Marriage Enrichment

September 16, 2011

Rules of Engagement


When you are in conflict with your spouse, how do you view it? Do you see conflict as a healthy part of every marital relationship that needs to happen in order for your relationship to grow, or do you see it as a battle that you must win in order to get what you want? Your answer to this may answer your question of why is it every time you and your spouse are in conflict, it becomes a heated battle that no one really wins.

Every marriage will have conflict, it is just a matter of how you deal with the conflict that will determine (1)how much conflict you will have or (2) the outcome of that conflict. When engaging in discussion on issues with your spouse, you can view it from one of two angles, which is either positive or a negative. The positive definition of engagement is a promise or pledge, to bind yourself to marry, to attract and hold attention. The negative definition is to enter into conflict with the enemy. Which one has been the definition of your conflict with your spouse? Often times when you are in conflict with your spouse you forget that you are in a union that you pledged to stand together with your spouse and not stand apart as if the two of you are at war.

Even though you have conflict and you may feel that nothing is being accomplished, there is a way to have your engagement in discussion be from a positive standpoint and not the negative. You can deal with conflict from a loving standpoint rather than an adversarial one. You can come from a position of giving agape love, which is defined as a self-giving love, gift love, the love that goes on loving even when the other becomes unlovable. Agape love is the kind of love that Christ gave to us. His love was sacrificial and unconditional and we are to pattern our love for one another after the love that Christ has for us. According to 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 love suffers long and is kind, love does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. From this kind of love we can take clues on how to handle conflict with our spouse even in the midst of anger. The model that we created will help you remember the bottom line when dealing with conflict which is to deal with the conflict from a spirit of AGAPE LOVE. The acronym AGAPE LOVE stands for:

A – Always create a safe place to talk (by setting ground rules ahead of time)

G – Gather your thoughts and feelings

A – Accept responsibility for your role in the conflict

P – Produce effective communication

E – Eliminate negative talk (speak the truth in love)

L – Listen carefully and repeat

O – Openly discuss the problem involved in conflict (one at a time)

V- Vow to resolve the issue and Follow up ( at least one week for smaller issues or an agreed upon time for larger issues)

E – Experience the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer

A – Always Create a Safe Place to Talk (by setting ground rules ahead of time)Some examples of ground rules are no cursing at each other, no bringing up hurtful things from the past, not allowing others into the conflict unless it is an impartial third party, we will talk on Sundays after church which will be our set time every week. What are some ground rules that you have set up for your communication with your spouse? Both of you need to feel that you can communicate without feeling like your words will come back to haunt you. You should be able to be free to communicate openly without fear of reprisal from your spouse or anyone that they may have confided in. Bible verse: Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.

G – Gather Your Thoughts and Feelings. Sometimes we don’t take the time to gather our thoughts and feelings and it can be disastrous. We need speak with love in hearts and on our tongue. Bible Verses: Proverbs 14:29 He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly. Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression. Proverbs 21:23 Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles.

A – ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY for YOUR Role in the Conflict. Often times we want to place blame on the other person and not take responsibility, but we must take responsibility for our actions. When you accept responsibility you are committed to coming to a conclusion that is best for your marriage, you look to resolve issues through problem solving and when things go wrong you are willing to own up to your role and essentially bear the burden of the decisions that you have made. Bible Verse: Galatians 5:1-5 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

P – Produce Effective Communication Communicate at an agreed upon time that is good for both of you. For example, not after 9pm because one of you will get too sleepy, or only after the kids are in bed. This does not mean that you consistently say that this is not a good time so that you can avoid the conversation. If you say that this is not a good time you must come back with a time that is good for you. Talk to each other without distractions, such as the TV, cellphones, children in order to give your undivided attention to what is being said. If someone does call during your conversation, don’t pick up let them leave a message. This will send a message to your spouse that they are important to you. In order to effectively communicate, you need to be able to express your thoughts and feelings so that it does not put the other person on the defensive. One technique to do this is called using I- statements. For example, I felt hurt when you didn’t come home after work it makes me feel like you take my time for granted. This is very different from you don’t care anything about me because you always come home late. Additionally you want to make sure you don’t bombard your partner with information by talking on and on. You should speak in two to three sentences at a time like speaking in bite sized pieces. If you feel like you have said a mouthful you have said too much. Speaking in bite sized pieces gives your mate an opportunity to absorb what you have said and gives them an opportunity to make sure they fully understand the thought that you are trying to convey. Things to avoid during communication are 1. allowing the conversation to escalate. In fact this can be one of your ground rules in that you will honor one another enough to only speak in love without raising your voice. However, if things do begin to escalate take time away from each other to calm down and then come back when you can follow through with the conversation from a place of honoring your spouse. Other things to avoid are 2. thinking that your spouse can read your mind. You must communicate how you feel in order for him to understand how you feel. 3. You must also be willing to engage in the conversation even when it may be difficult. It does not help if you withdraw from the conversation, because over time there will be resentment around the issue and towards you because you continue to avoid it. 4. Accept what your spouse is saying as truth about how they feel. Don’t shrug off their feelings as inconsequential or treat them like oh here we go again. We must honor each other’s feelings without ridicule. Bible Verses: Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver. Proverbs 15:23 A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, And a word spoken in due season, how good it is!

