Resolving Conflicts in Marriage (2)

June 20, 2004 / No. 3207

Dear radio friends,

Once again we have a special guest with us, the Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma.  Last message was the first half of his speech delivered at a recent marriage conference held in the Bethel PRC on resolving marital conflict.  We are thankful to have him with us again today for the second half of his message.

We thought we would ask him a few questions about the second half of his message.  Pastor Bruinsma, you are going to be emphasizing in this half especially the need for Christian couples to be reading the Word of God together, for it is in the Word of God that all the answers are to be found.  What do you think are some of the reasons why the reading of the Bible is not practiced as commonly as it used to be?

“In the past, it seems that especially those who were church-goers saw it as a necessity in their lives to sit down with each other as a husband and wife and with their children and to have family devotions together.  In fact, at times they would even call that ‘family worship.’  The Word of God played a very central role in the family.  They would set aside certain times.  It is perhaps a Dutch tradition that at the time of our meals we read and pray with one another and discuss the Word of God together.  I think that is a good practice — something that was very common in the past.  We do not find that as much today.  I think that presents a real danger and a threat, not only to husbands and wives, but to families.  I think that it is absolutely necessary, if we are going to understand our roles as husbands and wives and as children and parents in the home that we read the Word of God together.  I think that often times we become far, far too busy in our lives to do that.  We often times do not even sit down and eat together (a very convenient time to read and pray together).  But we also find ourselves involved in so many activities that take us outside of the home and family.  I think that we have to reassess our lives and set aside a time during the day to read the Word of God together, because that is what is going to guide us in our marriages.”


In the message you are going to present today, you are going to be emphasizing the need for husbands and wives to repent before each other.  What happens if one is not repentant, walks in a rebellious way, perhaps not even a true child of God?  What would be the recourse, then, of the person in the marriage who is desirous to repent while the other is not?

“That is a rather difficult question to answer because of the varied situations that might arise in that regard.  But I believe that even if my spouse does not wish to repent and I do, I must still repent of my own sin and my own error.  It does not depend on whether the other repents or not.  If it truly happens that they walk in unbelief and do not repent, then their sin is going to be upon their own shoulders.  If they remain, so be it.  I still live with them (as a wife) in submission or (as a husband) showing proper leadership in the home and doing that for the sake of Jesus Christ.  To the degree that I do that personally, to that degree there will be relative peace in the home.”


And, probably, by God’s mercy, it is the one spouse’s repentance that is going to have the most powerful effect upon the other, to bring him or her to repentance as well.


  Here is Rev. Bruinsma, of the Kalamazoo PRC:

The covenant of marriage, finally, requires what we mentioned earlier:  giving.  The husband must always give of himself, of his time, of his love, of his advice, of his instruction, of his guidance, of his consolation to his wife.

Likewise the wife must always be giving of herself to her husband, always seeking to please him before pleasing herself.  That is humility, that is love, that is friendship, that is the covenant bond of marriage.  And that is what glorifies God in marriage.  A spouse is always required in marriage to give to the other.  The more that that is done, the happier the relationship.

But when pride enters into that relationship, then he or she or both become selfish.  They think about self before they think about their spouse.  Pride says this (on the part of a husband):  “I would rather be out with my buddies and having a good time with my buddies than spending time with my wife.”  And the wife:  “I would rather be out with the ladies tonight.  If my husband is going to have a night out, I should have a night out as well and go have a good time.”

Now, I am not saying that a husband and a wife may not do those kinds of things.  It happens at times.  I am saying, Would I rather be out with them having a good time than being at home with my wife or husband?  Which would I rather do?  Pride says I would rather be out with someone else.  Pride says, “I’m too tired to communicate.  I don’t feel like talking.  I’d rather kick my shoes off, bury my nose in a newspaper, or watch a football on TV or get on the phone with my friends, or monkey around on the computer all night long — and not sit and talk with my spouse.”  Pride says, “I’ve given enough.  It’s time that they give to me.  I deserve a little bit more attention and I’m tired of always giving to them.  It’s their turn now to give to me in this relationship.  So I’m going to go out and do something for myself.”

In other words, it is in our sinful flesh to be self-centered — think about me rather than think about my spouse.  Then we begin to view marriage, the institution of marriage, as a means, as a way of gratifying myself.  I enter marriage because I expect this for me out of marriage.  As soon as I do not get what I want out of marriage, then I become angry and resentful.  And anger and resentment feeds on itself.  I’m right in this situation, that is all there is to it, and I do not have to apologize.  I do not have to say I’m sorry.  And I’ll do one of two things:  either I’ll storm out of the house and go somewhere else so I don’t have to think about that, or I won’t say a word, but walk around the house in silence so my spouse can see that I’m angry yet.  Who has not done this?

This conflict, if not repented of, often times gives rise to another conflict, and then to another conflict, and then to another conflict, and another disagreement, and another argument.  We never apologize to each other, never say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”  But one argument, one conflict, piles up upon another one, until finally there is a whole list.  (And we’re really good at keeping lists, aren’t we?)  There’s this whole list of wrongs that my spouse has done against me.  And all of them stand now in the way of reconciliation with one another.  Then, over time, sins against one another become so many that it is as if we just simply do not trust, or love, or even want to be with that person anymore.

It is pride.  That is really what it comes down to:  pride.  That is what ruins this relationship of peace and harmony between a husband and a wife.  The way to resolve conflicts — all conflicts — is clear:  swallow your sinful pride and live in humility one with another.  That’s how you resolve conflict in the marriage.

