Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Love at First Fight?

"You're so insensitive!"
"If you really loved me, you wouldn't do so many hurtful things!"
"Well, you always have to pick on my faults...and you can't even see that you're the one causing the problem!"
"Hey! Don't you dare blame this all on me!"

Sound familiar? Read on.
Doesn't sound familiar? Good, but read on anyway.

I'm going to make a crazy statement here and then spend the rest of this blog backing it up.  Are you ready?

True love requires conflict.

I'm going to begin my defense of this outrageous assertion by quoting First Corinthians chapter 13: "Love is patient."  That about convinces me. After all, patience isn't necessary in a conflict-free relationship!  If you were perfect, I wouldn't ever HAVE to be patient with you!

But maybe you're not convinced. Let's also look at Matthew chapter 5: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  So clearly, the Bible defines true love as something more than a fair-weather feeling.  

Chances are, if you've never had a conflict with someone, you don't know him/her very well.

Mark Gungor, marriage counselor and comedian put it this way: "There's no such thing as a "Poo-free" marriage. We just need to get a good Positive-to-Poo ratio." Ok, so that's a little gross, but it's true!

Any meaningful relationship is destined to have its share of conflict, and this is especially true of romantic relationships because there are so many more emotions involved in them.

But the fact is, we need those times of conflict. But the key is in how we address conflict when it comes. If used properly, moments of conflict in relationships can be turned into tools for strengthening, affirming, and building trust in each other.  But if used improperly OR avoided altogether, conflict (or lack thereof) can tear a marriage or relationship apart.

Properly dealing with conflict teaches the involved people three very important things:

1. We're not the same person.
Learning what you disagree about and why you disagree can help you celebrate the differences between you. Differences can cause conflict, but let's face it: relationships would be boring without them. Seriously...would you want to marry yourself?  How boring!

2. We're on the same team.
Learning to "fight fair," or resolve conflict the right way, teaches each person that they are safe to express themselves without getting rejected or having their feelings stomped all over. It should say, loud and clear, "You're safe here.". Security is an essential to marriage, and one of the best feelings in the world is knowing that even during conflict, you and your partner are on the same team and are going to do what it takes to work through this...together.

3. We serve the same God.
When you resolve differences properly, you bring glory to God through your marriage or relationships. Each of you need to approach the conflict with the proper perspective toward God and your mate. As you work through conflict, ask yourself if God is being honored in the way you are trying to resolve it. A successful conflict resolution is just as honoring to God as it is satisfying and relieving to you.

So have I convinced you that conflict is necessary in relationships?

If not, perhaps you're still thinking of conflict in the wrong way.  I never said that fist fights and verbal shoot-outs were constructive.  So here are some of the rules of "fighting" fair:

1. You're not in it to win it
Remember, you're on the same team! The goal is to get to where you understand the other person's point of view. Instead of trying to get your point of view heard, try to understand where your partner is coming from and why he or she is so adamant about his/her position.  

2. No generalizing!! 
It is a communication killer and a huge putdown to say things like "You ALWAYS..." or "You NEVER..." These statements are attacks, and they cause the other person to be hurt, become defensive, and either shut down or blow up! Instead of resolving the small issue at hand, you've now attacked their character and even implied that they are incapable of change. Treat every issue as a new problem, and don't dig up old junk from the past.

3. Don't assume! (Unless it's good!)
It is up to God, not to us, to judge the motives of a person's heart. This means that until they tell us otherwise, we should assume that the other person has good intentions and did not purposely hurt us. This is huge, because it's the difference between confronting someone who is accidentally stepping on your toe, and someone who maliciously stomped on it out of spite.  If you assume it was an accident, your approach will be non-confrontational.

4. Keep it on topic
When you're upset, the last thing you need is to go through every problem in the relationship all at once.  If you notice in my example at the beginning of this post, you can't even tell what that couple is fighting about anymore.  That's because they got off topic, as well as breaking rules 1-3.  They're assuming, generalizing, and instead of trying to resolve their conflict, they are trying to win.

5. Keep it short, but flesh it out
“Short” doesn't mean you run away before it's resolved.  And sometimes, one person will have it "resolved" before the other. But if there's still hurt there for one person, the most loving thing the other can do is just listen, and do their best to help them process the remaining emotions.  Allowing both parties to work through it completely will bring unity, security, and—yes—love.  That said, don’t drag it out longer than it has to be. After all, you want to move on to the “kiss” part of “kiss and make up!” ;)

I guarantee you that EVERYONE, including myself, needs to work on at least ONE of these areas of conflict resolution.

I admire my grandparents...66 years of marriage (tomorrow!) and "never a fight!"  . . . according to them, at least. I've often thought, "Wow . . . they must have really been the perfect match for each other."  But the truth of it is, they have had their share of conflict in their marriage.  They don't perfectly agree or always defer to each other's wishes. But the reason they don't feel like they've ever fought is that they resolve conflict in a way that brings them together instead of tearing them apart. They recognize their differences, remember that they are always on the same team, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that they don’t ever go to bed angry with each other. They do this because they love each other and because of that, marital conflict only brings them closer together.

Do you make it a priority to do everything –even disagree—in love?

My grandparents do.  Because of this, even their conflicts and misunderstandings have been a part of building a beautiful love story.  Happy Anniversary, Albert and Juliette (or “Pepere and Memere,” as I call them).  May my marriage one day be blessed with the wisdom, faithfulness, and love that you both share.

Congratulations on getting it right!

P.S. Check out "It's Unfair Not to Fight" and more resources on marriage and relationships at :)


  1. Great thoughts. Two books came to mind while reading this post. One was "The Five Love Languages". The other was "The Peacemaker".

    Love languages help people understand and "speak" to others in a way that is received as loving. People often get angry in relationships because they don't feel that love or respect is being transmitted from the other party. However, if they knew the language that the other party spoke and understood, then they would communicate it better. I could define the love languages here. But, I would prefer curious parties would just read the book.

    "The Peacemaker" spoke on how to resolve conflict in a Biblical manner. This didn't just relate to marital relationships. However, it also applies. When conflict exists two types of personalities may be seen. These are reflected in the book as "fight or flight". While one party may want to battle it out. The other may want to run away. Another great book, so I won't spoil all the details.

    The last thing I wanted to note is that some flaws will always exist. We never are perfected on earth, even in all our conflict. However, over time one may find themselves loving the idiosyncrasies associated with their mate. These things that may have been perceived as flaws become characteristics that they love. Love is a strange thing. (That sentence sounds like another good topic, actually.)

    Love the posts. Keep them coming.

  2. Thanks, Ben! I have not read The Five Love Languages, but I am very familiar with the concepts in it. Extremely applicable. As always, you added some wonderful insight. Thank you for commenting. :)

    P.S. You MAY have just helped me decide on my next topic! :D