When it comes to conflict in marriage between me and Dawn, I like to “Barney Fife-It” and “Nip it in the bud!” (I know, that illustration just dated me…).  Dawn, on the other hand, needs time to process.  In her own words she has to, with God’s help, “sort herself out.”


We find most couples are just like us.  One partner tends to address conflict head on.  The other partner often needs time to withdraw and process.  Seldom do we see couples have the exact same approach to conflict.  If Dawn were just like me, we’d be like two rams on the hillside butting heads with one another.  If I were like Dawn, we’d sleep on the issue and possibly never bring it up again.


In the early years of our marriage, the two of us would try to pull the spiritual card on each other in our approach to conflict.  I’d quote to her Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  She’d quote to me Psalm 30:5b, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  Each verse seemed to bolster our personal approaches to conflict.


If you and I take a deep dive into our approaches to conflict, we’d see they’re often informed by our personality, our philosophy on conflict in general, our theology, our families of origin, our past relational experiences, and the list could probably go on.  


For the vast majority of married couples, conflict in marriage is inevitable.  It’s not a matter of if conflict will happen, it’s a matter of when conflict will happen.  And sadly, for many couples, conflict in marriage is just plain hard to navigate well.


So, what’s a couple to do?  


There are a number of biblical principles that can be applied in order to resolve marital conflict constructively - being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), accepting one another just as Christ accepted us (Romans 15:7), and attempting to understand our partner’s point of view (1 Peter 3:7).  Yet, there is one principle we believe undergirds all of these others and it is mutual honor.


Paul states in Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.”


When you and I seek to mutually honor our spouses, we seek to regard them as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4).  Rather than being so intent on being heard and understood, through mutual honor we instead seek to hear and understand our partner.


So, how does mutual honor play out in marital conflict?


When conflict arises between me and Dawn, as I’ve already stated, my first inclination is to “nip it in the bud” right away.  I don’t want to let an issue fester.  I’d much rather address it right then and there.  So, I’ll often approach Dawn in an attempt to resolve the issue.  However, it’s common that Dawn needs more time to process.  She’s not attempting to avoid the issue.  She’s not trying to simply “sweep it under the rug.”  I also know she’s not just trying to “kick the can down the road.”  She legitimately needs to process and “sort herself out.”


So, here’s what we’ve learned to do.  If I attempt to resolve an issue with Dawn and she says to me, “Scott, I can’t talk about it right now.  But I promise you, tonight after dinner we will discuss it”, I will often back away and give her time and space to process the issue.  


Hopefully you can see in this illustration how mutual honor has played out.  Dawn honors me by giving me a time that we will discuss the issue and later takes the initiative to re engage the conversation.  I honor her by giving her time and space to process her thoughts and feelings.


For the two of us, we’ve found the principle of mutual honor has been one of the most pivotal turns we’ve made to better resolve conflict between us.


What about you and your spouse?  What turns need to be made in order to better resolve conflict between the two of you?   


Here’s some questions to ask yourself:


  • Why do I approach conflict the way I do? What does that say about me?
  • How was conflict handled in my family growing up? How has that informed my approach to conflict?
  • What aspects of my approach to conflict can better be surrendered to God's control?
    • Being quick to listen?
    • Slow to speak?
    • Slow to anger?
    • Demonstrating unconditional love and acceptance?
    • Listening to understand my spouse?
  • How can I better seek to honor my spouse in the midst of conflict?


Scott & Dawn Smith