My lovely wife and I were talking pleasantly the other day in the car, enjoying its quiet freedom from children.
Then she said something that frustrated me.
It wasn’t anything big, but I made a decision to gently talk about it. Before I knew it, this small, seemingly insignificant chat was a full blown conflict.
It felt like we both went from 0-60 faster than a Ferrari.
You know them: those ‘discussions’ that started out so calm trying to reconcile something so simple that eventually turned into a dog-eat-dog, blame-shifting, name-calling, slam-the-door firestorm.
At the end of these fights, and sometimes even during them, you and your spouse are full of regret, anger, shame, guilt, sorrow. The ashes: Loss. If only.
How do we stop these small fights from turning into full blown explosions?
I learned one of the most practical tools for resolving these types of conflicts from a firefighter in the third grade. By now, you might even be reciting those three little words:
Stop, Drop, and Roll
It’s that easy.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have regret after losing control in his or her responses. Justified as you felt at the time, you wish you could take back the label you slapped on him, or the way you compared her to her mom. Or worse.
Here’s something you can take to the bank. If the momentum of your conflict isn’t moving toward resolution, it won’t be resolved unless someone or something changes.
Increased tone or volume or creativity or strength with words, or the threatening nature of our actions, won’t force our spouses to change! At least not for the better. It might shut them down to give you the appearance of getting your point across or “winning.”
But everyone loses.
If you’re not moving toward resolution, wisdom dictates that you respectfully and rapidly postpone the discussion to prevent destruction.
The earlier you attempt to stop the better. As you continue to escalate in an argument, your body releases additional hormones contributing to your defensiveness that take at least 30 minutes to subside. The longer you wait, the more hormones are released, and the harder it will be to take a break.
What this is not: Avoiding. Denial. Stonewalling. The Silent Treatment. Being the “bigger man”/woman. Self-righteousness. Getting the last word.
What this is: Stepping away from an out-of-control, injurious conflict to deal with the actual issue in a way that minimizes damage and maximizes actual solutions, rather than a power struggle. It is loving your spouse—and God’s glory in your marriage—more than you love your own anger.
This will take preparation, mental focus, self-control. But most importantly, it takes Jesus.
If all you do is cool off, you’ll probably spout off once again, and likely even worse (thanks to the “airtight”, perfectly-composed legal brief prepared by your mental attorney), when you roll back into the conflict.
Rather than running out of the burning house for a quick drink and a breath before you go back in, you need the relational equivalent of a fire suit on. You’ll be much more likely to succeed in rescuing that person trapped inside, be it you or your spouse. You’ll last longer, breathe easier, and be more patient and methodical in searching the house for what could be lost.
Drop to your knees and ask God for help. Though often overlooked, this is your most significant work!
- Ask God for help, humility, and His love for your spouse.
- Confess and repent to God. What is “the log” in your own eye?
- What do you anticipate are the real questions of your spouse’s heart in this? What Scriptures apply here?
Equipped with humility and help from the Holy Spirit, you’re ready to re-engage.
- Confess and repent to your spouse for the words you said and how you said them
- Express heartfelt love for your spouse in spite of not seeing eye to eye on the issue
- Empowered with the Holy Spirit’s help, humility, and grace, attempt, don’t demand, resolution.
So there you have it: Stop your conflict. Drop to your knees and ask for Jesus to help. Roll back into the conflict.
I wish I could take credit for this model. But the wisdom in these steps comes straight from the pages of scripture.
The greatest conflict ever was fought for over 4000 years: the conflict that started in Genesis 3:6 and that ended 2000 years ago at the cross.
God’s resolution with us began with rules to show His holiness (10 Commandments), authority to submit to (Judges and Kings), and finally warnings and promises of things to come (Prophets). All of these efforts—because of our sinfulness—eventually proved our own efforts as futile and fruitless.
Then in Jesus, God stopped the conflict created by our inability, in sin, to be with Him. Jesus went to the Cross as silent as a lamb before its shearers. Jesus dropped His own rights, His own glory, surrendering it to God. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God rolled back into the conflict with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to empower and sanctify us in our most intense struggles—our firesuit—and to resolve the conflict between us and God. Forever.
There will be countless human philosophies and strategies you will be tempted to use to fix the conflicts between you and your spouse. These might have an appearance of wisdom and even produce some temporary change in your marriage. But unless the heart of your marriage changes, you’re extinguishing nothing for good.
Your conflicts need an infusion from Jesus so that you and your spouse can truly resolve your most heated conflicts and say victoriously and joyfully, “It is finished”.
Stop, Drop and Roll.
It’s even more life-saving than that guy from third grade.