Even the best marriages have conflicts. If you and your spouse don’t seem to be able to see eye-to-eye, you’re in good company. It’s time to start seeing conflict with a new lens. Conflicts are like threads that, when woven with care into the tapestry of the covenant, can strengthen the unity between husband and wife. Whoever said that Christian married couples are somehow innocuous in navigating messy conflicts got it all wrong. In fact, because of Christ’s command and example of unconditional love, Christian couples are required to resolve conflicts in love, humility, and grace.
Easier said than done.
In my 24 year marriage, I have had lots of practice with marital conflict. You win some; you lose some. Thank God none of those conversations were recorded! I have learned through the years that what we hear and what is said don’t always match. What we perceive and what is presented don’t always align. Here are some key elements that every Christian marriage can implement to lessen the conflict’s destructive tendency on their marriage.
Start with prayer
Before delving into specific communication practices, it's essential to establish the importance of prayer as the foundation for resolving any conflict — especially conflict within a Christian marriage. Prayer levels the playing field. It reminds couples that they are playing on the same team, and ultimately God is the Judge. Prayer also builds spiritual intimacy in marriage.
My pastor often says, “It’s impossible to hate (or mistreat) someone you’re praying for.” When couples pray together, they invite the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit into the situation. There have been times in my marriage, after my husband and I prayed, the solution was suddenly apparent, and our grievances seemed to vanish like a misty memory. Whether you pray together or separately, don’t neglect this critical tool when facing marital conflict.
Listen with your heart
Effective communication begins with active listening. I teach a concept called the “three E’s of listening” with the couples I coach. Listen with your eyes, listen with your ears, and listen with empathy (your heart). Christian couples can create a safe space for compassionate conversations by genuinely focusing on their spouse. Listening with your eyes means eye contact and listening to your spouse’s body language. Listening with your ears means listening without judgment and listening to what is actually being said, not what you’re telling yourself is being said. Listening with empathy means putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes. How might this situation feel if you were your spouse?
Active listening involves much more than hearing; it requires a commitment to understanding the heart behind what is being said and the needs of your spouse beyond the spoken words.
Instead of formulating your response while your partner speaks, genuinely listen and seek to understand their perspective. Mutual edification is how you practice and foster a graceful environment of respect and validation of each other's feelings, contributing to a more constructive conversation.
Watch your mouth
The power of the tongue is a message most Christians have heard preached a time or two. Words cannot be underestimated, especially during moments of conflict. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. How much more should Christian couples strive to communicate with gentleness and grace, especially when discussing topics of conflict?
Another principle I teach is to ask, not accuse. Questions are usually received better than statements of accusation. Questions like, “Did you forget we had a special dinner planned tonight?” is better than, “You must have had something more important to do because you didn’t bother to show up for dinner tonight.”
This is where “I” statements can be extremely helpful. I statements express your feelings and needs. For example, say, “I feel hurt when…” instead of “You are so selfish.” This shift in language helps to prevent defensiveness and opens the door to mutual understanding.
Choose the right time and place
Timing is crucial when addressing conflicts. Choosing the right time and place ensures that both partners can fully engage in the conversation without external pressures or distractions. It’s wise to avoid discussing sensitive matters in the heat of the moment, in front of the kids, or in settings where your privacy could be compromised.
I’m a night owl, so deep conversations late at night seem like a great idea to me. Not so for my husband who has to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning. It’s not always what you say or even how you say it; sometimes, it’s when you say it.
Additionally, scheduling regular check-ins or “relationship checkups” can provide that intentional time for open communication. This allows couples to dedicate time to discuss areas of concern, express gratitude, and strengthen their connection in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Seek wise counsel
There are times when conflict persists in some marriages. This is when seeking the guidance of a wise and trusted mentor, Christian marriage coach, or counselor can be invaluable. Proverbs 15:22 advises, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.” A neutral third party can offer wise insights, another perspective, and practical communication tools for resolving conflicts that align with Christ-centered values.
Seeking help doesn’t make one weak. As a matter of fact, it’s a sign of strength. The most elite athletes in the world all have coaches. Financial gurus have financial coaches. Award-winning actors have acting coaches. Why, then, do some couples not seek out a marriage coach to help strengthen their marriages?
Navigating conflicts in a Christian marriage requires intentional effort, rooted in grace and love. By incorporating prayer, active listening, mindful communication, and a commitment to nurturing their unity, couples can transform conflicts into opportunities for deeper connection. A beautiful narrative of resilience, love, and honor can then reflect the enduring commitment of Christlikeness to a love-starved and hopeless world.
Dana Che Williams is a speaker, marriage coach, and the host of the Real Relationship Talk podcast. She is also a devoted daughter and friend of God and serves as a Teaching Pastor at a multi-site, multi-ethnic church in Virginia Beach, VA. On the podcast, she is known for her graceful candor, humor, and her encouraging yet challenging advice. Dana holds a B.A. in communication from Regent University. She has a fierce passion for fashion and is a lover of all things sparkly. She shares her life with Shaun, her husband of 24 years, their four amazing children, and their “multi-cultural” dog in beautiful Virginia Beach, VA. Connect with her on Instagram @mrsdanache and learn about her courses and relationship coaching on her website at http://danache.com.