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Managing Tension

In this article, part two of the Until Self Do You Part series, we’re going to talk about that nasty word— you know the one that everyone tries to hide from and most of us approach wrongly— CONFLICT. It can be intimidating to focus on something that none of us want. After all, who wants to be okay with arguing, right? Well, in truth, to understand what healthy tension is we have to understand that it is not the same as arguing!

ar·gue
/ˈärɡyo͞o/
verb
  1. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.

    “defense attorneys argue that the police lacked “probable cause” to arrest the driver”

    synonyms: contendassertmaintaininsistholdclaimreasonallegeMore

  2. Exchange or express diverging or opposite views, typically in a heated or angry way.

    “don’t argue with me”

    synonyms: quarreldisagreesquabblebickerfightwrangledisputefeud, have words, cross swords, lock horns, to be at each other’s throats;

    informal
    “the children are always arguing”

Arguing, by nature, is selfish. It is a heated debate, caused by opposing views, in which one party tries to convince the other of their point of view. This requires that one party be more partial to themselves, whether it be the husband or the wife, at the expense or exclusion of the other spouse.

Healthy tension, that is healthy conflict, on the other hand, is very different. Leaving anger, opinion, speculation, blame, suspicion, and selfishness out of the equation is imperative to healthy conflict resolution! A healthy conflict leaves room for each spouse’s feelings, perspectives, and intention to be heard without criticization. In order for each spouse to feel safe to openly and honestly express themselves, there must be mutual understanding, mutual consent, and mutual freedom— we’re going to hear about these three things quite a bit in this series— which allows room for each to express themselves without the fear of being punished, yelled at, or excluded at the forefront of their mind!

MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING

In order for each spouse to know how to move forward, there must first be mutual understanding! Bringing clarity to a situation where there isn’t any can greatly improve the course of the conversation. Misunderstandings are dangerous and not properly or clearly communicating something can cause the other person to have to fill in the gaps, which is never good for any situation. Having to quickly process information without clarity leaves room for all manner of thoughts to enter the mind. Personally, I find it better to provide clarity in the beginning than to have to repair a mess later.

Having mutual understanding ensures that each spouse has a clear and discernable perspective, allowing each to more comfortably approach the situation. This extends far beyond concepts, opinions, beliefs, and information! Though all of these things are important and certainly contribute to perspective, we cannot trust these things alone to provide mutual understanding. The keyword obviously being mutual, mutual understanding absolutely depends on each spouse setting aside any preference to their own opinions or beliefs and being open to those of the other in an effort to provide a common and united understanding of what can or needs to be done.

MUTUAL CONSENT

This particular thing is exactly what it sounds like! Mutual consent is a must have because each spouse needs to be certain that the other will allow them to express themselves without pointing fingers or preferencing themselves. There needs to be a clear and concise outlining of boundaries in any relationship in order for it to be healthy, but there also needs to be an understanding of freedoms as well.

Agreeing together to not let any opinion, thought, feeling, or action cause us to lash out in a way that might put down the other is just as important as giving them clarity and understanding. All of the understanding in the world will not help you gain any ground if the other person is too scared to share it. Because of this, each spouse should be willing to consent to the other having the liberty to honestly express themselves.

What if they actually did something wrong or perhaps their perspective is flawed? Even in this case, nothing changes! Whether something was said, done, or the opposite not said or done, we are still obligated to provide an environment where they are free to express themselves! This is, after all, the very same thing that Christ does for us almost continually and He said to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Quickly and honestly forgiving any faults, accepting repentance and not continuing to hold that against them at any point thereafter in the conversation can greatly improve the willingness of the other spouse to consent to open and truthful conflict!

This is important because if one spouse consents to those boundaries and freedoms and the other spouse does not, there can be no unity in resolving the issue. This can cause the spouse that consents to feel as though the other doesn’t care to resolve anything, that their own perspective is more important to themselves than resolution, or both. Taking a moment before the discussion to consent to certain boundaries and freedoms, agreeing together to uphold them, and putting aside any personal feelings for the sake of the spouse’s equal freedom can greatly improve the chances of coming to a mutually beneficial resolution to the issue(s) at hand.

