places that we go, and the things that we do.  It is also the one guiding principle that guides us in all of our relationships, including that of marriage.

That is true of us in a couple of different ways.  We know that marriage is an institution of God that He ordained already at the beginning of time, and when we enter into the marriage state we are honoring God by honoring that institution itself.

But there is another way that marriage is God-glorifying.  That is marriage itself.  God has meant marriage, as an institution, to reflect that marriage between Jesus Christ and His church, so that in a very real way, when a man and a woman enter into the marriage bond, it is an earthly and no doubt limited picture of that unbreakable bond that exists between Christ (the Bridegroom) and His church (the bride).  That relationship is expressed to us beautifully in various passages of the Scripture, perhaps none better than in Ephesians 5.  We read in verses 22-24 of that chapter:  “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church:  and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”  It cannot be said better:  Marriage reflects the relationship, the marriage, between Christ and the church.  When a man and a woman, more importantly, when a believing man and a believing woman enter into that bond, they know as well that it was ordained by God to reflect that.  When we honor marriage, we are glorifying the name of God.

But if all of that is true, and it is, then that also must be the goal of marriage.  If it is the purpose of marriage, then it is also the goal of marriage.  How can we together as a husband and a wife bring glory to the name of our God?  I know that there are other principles that guide marriage.  Yet, all of those principles really are rooted in this one principle of Scripture — that in our marriages we bring glory to the name of our God.

For example, as we will be considering in a few moments, one of the principles of a good and godly marriage is that a husband and a wife must always give toward one another and look out for the welfare, joy, and happiness of their spouse.  The question is, Why?  Why must they always give for one another?  The answer is:  In order to glorify the name of God.  For even as Christ gave Himself for His bride, the church, so also we know that we glorify the name of our God by always giving of ourselves to our spouse.  But all of these find their source in that love that we have for God and the work of grace that has been worked in our hearts.

There are many people who enter into marriage today in a very selfish way and want to find out what they can get out of marriage for themselves rather than what they can give to their spouse.  In that way they fail to glorify the name of God.  It is no wonder that there are so many marriages that end up in trouble today.  The believer knows his calling:  I glorify my God in my marriage and in my relationship with my husband and with my wife.  And I glorify God in another way, too.  I know, because God tells me very clearly in His Word (Mal. 2:16), “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.”  And if He hates putting away — literally, if God hates divorce — then I hate divorce too.  And I know that I bring glory to my God by hating divorce as He hates that.

So there are many different ways that the child of God glorifies the name of God by entering into marriage as an unbreakable bond.  But there is a problem that enters into marriage.  Sin.  And sin is no little problem, because sin is that which causes conflict in marriage.  Conflict is not God-glorifying.

I say that because there are those who take the attitude that since there is going to be conflict in marriage anyway, conflict must be just a natural part of marriage.  And it is not really all that serious of a problem.  The important thing is that we stay together.  Whether we find joy and happiness in that marriage does not really matter.  There is going to be conflict anyway, so, if you are going to fight, you fight.

That is not true.  God purposes in marriage that a man and a woman live together in peace and harmony and happiness with one another.  Only that kind of relationship of peace and harmony properly reflects the relationship of Christ and His church and properly, therefore, glorifies the name of our God.  All conflict in marriage is sin.  From those little spats that a husband and a wife might have with each other, to the more serious arguments that they might have, it is all sin that needs to be repented of.

Having said that, however, I must also say this:  Conflict in marriage is inevitable.  It is so because in marriage two sinners are bound together by God.  None of us is free of sin.  And sin is what gives rise to conflict in marriage.  There are disagreements that arise between a husband and a wife.  In fact, it is a wonder that God, almost miraculously, takes two incompatible sinners and makes them one flesh, and then, by His grace, causes them to live together in that peace and that joy which is necessary for marriage.

Pastoral work in this whole area of conflict in marriage has increased in the church today, sad to say.  More and more couples come to pastors and elders and want them to resolve a very serious conflict and separation that has developed in their marriage.  It is not as if pastors or elders do not want such couples to come to them and to speak to them concerning their problems.  They certainly are desirous to help them as much as possible in those difficulties.  Yet, nevertheless, that conflict has escalated to this point today in the church is not a good sign.  It is not because we, who have been blessed with the Word of God and who have been richly blessed by the work of God’s grace in our hearts, ought to have the spiritual common sense, the spiritual wisdom, to know how to deal with conflict and disagreement in marriage when it raises its ugly head.

It is that which I wish to address at this time:  Resolving marriage conflict.

