When it comes to working through conflict in marriage, my wife and I have “failed” many times over our 25+ years. To try to help, we have read books on conflict, been to marriage classes on conflict, even talked to mentors of ours to try to get better at working through our conflict. And while I do not believe there are any simple answers to resolving conflict biblically, there is one analogy that has been helpful that is worth sharing. And it's right at your fingertips if you own a smartphone.
My cellphone, probably like yours, has two cameras that I can use – a forward-facing one, and a rear-facing one. As you know, the view you get is vastly different if you choose one versus the other. One helps me see things in front of me and the other is focused on me.
“I get that, Glen. But what does this have to do with marital conflict?” So glad you asked :).
Before I answer that, let me pause and ask you to use your memory for a moment. Think back to the last argument or disagreement you and your spouse had. It might have been earlier today or it may have been last week. As you think back, play back the mental video you have of that specific incident. Maybe you disagreed over something related to kids, finances, or scheduling. Or maybe it was a bigger argument over a long-standing issue.
Your View Matters in Conflict
As you think back to the incident and play back the mental video tape, here is my question: What are you seeing through the camera? What I mean is, who is in view?
The honest truth for me is that, when I play back the mental video from a past conflict, I am almost 100% of the time using my “forward-facing camera”. That means I am focused on what my wife is doing in the argument – her words, her attitude, her tone of voice, etc. As I replay the incident, I mentally critique her, thinking of all the things she is doing wrong that are fueling our conflict.
But there is a big problem with this practice. It violates a key biblical principle found in Jesus' words in Matthew 7:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:3-5
I encourage you to read those verses a second time. Jesus is speaking to every husband and wife!
Think about how ridiculous the picture is that Jesus is painting for us in these few verses. It would be like you or me going to the eye doctor for an exam because of blurry vision. When you finally get past the waiting room and see the doctor, you notice that he has a two-by-four sticking out the front of his head. Would you let him examine your eyes if this were the case? Of course not! No sane person would. It is likely he might even cause more damage in the exam process.
Your Next Steps in the Conflict are Critical
I realize that this is an extreme example, but remember, this is the picture Jesus is painting in this Log and Speck Principle. He even uses the word “hypocrite”, which none of us likes to be called. But that is exactly what we are if we are trying to focus on our spouse's speck when we have not yet addressed the log in our own eye.
I think the key word in the whole text is a simple one: first. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (emphasis mine).
The first step I need to do is switch camera views. Stop looking at the forward-facing camera and rewind the video on the rear-facing camera – the one that shows my words, my attitude, and my tone of voice. Jesus is calling us to do this self-examination as our highest and first priority.
But I encourage all of us to stop even before we replay the rear-facing camera: To ask God to help me have humility as I watch it, so that, rather than defending myself, I will take full ownership of my issues. Not only will I see them, with His help, but I will humbly and completely own my log(s) without blaming my spouse or defending my actions. Please don't skip this step!
Once you have asked God for humility to see your log(s), and replayed the rear-facing camera to see your words, actions, and attitudes, then the second step is to go to your spouse and ask for forgiveness. It might sound something like this: “Honey, I want to talk about the argument we had yesterday over the ________. As I thought back over what happened, I realize that I was out of line. I am sorry for being impatient with you and uncaring in how I spoke to you. I was wrong for treating you that way. That is not the way Jesus wants me to treat you as my bride. Will you please forgive me?”
In that example apology, we see three simple but important elements: 1) I am sorry. 2) I was wrong for (name specifically your log while taking full responsibility). And 3) Will you forgive me? All three parts should be present in your apology.
However, the most important part of any apology is the humility of the person confessing and asking for forgiveness. If a humble and repentant attitude is evident, the words are not as critical because your spouse can see your sincerity and humility. So I would again exhort you to ask the Lord to give you a humble heart and attitude prior to asking your spouse for forgiveness.
Put This Into Practice
We must always remember that it is not merely knowing principles that can help us, but knowing and then putting them into practice (Matthew 7:24-27). Your homework, as a husband or wife, is taking this principle and applying it in your marriage over the next week or so. And if you are like my wife and me, you will get opportunities to apply it!
One of my mentors has said that married couples “will never successfully resolve any conflict unless they put this principle into practice.” Why do you think he might share such a strong statement about this principle?
Jay Younts' article about the Log and Speck uses the analogy of using a magnifying glass versus using a mirror. Can you share a moment with your spouse when you were honestly using a magnifying glass to look at their speck rather than a mirror to see your own log?
Take some time as a couple to confess any logs from a recent conflict. You can use the example apology above as a guide in how to effectively apologize.
Pray together as a couple that you both will truly be able to put this principle into practice in your marriage with greater consistency and humility.
(1) Hans Molegraaf, Marriage Revolution Post: https://marriagerevolution.org/the-most-important-step-when-resolving-conflict/
(2) Jay Younts, Shepherd Press: https://www.shepherdpress.com/can-you-tell-the-difference-between-a-log-and-speck/
Image by Emre Karataş on Unsplash
AUTHOR: Glen Solberg is a man who is passionate about marriage - his own and the marriages of those around him! He and his wife, Shawn, have been married since 1992 and have been investing in the marriages of others full-time since 2003.
Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2020. All Rights Reserved. If you have questions or comments, you can connect with us at info@AbidingMarriage.org