E- Eliminate Negative Talk ( speak the truth in love)We must speak to each other from a place of honor and of love. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in our negative beliefs about our spouses that we can’t see the good in them or the words that they speak. With negative talk and negative thoughts you are putting a negative spin on what your spouse does and says. You are allowing the devil to take a foothold in your marriage. By doing this we are allowing the negativity to creep in and distort the words and actions of our spouses. By doing this we put ourselves in the position to feel justified in returning the negative talk or actions. However, we must eliminate the negative talk and thoughts. By eliminating the negative talk I mean the talk that you verbally speak as well as the talk that you have in your mind. Take the time after reading this newsletter to notice the good things that your spouse says or does and see how that outlook will change the way that you see them. Bible Verses: Ephesians 5:25-27,29 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

L – Listen Carefully and Repeat Just like there is an art to communicating there is an art to listening. When listening to our spouses we must be able to hear what has been said but repeat it back so that we can clarify what they have just said. This is why you only want to speak in bite sized pieces to not only be fair to yourself but to the listener so that they can correctly repeat back what you have said as they understand it. When listening you want to give your undivided attention in our nonverbal body language as well as when we repeat back what they have said. Take on an open posture and one the shows that you are interested. In listening carefully, you can’t be thinking of whatever your response is or you will have completely missed what is being said. Bible Verses: Proverbs 18:13, 15 He who answers a matter before he hears it ,It is folly and shame to him. 15 The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

O- Openly Discuss the Problem Involved in the Conflict This is the time to discuss the problem openly and honestly. This is the time to discuss what the biggest concerns are pertaining to the conflict at hand. During this time, only discuss the issues, don’t try to resolve them yet. When discussing the issues, you will employ the effective communication and active listening skills to make sure you are accurately portraying both of your concerns, so that you can come up with the root causes of the issues. After doing this, it is now time to move on to the problem resolution stage. Bible Verses: Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal truthfully are His delight. Ephesians 4:29-32 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

V – Vow to Resolve the Issue and Follow Up This is now the time where the two of you must determine which factor has the biggest impact on the issue at hand. You can do this by selecting the top 3 and then address the one that you both agree is the #1 factor affecting the problem. After doing this, the two of you need to discuss how you will go about dealing with this factor that suits both of you. Now, set a timetable to complete the work so that you can follow up. This element is key so that you can ensure that the resolution is working and if it is not, you can address what is. This element is also key so that neither of you feels like your spouse does not recognize the efforts you have made which can cause resentment. When you follow up go over your wins as well as your challenges so that you can keep track of what is working and what is not. When you discover something isn’t working you can go back to your discussion and choose another element that may be affecting the problem at hand. When you discover what is working don’t forget to celebrate in a way that you both enjoy. In order to come to a resolution that is best for the marriage and not one individual you must remember that marriage is a covenant before God. In your covenant to God you have agreed to die to self or selfishness and give way to the two becoming one flesh. Issues cannot be resolved from a selfish point of view.

E – Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit Through Prayer Prayer changes things. Sometimes we are in prayer to change the other person and in the end we are the one that is convicted and changed. Prayer is one of the greatest tools God has given us to be in connection with Him. We use prayer as communication with God. Our prayers are also petitions for the health and success of our marriage. In our prayers we should pray from an unselfish standpoint and for the overall benefit of your marriage. Pray prior to entering into the discussion to allow the Holy Spirit to take over. Pray for your anger and other emotions to be under control when speaking to your spouse so that you can convey what it is that you are feeling. Pray that you have an open mind to hear what your spouse is saying from their heart and remove any negative filters or distractions that may get in the way. Pray with confidence that He hears us and that our prayer is according to His will. Bible Verses: 1 John 5:14-15 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Ultimately, when engaging in conflict with your spouse, do it from a place of unselfish love and watch the results of the fruit of your labor.


  1. Shane Patterson

    Nothing beats Agape Love.

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