There is no doubt about it, in order to resolve conflict in marriage, it is necessary for us to understand what causes the conflict.  As we said at the outset, conflict and strife in marriage is due to sin — sin in us.  Even we, as redeemed members of the church of Jesus Christ, have sin in us.  But there is one chief characteristic of that sin that sticks out because of that old man of sin within us.  And that is pride.  Pride is the opposite of humility — the very opposite.  Humility is that virtue of thinking about someone else before I think about myself.  It is seeking the needs, the desires of someone else as more important than my own desires and my own needs.  It is doing something for someone else before doing something for myself.  In fact, humility is much like meekness (another virtue that is worked in the heart of the child of God).  Meekness, that is, esteeming another more highly than myself.  Humility is the ability to take wrong and to suffer ourselves to be defrauded, as the apostle Paul speaks of that in I Corinthians 6.

Pride is just the opposite of that.  It is being arrogant, assertive.  It is seeing one’s own self and one’s own needs as being more important than someone else’s desires and needs.  It is always wanting my own way.  It is that which makes us “thin-skinned,” rather quickly offended by what someone else says or does, going on the defensive in attempting to protect myself over against the other.  It is never allowing someone to do us wrong without retaliating.  It is that pride that enters into the various relationships in life — parent/child relationships, relationships with friends, relationships with fellow saints in the church.  Pride is a horrible thing.  Pride especially reveals itself in the relationship of a husband and a wife.  All we need to do is examine our own hearts a little bit in that regard, and we will see that it is usually those who are the closest to us that are the objects of our own pride and our own sin.

Since marriage is such an intimate bond between a man and a woman, then it is right there, in that very close relationship, that pride rears itself.

There is something that we ought to be aware of when we consider this whole idea of pride.  Pride is that which makes all kinds of excuses for itself.  That is in the very character of pride.  In other words, there are so many excuses that we can come up with in our pride.  The character of pride is that my pride hides itself from me so that when I am wronged by others, my pride says, “I am right, they are wrong.  Therefore, I have a right to say anything or do anything.  I don’t care if it hurts them or not because I’m right and they’re wrong.”  That is pride.

Or, “You know, I am always doing something for someone else.  It’s time that I do something for myself.  After all, how does the saying go — I’m worth it.”  Or, “I’m sick of always being picked on.  I think it is time that I stand up for myself now.  I’ll show that one that I can stand up to him too.”

All kinds of excuses, you know.  That is the very character of pride.  I do not see it so quickly in myself.  I might see it in someone else, but not so quickly in my own self.  It is that pride that likes to hide itself, that is the root cause for all conflict in marriage.  There may be other causes, I am not denying that.  But pride is the root cause.

Pride presents itself in several distinct ways in marriage relationships.  First of all, sin and pride seek to ignore and even rebel against the particular roles that God has given to a husband and wife in marriage.  Pride does that.  I realize that I am not able to get into this as much as I would like because Rev. VanOverloop is going to speak on the role of husbands and wives in his message.  But let it be said that a husband, in his pride, will oftentimes take his role as the head in the home and turn it into being a tyrant in the home.  That is pride, the old man of sin in us.  Rather than being a good head who loves and cherishes and leads and guides his wife in the way that she ought to go in a very caring way, he becomes a tyrant and makes demands of his wife and of his family that are not a part of being a true, godly head.

Wives, on the other hand, because of pride, will not submit to their husbands.  Instead they will rebel against their husbands.  We ought to realize that God has set us in these roles in the marriage relationship (as head and being in submission to that head) in order to give us joy and happiness in that relationship.  But one, and oftentimes both, of those partners will step outside of their role in marriage and think that they have a better way to go than God Himself has prescribed for them in marriage.  And the first thing you know is that they end up in strife and quarreling and bitterness, which leads to resentment.

There is another way that pride shows itself in the marriage relationship.  Since marriage is a covenant bond that exists between a husband and a wife, there are certain ways that husbands and wives are called to interact in a marriage.  Not only is there this role of headship and of submissiveness, but a covenant relationship is a relationship of friendship.  And that requires of a husband and a wife to dwell together with each other as friends.  Now, I realize that that term in Scripture (being one flesh with each other) has all kinds of implications.  But one of the practical implications of that term “one flesh” is that the husband and the wife dwell together as one.  They dwell together as friends with one another.  In fact, best friends.  Their life, as a husband and a wife, must be totally wrapped up in each other.  They must be there for each other.  And they must be in the home for each other.

Secondly, this covenant of marriage requires, as all friendship does, communication with each other.  Friends are those who enjoy one another’s fellowship.  They walk together and they talk together and they cry together and they laugh together and they share their secrets with one another, all of their disappointments, all of their joys, as a part of being a friend, a part of communicating with one another.  In short, a husband and a wife ought to be those who desire to be with each other more than with anyone else.

Marriage, in order to bring true peace and joy and harmony, requires that of a husband and a wife.