The conversations could not have been more different.
The first husband I talked to, Phil, was seeking help for his marriage. He said he began to ask for help from friends almost a year prior, and now was at the point of desperation. But as I heard him speaking, all I heard was “She does this....” and “She never does that....” over and over and over again. He went on for 20 minutes telling me all the things she was doing wrong and how he couldn't take it anymore. When I asked him, later in the conversation, what part he had played in their conflict, there was a long silence on the phone. He said that he really couldn't think of anything other than helping more with household chores.
Almost immediately after hanging up with Phil, I called Peter. Peter is also at a challenging place in his marriage as he and his wife are currently separated. But the conversation with Peter was so very different from my previous conversation with Phil. Peter was humble, readily admitting the many ways he had failed in his marriage and telling me the steps he was to work toward reconciliation. There was a sense of brokenness over his sin and failures in marriage, but also a shining hope and faith that God was working to reconcile he and his bride.
As I hung up the phone with Peter, I was overwhelmed with the vast difference between the two phone calls. Two marriages in crisis. Two vastly different responses to similar situations. The difference: Pride versus Humility. One husband was full of pride and unwilling to acknowledge his part in the marital conflict. He and his wife continue the “blame game” in their marriage that started way back with Adam and Eve. The other husband was full of humility and readily acknowledging his sin in the conflict. He had repented before God and had acknowledged his sin and failure with his wife.
The Lord tells us in the book of James that, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. Peter was willing to humble himself and was seeing the Lord's grace flowing into his life and into his marriage. Phil was proud and there was no visible evidence of the Lord's grace working in him or in his marriage.
You marriage may not be in crisis like Phil and Peter, but there is still a powerful application for every married person: If you and I want God's powerful grace at work in our marriage, then we must choose to humble ourselves. This dying to self takes the daily empowering of the Spirit of God.
Tim and Joy Downs co-authored a book entitled Fight Fair. In that book, they share the strong conviction that humility is an essential ingredient in a couple's ability to truly resolve conflict. Here is what they share on humility: “We often approach conflict with the firm conviction that “I am absolutely right and my mate is completely wrong.” The discussion that follows has a nasty habit of shattering that illusion. An essential attitude in conflict resolution is the willingness to admit that you – yes, you, paragon of virtue that you are – just might be wrong, not just in this case but at any given moment. Conflicts become stubbornly entrenched when both spouses insist on attributing all the faults to their partner. Marital experience will teach you that perspectives can be remarkably different, and the sooner we become willing to admit that we probably played some role in the current disagreement, the sooner we'll be able to work toward reconciliation. (1) ”
I wholeheartedly agree with Tim and Joy. I can recall so many times when the thought, “Shawn is completely wrong on this, and I am totally right”, has hit me. It happened just yesterday and it will happen again soon, most likely. But when the conflict begins and that thought hits my brain, I have a choice: pride or humility – God's opposition or God's grace.
Just to make sure we aren't too quick to assume we are being humble in our marital conflict, Tim and Joy Downs went on to share what they term “four tests of true humility”. They are: 1) a non-defensive spirit when confronted, 2) a willingness to be accountable, 3) an attitude of “nothing to prove, nothing to lose”, and 4) an authentic desire to help others (1).
Ouch! Did those four hit you the way they hit me? These four test challenge me to make sure that I am truly humble and not just speaking words that sound humble. Do I really have a heart attitude of humility? “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” – so I need a truly humble heart so that what comes out of my mouth will speak life and grace to my bride, Shawn. And I must never forget that, as a Christ-follower, the Lord gives me the power, by His grace, to choose to humble myself.
So, what about you and what about me? The next time you or I are in conflict in our marriages, will we respond like Phil or like Peter? I pray that you and I will choose humility, remembering that God, through His indwelling Spirit, has given us the power to choose rightly.
Suggested Prayer: Lord, help me to choose to humble myself in conflict. Help me to break old patterns of pride and selfishness. I know Your abundant grace is available to me by Your Spirit as I follow You. Fill me with Your Spirit so there is less of me and more of You. Thank You, Lord.
Additional: If you want to do a little extra work in the area of conflict, I encourage you to read and study James 4:1-10. You might also study Ephesians 4:1-8. The Word has much to say to you and to me to help us understand the root causes of our conflict and how the Lord's grace can bring change and transformation.
(1) Fight Fair: Winning at Conflict without Losing at Love. By Tim and Joy Downs by Moody Publishers.
Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage 2020. All Rights Reserved. Please go to our Contact Us page for any questions.