By Dave Wilson
“Come back here and fight like a man!”
When Ann and I got married a few years back (38 years, to be exact), we had no idea the way we handled conflict was so different. We actually thought we wouldn’t really have much conflict since we were so in love.
Well, that didn’t last long!
Just like every other couple, married or not, we fought…a lot. And I hated conflict, so I would usually just remove myself from the situation.
One afternoon we got into yet another disagreement, and I did what I always did…started walking out of the room. Before I made it to the kitchen, I heard my lovely newlywed bride yell, “Where are you going? Come back here and fight like a man, you big chicken!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. So I walked back in the room and blurted out, “Oh yeah, well bleep you!” (I know, real mature of me, right?).
As I turned to remove myself from this unpleasant scene, I heard my not-quite-as-lovely-now wife yell, “Well bleep bleep you!” I couldn’t believe my ears.
I had never heard my bride curse, and she had just double cursed me. She had stooped to a new level!
So I headed up the stairs as fast as I could. And guess who was chasing me up those stairs? You guessed it, Miss Curser lady! She sat down on the bed right beside me and said, “We need to talk. Let’s sit here and work this thing through.”
I just looked at her thinking, “What in the world are you doing here? Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about any of this.”
Over the past 38 years of marriage, we have learned a thing or two about conflict. We have discovered that how a couple handles conflict will determine the health and future of that relationship. It’s that important.
I grew up watching my parents drink and then fight … almost daily. Their conflicts led to a divorce, and I concluded that conflict is bad, so you should avoid it at all costs.
Ann’s parents regularly worked through disagreements, and she knew that conflicts could be resolved and actually lead to greater intimacy.
What about you?
Do you run away from conflict or run to conflict?
Nothing good happens when we run away, yet God can work miracles when we stay and work for resolution.
Let’s take a look at what conflict resolution can look like.
I remember a mammoth fight Ann and I got into one day after church. The details don’t matter as much as the fact that we were both extremely ticked off with one another. Ann thought she was right, but of course she was wrong…yet again. (Or so I thought.)
Ever been there?
When we got home we both lit into one another. At one point she shouted, “I do everything around here, and you are always gone running the church. You are never home, and I am raising the boys all by myself!”
It was at this point in the conflict that I actually heard what Ann was saying. When she took a breath I asked, “Do you feel like church is more important to me than you are?”
She nodded yes.
And right there I knew what this conflict was really all about.
She was not feeling loved and supported by me. It wasn’t until I actually shut up and listened to Ann’s heart that I realized why she was so hurt.
Behind every story is a story … and we won’t be able to get to the root of that story until we shut up and listen.
James writes, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19 NIV).
When we look someone in the eye and listen intently to what they are saying, we communicate to them that they are valuable and that we are willing to hear their heart in order to resolve the conflict.
Show your spouse how much you love them today by simply putting your phone away for an hour (no, you won’t die), and loving them enough to listen to their heart. It just might be the best thing you do today.
My Neck Problem
When Ann and I sat down to write our Vertical Marriage book, we had scripted out each chapter. On the first writing day, Ann was supposed to write a chapter about how we met. Instead she brought me her first chapter with the title “Dave’s neck problem.”
I then realized that this book was going to get real, real fast. I honestly wasn’t so sure I wanted anybody knowing about my little “neck problem.” But soon the world will know.
My problem was discovered by Ann in the first month of our marriage. She noticed that every time a nice-looking woman walked by, I turned my neck and followed her with my eyes. As Ann confronted me about this, I denied it, only to eventually realize I actually did have a neck problem.
The truth is I had a struggle with porn that began on my first road trip as the Detroit Lions’ chaplain. I watched 30 seconds of porn in my hotel room and then proceeded to lie about it to Ann for months. When I finally came clean and told her about my sin, she blew up.
It was so hurtful to her and caused her to wonder if she could ever trust me again. There is not room here to walk you through our journey, but suffice it to say, she eventually gave me what I did not deserve: forgiveness.
The Apostle Paul wrote:“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).
Only Jesus can give us the power to forgive others when they have hurt us deeply, and God gave Ann that power. God forgives us in order that we can give away what we have received.
Is there someone you need to forgive today?
Ask Jesus for His power and take the first step.
Our 10-year anniversary date totally transformed our marriage. After an evening of great food (I had a 2-for-1 coupon!), great romance (10 roses delivered to the table one at a time), and great conversation (we talked about each of the past 10 years one rose at a time), I had one more surprise up my sleeve. I took us to the middle school parking lot where we were about to start our church.
When I leaned over to kiss Ann in the car, she pulled away. I asked what was wrong. She then shared six words that would change the future of our marriage…
“I’ve lost my feelings for you.”
I was shocked.
I thought our marriage was a 10 on a 10 scale, and I would soon discover that Ann felt that it was a 1…actually a .5 (her words).
She shared how she felt hurt and alone for the last year. I had been voraciously chasing my dream of starting this church while at the same time serving as the Lions’ chaplain. This left Ann all by herself to raise our two young sons.
As she was sharing her heart in the front seat of our Honda Accord, I heard the voice of God speak to me. Jesus firmly, yet gently, whispered just one word to me…
In that moment I instinctively knew exactly what ‘repent’ meant. I wasn’t living in some immoral sin, but I was walking in lukewarmness with Jesus for the last six months.
I knew right then that Jesus was telling me that my marriage would never work unless He was No. 1. For my ‘horizontal’ marriage to thrive, I must go ‘vertical’ first. In one word, God made all of that clear to me.
So I got on my knees in the front seat of our small Honda and repented. I told God I would no longer seek to do life apart from Him, and I put Him back in control. I also asked Jesus to make me the husband and dad He created me to be.
When I finished praying, I looked over and saw my precious wife on her knees as well. She was repenting of seeking to find her happiness in me. She too had been looking for something on the horizontal to fill a void that only a vertical relationship with our Creator can fill.
When we both went vertical, we discovered the secret to a great marriage. Our spouse wasn’t made to “complete us’ (Jerry MacGuire was wrong); only Jesus can. And when we are filled with Christ’s love and power, we can then overflow His life through us to bring life to a dead marriage.
Now it’s your turn.
Hit your knees and go vertical. (I’m not kidding…right now).
If you surrender all of yourself to Jesus, I promise you will discover the life you were created to live.In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success Proverbs 3:6 (The Living Bible).
DAVE WILSON (@DaveAnnWilson) is the founder of Kensington Community Church. For the past twenty-five years, he and his wife Ann have been marriage conference speakers. You can get Dave and Ann’s book Vertical Marriage at Lifeway or visit their website at DaveAndAnnWilson.com.