7 Keys to Building Strong Families: Key #7a Conflict: Pathway to Intimacy

I’d been to London several times as a single student but this was the first time my wife and I had been there together. We were on our way to Amsterdam to begin a two-week tour of Europe and had two days to spend in London. That was the good news.

The bad news is we arrived just three days before the royal wedding was to take place. London was jammed with people from all over the world. But even more interesting was the uncharacteristic spirit of enthusiasm and optimism in the air. People had been captivated by the magical courtship and romance of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and were excited about the wedding.

Three days later they walked down the aisle and stood in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He looked Prince Charles and Lady Diana in the eyes and in a warm yet solemn voice said,

“Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made, the prince and princess on their wedding day. But fairy tales usually end at this point with the simple phrase ’They lived happily ever after.’ This may be because fairy tales regard marriage as an anticlimax after the romance of courtship. This is not the Christian view. Our faith sees the wedding day not as a place of arrival but the place where the adventure begins.”

Unfortunately, far too many people see their wedding day as a place of arrival and not as the place where the real adventure begins. Marriage is a relationship that demands flexibility, adjustments and change. Unless a husband and wife commit themselves to mutual growth and learn how to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in every relationship, they will eventually grow apart and never achieve the intimacy and trust they both desire. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

If you’ve been following this column you know that we’re in a series of articles on 7 Keys To Building Strong Families. In case you missed some of the earlier articles here are the first 6 “keys”:

  1. What your kids see you do as they grow up is what you’ll likely see them do when they’ve grown up.
  2. Healthy parents don’t find time, they make time.
  3. Healthy parents know how to say “I Love You” in more than one way.
  4. A healthy home cultivates an encouraging environment.
  5. A healthy home is where people express anger in healthy ways.
  6. A healthy home is where people make time to listen, ask questions and nurture quality communication.

The 7th and final “key” involves learning the value of healthy conflict resolution.

I know that conflict isn’t a popular topic. In fact, most of us see conflict as a rude and unwelcome interruption in our lives rather than a normal and necessary part of being in relationships. Unresolved conflict is one of the main problems that plague marriages and families.

What do you think of when you hear the word conflict? Is your first reaction positive or negative? What do you feel like after you have experienced a conflict with someone you love? Most of us haven’t learned the value of conflict. We misunderstand its potential and may interpret it as an attack.

Conflict is the process we go through and the price we pay for intimacy. Conflict is a necessary and potentially valuable part of the growth process. When we avoid healthy conflict we avoid growth. Unfortunately, the opposite of growth is stagnation, deterioration and the discouragement that comes from remaining stuck.

Why do we have conflict? Because we are all different. And we are all different because God chose to make us different. In I Corinthians 12-14 and numerous other passages, it is clear that God designed differences. In fact, the strength of a marriage and family is largely related to the diversity of the individuals that make up those relationships.

Don’t miss this next point! Marriages and families are NOT destroyed by differences. They are destroyed by the immature, irresponsible and unhealthy ways we choose to respond to those differences. They are destroyed by our inability or unwillingness to take them to God and allow Him to teach us how to learn and grow from them.

In Romans 15 we are encouraged to “be of the same mind,” to “accept one another” and to “admonish one another.” This is especially applicable in marriage. Relationships involve people coming together. However, in that process we find that our differences can lead to disagreements that at times result in conflict.

Our differences-when understood, appreciated-can be used of God to help us, in the words of Proverbs, to “sharpen” one another. What do you get when iron rubs against iron? Heat. Sparks fly. But if the pieces are rubbed together in the right way, they inevitably sharpen each other.

This process of rubbing lives together day after day, month after month, year after year, becomes God’s change agent-His refining tool to make us better people, to rub off the rough edges of our personalities, to give us understanding hearts, to teach us acceptance, to help us change. This change will occur if we choose to learn from each other. But if we remain rigid, we will thwart one of the great purposes of marriage.

When we experience conflict we are faced with an important decision: How will we choose to interpret conflict. We can choose to interpret it positively or negatively. Our choice will to a great degree determine whether our love relationships will deepen and grow or whether we will stay stuck and stagnate. Please join me here in two weeks when I’ll give you some specific ways to make conflict work for you rather than against you

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