MUTUAL FREEDOM

This one is the easiest of the three because determining together to provide mutual understanding and mutual consent produces mutual freedom. If the first two are provided mutual freedom will be a natural part of the progression of the conflict, however, if any one of the first two is missing then mutual freedom cannot exist; either one spouse will experience freedom to express themselves at the expense of the other or each spouse will hold to their own opinions and perspectives at the expense and/or exclusion of one another. Neither of those circumstances will provide a successful resolution and will likely leave one or both spouses feeling as though they do not matter, or are unable to freely express themselves.

Developing mutual freedom is essential, not only because we actually need the ability to freely and openly express ourselves, but because marriage is built on the foundation of unity! Think, “for this reason, a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…” (Genesis 2:24/Matthew 19:5/Mark 10:8/Ephesians 5:31) If we do not take the time to gain a mutual understanding, provide mutual consent, and develop mutual freedom then we neglect our spouse the right to unity that they have in marriage!

I wager to say that, although we may tend to think that scripture only means sex, the implication of that scripture goes far beyond sexual intimacy! The unity that we experience, as a husband and wife, reaches far beyond the bedroom alone— though it is a significant part of unity— and each spouse is obligated to seek unity with the other in all areas of their life!

DEVELOPING A CULTURE OF GROWTH

A culture of sustainable growth in the home and marriage doesn’t just happen on its own, it is a developed culture. The principles, boundaries, and freedoms that the culture is built on must be established from day one on a foundation of trust and respect.

  • Each spouse must keep from pointing fingers and put in effort toward perceiving, understanding and respecting where other is coming from.
  • Each spouse’s opinions matter and they must be allowed to freely express them without fear of being belittled or neglected.
  • There absolutely must be an understanding that if you do not “win” the conflict, that you must respect the other and move forward with them.
  • A culture that supports healthy conflict cannot exist without first laying the foundation of mutual understanding, consent, and freedom. You can’t have one without the other.

If you want to encourage healthy conflict that is resolved amicably— without having to constantly repeat yourself, or go through the same conflict again and again without actually achieving a resolution— you must:

  • Provide clear expectations, honestly and with clarity make known what you’re hoping to achieve and what you expect your spouse to contribute.
  • Unity is powerful! Despite what you may think, giving your own perspectives up and admitting that you may be wrong does not mean that you are weak, being on board with one another makes you stronger!!
  • Disagreements are not a sign of enmity! Just because a spouse disagrees does not mean that they think any differently of you, and they need to be empowered to work that out without feeling as though they aren’t allowed to have a perspective because your feelings may get hurt.
  • Know when to fight! Every disagreement doesn’t require a full-on battle, and we don’t have to step into healthy conflict mode because of a minor and harmless disagreement! Learn to discern when it is necessary and when it is not! Stepping into conflict over something that does not require it can be just as harmful as not approaching conflict healthily.

 

Developing a culture that promotes growth— personal, emotional, mental, soulical, and spiritual— in the home is not a concept that is new. The Word itself gives plenty of reference for how to conduct ourselves in the home and to others; practicing humility, guarding the tongue, denying ourselves, and submission to name a few! Safe conversations do not happen where there is a lack of these things!

Regarding conversation, we are told in the Word to let our “conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone,” (Colossians 4:6) and this does not change from spouse to spouse! The way that we speak is just as important as what we speak, if not more so in some cases! We all remember that scene from Bambi when Thumpers mom gets on to him and he says those famous words, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

As worldly as that film may be, there is some truth to that statement! It is better to say nothing than to say something that may cause your spouse to stumble. This doesn’t exclude us from our obligation to provide clarity,  honesty, and understanding but it does mean that if I am going to say something that may potentially be harmful to my spouse then I am also obligated to discern whether it should be said at all until I am able to say in a way that is graceful or beneficial!

It shouldn’t have to be said that it isn’t good to speak to our spouses in a way that is belittling, bullying them to get our way or because we are upset! We should also have a fairly basic understanding that it isn’t good to be a jerk, cussing or yelling at our spouse over every little thing! As I said earlier there need to be healthy and discernable boundaries, as well as freedoms. It is one thing to be free to openly express yourself, it is another thing entirely to be free to say all manner of demeaning things to the person you’re supposed to love.

In fact, as Ephesians 4:28 says, we should “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It is no hard thing to understand what this means! We should only say what is beneficial for the growth of others, especially the person who is one with us in marriage! A culture that promotes growth in the home is not one that includes belittling and demeaning our spouse! Ephesians 5:4 adds to this, saying “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” According to the Word, it is even improper to joke with one another in a way that doesn’t promote growth!

