Okay. We are going to try to keep this short (and will most likely be unsuccessful : ). It seemed as though each principle could easily become a whole post. But, you have to start somewhere. Here are some principles to consider about conversations involving conflict.
Consider the character of your conversation.
Let you conversations be characterized by grace (Col 4:2 in an evangelism context—but still applies). During the conflict, both parties have a message that is central to their argument. When upset, that message can easily become obscured by the method of delivery. Thus, you need to decide whether your goal is to hurt or help. If in the moment you cannot fight the urge to inflict pain, then it would be best to walk away from the conversation (tell them that you care, but need time to think). However, if you truly want to help your spouse understand the point of conflict, you have to give some thought about how to express it. Choose a method that is helpful for the hearer. For example, Paul likes to speak in absolutes. In stressful situations, I often hear absolutes as accusations. Paul has learned that he needs to clothe his comments in something less direct if he truly wants to help me understand. The principle is this: Don’t say things that will make what your message more offensive. Truth offends, especially when it convicts us, but anger, frustration, sarcasm, meanness, and stubbornness can add to that offense. This ability to “translate” your comments for the hearer gets easier the longer you know each other. Conversely the better you know your spouse the easier it is to tailor your words to wound–don’t use the gift of understanding to hurt your spouse!)
Gracious conversations mean a two way street. Speak with grace, but also hear with grace (James 1:19). Try to discern the content of the person’s message even if the presentation is less than congenial. Sometimes this will mean wading through a lot of unkindness in order to understand what your spouse is really thinking (and this is your goal in every conversation.) For example, if the message is layered in sarcasm, you will not only have to suppress your natural reaction, but also refuse to respond in kind. (After all, Jesus didn’t respond in kind when it came to your sin). Are you surprised that they want to use their words to hurt you? Don’t you want to do the same thing sometimes? However a gentle, grace-filled, and true answer turns away wrath. Thus, exercising mental restraint during a conversation works both way, when speaking and when listening. Come ready to forgive or be forgiven. When God confronts you with his Spirit (and his word) he always does so ready to forgive and restore. This divine attitude should be mirrored during the conflict between two sinners. If you come wanting to hurt the other person, you will probably be successful. If you come ready to forgive them as Christ forgave you, or a willingness to ask for forgiveness as you did when you came to Christ for salvation, chances are you’ll have a better conversation with God-glorifying results (not necessarily one that results in your favor).
Consider the goals of your conversation.
Love should be the motivation and goal of a conversation. We’re not saying that the conflict will be born out of a naturally altruistic spirit. Some might. But the majority of angry conversations are started over something less than loving. But as soon as you realize that the interaction is deteriorating (lobbing verbal fireballs : ), you should mentally stop and ask whether your goal and motivation for the conversation leads to a future where you love each other more perfectly and understand each other better (Eph 4:15, Heb 10:24). The Spirit gives you a desire to do these things whether the outcome means changing yourself, or waiting for your spouse to change as they hear truth over a period of time (and don’t assume it’s one or the other—be open minded to your own wrongness). As the Spirit transforms your motives, the conversation will transform from destruction to construction. You will no longer want to shame them with their sins, defend yourself in pride, provide for your comfort, or exercise control. Rather, you will want them to be reconciled to their God and you. In short, if you aren’t motivated by love, the conversation will probably be a wash (i.e. it won’t go anywhere helpful).
The outcome of the conversation should be increased understanding (1 Pet 3:7). You can’t love someone if you don’t understand them—and that means understanding what they are saying. Again, this will best be accomplished once you have determined that the goal of the conversation is love rather than shame, pride, control etc. Careful questions and/or restatements of the person’s opinion are usually helpful. Analogies are even more helpful. For example, the analogy in this post helps me understand the way Liz “feels” after a laundry love fail.
And since it is 11:20 at night, we are going to stop there. In a brave change of plans, we will post a third part to this series….tomorrow : ). Hope that you had a wonderful Sunday!