Communication is hard, especially “in the moment.” It is one thing to be convicted by a sermon on the power of the tongue or the way our words reveal our heart. It is another thing to be “in the moment” with your spouse (child, sibling, parent, friend, co-worker, enemy, etc…) and to have the awareness, self-control, courage, and humility to acknowledge what is ruling your heart and change the direction of the “discussion.” That is the purpose of this article, to help you “in the moment.”
The battle begins with awareness. You must be able to answer the question: what is it that consistently rules your heart? Do not say, “Nothing.” Whenever we sin, we are loving something more than God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In addition, we are loving something more than our neighbor—usually self. It is fair to say that for most people this “something” usually orbits around a particular theme: peace, respect, affirmation, appreciation, fairness, order, predictability, status, power, influence, affection, etc…
If this is a new thought for you, or if you have trouble identifying your “something,” take this opportunity to read Ken Sande’s excellent article “The Heart of Conflict.”
Once you know your heart theme, you are a step closer towards being ready “in the moment.” The next step is to humbly confess to your spouse that this is the theme of much of your sinful actions during conflict. If you are unwilling to confess to your spouse when you are calm and “out of the moment,” it is unlikely you will repent and change when this theme has activated your defensiveness and self-justification. This confession might sound something like this:
“Snoochums [or your preferred pet name], I have recognized that when I sin against you in conflict it is usually because I want appreciation [or your “something”] more than I want to honor you in that moment. Appreciation is important, but not more important than treating you with love and honor. When I raise my voice, call you names, give you the silent treatment, distort your words, walk away, change subjects abruptly, make false accusations, and things like that [make statements that reveal your conflict patterns], I am punishing you to try to get appreciation [or your “something”]. That is both wrong and ineffective. I am committing to trying to see and acknowledge that in the midst of our future disagreements.
Now that you have your “something” (as Ken Sande would say “idol”) identified and acknowledged it to your spouse, you can put your imagination to work. What object best represents this “something” to you? There are no right answers here, so long as the object is not offensive or inflammatory. For our case study moving forward we will say there is a husband (Bill) whose “something is order and is represented by his PDA and a wife (Sue) whose “something” is affection and is represented by a heart-shaped pillow.
Bill and Sue have a conversation that begins to go nowhere fast. Bill remembers his confession above and asks Sue to sit at the table for the talk. They acknowledge their thematic idols, commit to honor one another in the conversation, and say a quick prayer for God to give them awareness of their own hearts as they work towards unity and agreement.
Bill goes to get four items to bring to the table: two copies of a picture of them as a couple, his PDA, and a heart-shaped pillow. Each spouse sits down with a copy of a picture in their hand and their item on the table in front of them. The rules are simple. If either begins to communicate with dishonor (raised voice, calling names, silent treatment, distort the other’s words, walking away, changing subjects abruptly, making false accusations, etc…), they must put down the couple picture and pick up their “something.” This is visualization of their heart at that moment. In that moment of dishonor, they are discarding the marriage for their desired “something.”
If they pick up their desired object, they are faced with a choice: repent or harden my heart. Hopefully they will see the sinfulness and foolishness of their choice. Neither order nor affection will be attained through dishonor. As they see this, the offending spouse should put down their object, repent to his/her spouse, pick up the picture again, and ask to resume the conversation.
Once the conversation is culminated the couple is ready to see the Gospel in their marriage (Ephesians 5:32). However, culminated does not mean resolved. The conversation may have only reached a stopping point or a point of agreed mutual reflection. But it did so with honor.
Here is the Gospel in this moment:
And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)
Bill and Sue have denied themselves and been willing to lose their life (or at least that “something” they had centered their life upon). At this point, Bill can pick up that heart-shaped pillow, hand it to his wife with a hug and a kiss, and affirm to her that he has loved her as himself. Sue can pick up Bill’s PDA, hand it to her husband, and affirm to her husband that their marriage is moving towards a place of sustainable order. In their willingness to die to self and lose their life they have saved what is most precious. In effect, this process of conflict resolution can be as much a picture of the Gospel as baptism or the Lord’s Supper. We can see the Gospel enacted and participate in the drama (that is what an “ordinance” is) in our homes with each conflict.
This is hard! But it is worth it! It is the battle between our flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5: 19-26). But this methodology gives us tools to allow biblical insight to bear fruit “in the moment” of conflict. Acknowledge your heart to your spouse. Place your heart on the table in the midst of the conflict. As the conflict unfolds, maintain honor so that the two of you can encourage one another with the Gospel truth “whoever would loses his life for my sake will save it.”