Now I realize that these passages talk about conflict in general and can be applied to any relationship in life.  Nevertheless, let us hear what the Bible says:  “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).  Does not that apply to marriage?  Or the passage in Ephesians 4:26, 27, “Be ye angry, and sin not:  let not the sun go down upon your wrath:  neither give place to the devil.”  Does not that apply to the marriage relationship?  It more than certainly does!  Romans 15:5, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”  Ah, yes, how about the passage in I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Charity (and charity is love in action) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up (there you have the pride issue), doth not behave itself unseemly (and what marriage conflict does not), seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”  (Maybe that passage is something that every family ought to have somewhere hanging in the house.)  There is the answer right there.  Our calling in resolving conflict in marriage is:  be humble and put on the love that is found in Jesus Christ.

You might say, “You know, what you are saying, Rev. Bruinsma, is all right.  But it is so general!  We need a set of rules or a list of steps that we can follow one by one by one and, voila! we have solved the marriage conflict.  Give us this list, give us this nice practical set of rules that we can follow so that we can put an end to our strife.”

Here it is.  What child of God does not read the Word of God?  God tells us what we need to know in the various situations of life and how to resolve these things.  Maybe it is because we as a husband and wife are not reading the Word of God together, maybe that is the reason that there is conflict in marriage.  I suppose I could give you a list of things that you can do.  But, you understand, it is sin that causes the conflict.  Sin!  That means that it is a heart matter.  We can have this whole list of rules or steps that we follow in order to resolve conflict in marriage.  But that is only an outward, stop-gap type of a thing.  God’s children, in whom God has worked by His grace, are called to deal with the sin-problem that lies within them.  They are called to deal with the pride problem that exists in every one of us because of our own sinful flesh.

To deal with that sin problem takes a work of God’s grace.  That is truly what it takes:  a work of God’s grace within us.  It is that work of God’s grace that we all well know because it is the work of sanctification.  On the basis of that work of sanctification by which God has made us holy even as He is holy, God comes to you and to me and says, “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”  Or, “Humble yourselves before God.”  That is our calling right there, in marriage, too.

And that means that the first step in settling an argument and the surest way of resolving any kind of conflict in marriage is repentance.  The way is clear.  It is not so easy.  Repent to God and then repent to one another.  Resolving conflict is swallowing our pride and saying this:  “I’m sorry.”  Three little words which are so hard to get out of our mouths:  I am sorry!  Our reaction when there is conflict is:  “But look at what he did!”  No, no, no!  Look at what you did.

When I was a young minister in my first pastorate, I had a couple come to me with marriage problems.  As a very conscientious young pastor, I had my notepad out.  First of all I would listen to him.  He would list out all of these things, you know, that his wife had done.  So I am writing down this list.  Then I listened to her and I wrote down the list of things that the husband had done against her.  Then I had this nice long list.  And I said, “OK, we’re going to go through this list one at a time.”  We started with the first problem, right?  Argue, argue, argue!  I could not get past the first problem because they kept fighting over the first problem.  How would I ever get to the second, third, … twentieth problem that they gave to me?  It kind of struck me.  Why go through all these problems piece-meal.  He is blaming her for everything and she is blaming him for everything.  And then God (and I can thank the Lord for that, too!) said, No, that is not the problem — the problem is pride!  Neither one of them could forgive the other.  And neither one of them could say, “I’m sorry!”  “I’m sorry for what I did to you,” and not worry about what the other did to them, “I’m sorry for what I did to you.”  That comes first — repentance.

Then, of course, comes the willingness on our part to forgive as well, to let the matter drop and to cast those wrongs that the other has committed against me away from me as far as the east is from the west, because that is how far away God has cast my sins away from Him.  Bury those sins in the blue sea.  Let them sink to the depths.  Never look at them again.  Never hold them against the other.  Forgive and forget.  Oh, yes, they are still there.  But do not say, “Apology accepted, but it still irks me!”  That does not work!

After that takes place, then is the time to restore the covenant bond of friendship that has been fractured by conflict.  We must re-establish friendship that has been lost.  We must reconcile with one another.  That is, we must consciously seek out fellowship with our spouse.  Sometimes conflict can mar that relationship so badly that to try doing that at first even seems awkward.  But it must be done if the conflict is to be resolved.  That will be possible only when the two of us begin to communicate with each other once again.  To sit down (leave the TV set alone, or going out with others) and talk with each other.  Talk with each other about the problems, the conflicts, and talk with each other about the spiritual concerns that we have as a husband and a wife and as a father and mother.

Then, finally, in order to restore real peace and joy and harmony, we have to begin giving again, giving of ourselves and no longer being selfish.  We do everything that it takes to make the other happy.

One last thing.  We ought to realize that ultimately resolving conflict in marriage is possible only by God’s grace.  Because, if left to ourselves, we will go our own merry way.  And the problem will just escalate — no matter how much advice we get.  Ultimately the only way to resolve our problems is by God’s grace.  That means that the chief means of swallowing pride and restoring our covenant relationship in marriage is by two things.  Studying God’s Word together as husband and wife, and praying.

God’s Word tells it all.  When God’s Word is before us every day of our lives, then that is what is going to guide us in the way of peace and joy in marriage.  And certainly we ought not to forget about prayer.  When there is conflict in the marriage, let us face it, your prayers are hindered.  As a husband and a wife, you might be able to put on a good front and be able to pray with the whole family, but not able to pray together.  The surest way to restore harmony and peace in a marriage is to get down on our knees together before God’s throne of grace (how thankful we can be that it is a throne of grace), and together confess our sins to God.  The wrongs that we have done to one another, together confess those sins before God.  When we do that, God is there.  And God grants peace and joy and harmony in the marriage relationship.  We want to resolve conflict completely?  We need the Word of God in prayer.

Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory.  Let our marriages exist for the glory of God’s name.  And may the relationship we share in that marriage, the attitude that we have toward one another in that marriage bond, always be to the glory of God.  Then there is peace and there is harmony.