It may seem harmless enough to joke with your spouse by saying “dang, girl, are you sure you need another muffin?” to your wife, but really think about that. Is it necessary? Does it promote growth in her? Is it beneficial? Are you secretly serious and making it seem like a joke so that you don’t look bad? We all know that there a million different directions that could go, and none of them are good! Maybe your spouse doesn’t take it to heart and laughs it off, does that make it any more okay than if she did?

My point is that, whether or not it seems bad does not mean that it should be said! Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I’m not an expert on communication but I can say with absolute surety that if you speak to your spouse in a way that does not promote healthy growth in their life, then you will later reap the fruit of that; either in the way that they respect, think of, or respond to you.

It is just as important to manage how we communicate as it to communicate at all. Communication itself has a reach that extends far beyond what we say alone! It is how we approach one another, whether in speech or deed, in any way that says something to the other! For example, in some cases, a hug or a kiss on the cheek can communicate just as much, if not more, to our spouse than any number of words! Paying attention to and managing how we approach our spouse is a crucial part of developing a culture that promotes personal, emotional, and spiritual development!

Ephesians 4:31-32 says to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you,” which is certainly essential to having a solid foundation for managing tension! 2 Timothy 2:23 provides more direction in this, saying, “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.” Learning when is good to say something, in what way it should or should not be said, and communicating honestly are imperative in our marriages!

Instead of viewing conflict as something to be wary of or shunned,  we should understand that it is an important and essential part of healthy growth! In fact, extending even beyond marriage, having a healthy perspective of managing tension is a must in any environment and relationship!

If we approach every conflict without humility, as though we are always the one who is right, then we neglect our spouse’s feelings and perspective and we do not fulfill the love of Christ! As Galatians 6:2 says, we should “Carry each other’s burdens and, in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We should be just as willing, if not more so, to see things from our spouse’s point of view as we are to do so from our own and to help them carry the weight of what is burdening them! These principles are not some new, ground-breaking, perspective from a world-renowned counselor, they are in the very book that we claim to live our lives by!

If we cannot think on, understand, and apply the principles that the Word teaches us in order to develop a healthy culture in the home then how can ever hope to have one?

Ephesians 5:22-33 says it more wonderfully than I think anyone else ever could, stating that For wives, this means being supportive to your husbands like you are tenderly devoted to our Lord, for the husband provides leadership for the wife, just as Christ provides leadership for his church, as the Savior and Reviver of the body. In the same way, the church is devoted to Christ, let the wives be devoted to their husbands in everything.

And to the husbands, you are to demonstrate love for your wives with the same tender devotion that Christ demonstrated to us, his bride. For he died for us, sacrificing himself to make us holy and pure, cleansing us through the showering of the pure water of the Word of God. All that he does in us is designed to make us a mature church for his pleasure, until we become a source of praise to him—glorious and radiant, beautiful and holy, without fault or flaw.

Husbands have the obligation of loving and caring for their wives the same way they love and care for their own bodies, for to love your wife is to love your own self. No one abuses his own body but pampers it—serving and satisfying its needs. That’s exactly what Christ does for his church! He serves and satisfies us as members of his body. For this reason, a man is to leave his father and his mother and lovingly hold to his wife, since the two have become joined as one flesh. Marriage is the beautiful design of the Almighty, a great and sacred mystery—meant to be a vivid example of Christ and his church. So every married man should be gracious to his wife just as he is gracious to himself. And every wife should be tenderly devoted to her husband.”

We have before us the blueprints for building a healthy culture in our homes and because of this, we should be setting the standard for what healthy marriages and healthy relationships look like; whether at home, work, school, or anywhere else! We need to stop being content with just going to church and listening to a Pastor teach us things, then hit the delete button and forget about it the moment we leave the sanctuary!
We need to be applying these principles in our lives, producing fruit that in turn produces evidence of the kingdom we are heirs to with Christ!

If we, with humility, lay down ourselves— no longer favoring our own opinions, feelings, perspectives, hopes, and desires over those of our spouse— and see that we present ourselves in kindness and grace to our spouse then we will see a culture that promotes growth and healthy conflict resolution begin to form!

Beloved, I thank you for taking the time to read this and it is my honest hope that it blesses you in some way! Grace, peace, and understanding to each of you in our Lord! Until next time!

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