Fighting and Arguing or Praying and Agreeing
By Steve and Mary Prokopchak
We made a major discovery early in our marriage. When it came to conflict, we could choose to “fight and argue,” or we could “pray and agree.” Disagreement is powerful, but agreement is even more powerful. The Scriptures tell us that if any two persons will agree together in prayer, they will receive what they are asking for (Matthew 18:19). Let us illustrate.
Our most frequent disagreements focused on the fact that Mary was a “spender” and I (Steve) was a “saver” when it came to our personal view of finances. Those two opposing values would often clash. Truthfully, both views had their positives and their negatives. Serving in missions at the time meant that we had very few resources, but to be honest, we can fight and argue when we have a lot of money or very little money. We had to move beyond right, wrong, and disagreement; we had to move to prayer and asking for God’s direction.
During those eight years of mission work, we quickly discovered that we had to stop looking to one another to meet our needs. Neither of us had any money to do so. We lived by faith for our income and had to monitor each and every dollar we came upon. “Tight” could not have begun to describe our financial situation. We were literally dependent upon God for our paycheck. It was in this environment that we discovered a scriptural precedent that really helped us, and it’s been one which we have carried throughout our life together.
At the close of James 3, two types of wisdom are discussed: earthly and heavenly. Earthly wisdom can be full of selfish ambition, but heavenly wisdom is peace-loving and submissive, full of mercy. James 4:1 then asks a very direct and necessary question concerning fights and quarrels and where they come from. James wisely uncovers that at the core of disagreement, we want something but are not getting it. In other words, Steve wants one thing and Mary wants another.
A Scriptural Answer Concerning Conflict
The answer given in James 4:2 is to ask God for what you need, without selfish motives, rather than demanding it from each other. James simply says to pray instead of fighting and arguing.
We discovered as we learned to pray first that God enabled us to see our partner’s view more quickly. He helped us to move toward wanting to bless the other rather than withholding and remaining selfish. He helped us to see that our use of the terms “spender” and “saver” were terms of critical judgment that became negative to us. Instead, He gave us new and far more positive language for our differences. Mary was actually a “giver” and I was more of an “investor” for future needs.
Any two persons can disagree at times; it’s natural. In fact, it would be unnatural not to have disagreements. When we deeply love someone or care about someone, our disagreements can be even more intense due to the fact that we have so much invested in the relationship. We each have our perspective, our filters, and our view through the lens of our histories, experiences, life training, families of origin, and fears. Disagreement in a relationship is not the problem; staying in the mode of disagreement or fighting is. We must stop long enough to discern what it is we need and then find the solution to reach agreement concerning those needs.
At the core of disagreement is the attainment of a need, and sometimes it’s the attainment of a mere want. Either way, we want to be sure that you receive this profound message: it is not disagreement itself that is the problem. Rather, it’s the inability to resolve disagreement.
Paul the apostle wrote in Romans 7 that we naturally resist, and even in our desire to do good, we often encounter trouble carrying it out. We want to do good, but we struggle with another law that resides within us: an opposing war within (see Romans 7:14-25).
What is at the core of our resistance? Some of us love and embrace change, but most of us actually resist change in our lives. For some, a change as simple as moving the couch to the other side of the room can create discomfort. For others, to not move the couch on a regular basis causes life to become boring, too predictable.
Even change for the good can be a subject of resistance for us. Resistance is not necessarily rational, especially when it becomes an issue of power and control. For example, some teenagers live in resistance to anything and everything. It’s a season of life in which they are testing their environment.
Keeping Grace in Place and Moving Beyond Resistance
Leadership roles, power issues, and change do not threaten a healthy couple. They don’t need to fear differences of opinion or change. They have learned to make the necessary adjustments at appropriate times. When life is out of control, such as during the loss of a job, they understand that change is inevitable and begin to prepare to embrace what lies ahead.
Both husband and wife are called to be leaders in the home. There is not a unilateral leadership plan, as we each have different roles and both are necessary. Husband and wife are called to serve and that takes grace-filled flexibility. Further, it is not healthy to have one of us doing all the initiating and all the decision-making while one partner just tags along. It is not a competition to see who can make the most changes, but rather an identifying of key roles for each of us.
When grace and a heart to serve are present, we stop competing for our needs and start adjusting our roles in the home to best suit our gifts and talents. Of the two of you, who is better at financial or organizational skills? Who is more knowledgeable about home repair or car maintenance? When you make these discoveries, resistance can dissipate, and you can hand over authority in those areas willingly. The more secure we become in our own roles, the more we can trust in our partner’s abilities and roles. The more trust we find, the less resistance we encounter.
Moving Toward Resolution
Despite what you may think, conflict is one of our best opportunities for growth as 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 at the top say, “I wish it hadn’t been so steep or so tough.” It’s that very steepness and toughness that make climbing mountains rewarding; otherwise, few would actually appreciate it. As we resolve issues, we become stronger, closer, and more confident in our oneness. Many couples miss out on the results of resolving conflict. They get stuck at the fighting and arguing stage and never reach the summit: prayer and agreement.
In our desire to find answers to our differences, we stumbled upon a seven-step process. We want to share that process with you now and expose one of our own disagreements.
Let us share with you our seven steps along with some illustration for each step:1
1. Understand and Identify
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 generated from this conflict. 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)
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. Out-of-control anger will not serve you or your spouse. Proverbs 15:1 has some very sound advice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (The use of a key phrase that signals we will come back together within a specified period of time to deal with the problem can be advantageous at this point, e.g., “We need a cup of coffee.”)
Discover areas where you are in agreement, not just disagreement.
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. Too often, we wander into former conflicts in an attempt to arm ourselves with more ammo for the fight. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out.”
Appreciate your spouse’s opinion and what they add to the process. When you value the ideas and feelings of your partner, you value that person. We had to develop this appreciation in our conflict.
6. Identify the Needs
Allow for the needs of each partner to be met. When needs are met, conflict can be resolved. Identify the needs each of you may have that are not being met in the conflict. I (Steve) never identified it, but Mary’s need was to stock her shelves; in stocking her shelves with food, she was meeting a need of her family for security. Steve’s real need was for me (Mary) to stay within our agreed-upon budget even though I found bargains on a weekly basis.
7. Explore the Options and Move Toward A Solution
There are always several options, both plausible and perhaps not so plausible, but now is the time to explore solutions. It is here where we must develop the skills of resolving conflict, because this skill will serve us for the remainder of our lives together. When a couple begins to consider their differences and incorporate solutions with compromise, at that point they are both winning.
Do you have to follow every one of these steps every time you have a difference or a difficulty? No, but if you incorporate any number of these steps into your lives and communication, you will discover new patterns of agreement versus disagreement. Proverbs 29 reminds us that a fool gives total vent to his anger and stirs up dissension.
Someone once said that it is in the difficult times in our lives that we grow the most, not in the easy times. Even if your family of origin did not resolve conflict well, you can. If you pray, follow the above steps, and listen to each other and God, as well as consider each other’s needs, you’ll be well on your way to fewer disagreements and more agreement.
1. Seven steps of resolving conflict adapted from Staying Together, Destiny Image Publishers, Steve and Mary Prokopchak
This article has been taken from Steve and Mary’s book Staying Together: A lifetime affair. Check it out here
About Steve and Mary Prokopchak
Steve and Mary serve on the DOVE International Apostolic Council. Steve has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over 20 years. He earned a master of human services from Lincoln University. Steve and Mary are the authors of Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. They travel throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about the Prokopchaks or catch up on Steve’s blog.