As we resolve issues, we become stronger, closer, and more confident in our oneness.
By Steve Prokopchak
Despite what you may think, conflict is one of our best opportunities for growth as marriage partners. When we push through an opposing force in a healthy way, we grow, change, and become stronger and more confident. You can never climb a mountain and then say when you reach the top, “I wish it hadn’t been so steep. This was too tough for me.” It is that very steepness and toughness that makes mountain climbing rewarding. If it were not challenging, few would appreciate reaching the top.
Never promise someone that marriage will be easy. There are some tough climbs, but as we resolve issues, we become stronger, closer, and more confident in our oneness. Many couples miss out on the positive results of resolving conflict. They get stuck at the fighting and arguing stage and never reach the rewarding summit—prayer and agreement.
We have been on that mountain climb ourselves. We will share one example. After completing eight years of missionary service and living on a missionary budget, I (Steve) was employed as a social worker and was getting a real-life pay check, albeit a small one. Mary was working full-time at home to care for our three children. At the same time, I was in graduate school full-time and Mary was editing and typing my papers on an old Olivetti typewriter.
Mary now had the enjoyment of going to the store for groceries and actually spending money. I, to my own personal embarrassment, would ask her about the grocery items and why we needed certain ones. Even worse, I would go over the receipts to see what items we could have eliminated in order to spend less. Needless to say, conflict ensued. In our desire to find resolution, Mary and I stumbled on a seven-step process for resolving conflict.
Recognize that any two individuals will come into conflict from time to time. Identify what the conflict is, and then identify each person’s understanding of the problem as well as the feelings that it generates. Remember, there are three sides to every story—yours, theirs, and somewhere in the midst of it all, the truth. “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Proverbs 18:17). Sometimes Mary and I were each so busy trying to get our own point across that we didn’t stop to hear what the other was saying.
2. Set Aside Time
Set aside time to deal with the conflict. When emotions are out of control, take time to step back, calm down, think and pray, and then come back together. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). It can be helpful to use a key phrase that signals taking a break then coming back together within a specified period of time, for example, “We need a cup of coffee.” We often failed to set aside time, as Steve wanted to immediately address the issue, and I (Mary) needed time to think through it.
Discover areas where you are in agreement, not just disagreement. At that point in our lives, the only agreement we could find was that our family needed groceries.
4. Stay on the Subject at Hand
Keep to the immediate conflict; don’t allow yourselves to go down a rabbit trail into unrelated areas. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out.” We need the tenacity to stay on the subject in order to eventually reach an agreed-upon resolve.
Appreciate your spouse’s opinion and what they add to the process. When you value the ideas and feelings of your partner, you communicate value to that person. We had to look for the positives in each other’s approach and develop this appreciation in our conflict. I (Steve) appreciated Mary’s desire to care for her family and go grocery shopping with a baby and two young children. And I (Mary) appreciated that Steve cared about the bottom line and our financial balance.
6. Identify the Needs
Ensure that the needs of each partner are being met. When needs are met, conflict can be resolved. Identify the needs that are not being met in the conflict.
7. Explore the Options and Move toward a Solution
In our situation, we explored several options. We could stop eating. But with a growing family, that was actually not an option! Steve could go for the groceries. (In fact, for a time, he did.) Or, we could increase the grocery amount in our budget, and when I (Mary) spent less than the amount we had agreed on, I could keep the balance for myself. That is what we decided to do. When I had a balance, do you know what I did with the money? I often bought gifts for my family and others.
Is it always necessary to follow every one of these steps in order to come to an agreement? No, but if you use some of them, you will be better able to solve conflicts and reach a place of unity. Strength and confident oneness will be the reward.
This article is taken from Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book Staying Together: A Lifelong Affair (Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Destiny Image, 2017).
About Steve Prokopchak
Steve serves on the DOVE International Apostolic Council and has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over 40 years. He earned a master of human services from Lincoln University. He is the author of several books, including Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. He also travels throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about Steve or catch up on his blog.