Lets have a fair fight
Let’s have a fair fight!
Right before Sylvester Stalone starts landing blows on his opponent in each of the famous Rocky movies, a referee reminds him of the rules. The two menacing boxers stand toe to toe- drenched in sweat, boxing gloves on. The referee pulls down a microphone from the sky and starts explaining the rules. “We want a good clean fight, no sucker punches or blows below the waist, touch gloves, and when I say go to your corner, go there and stay there, and don’t come out until you hear the bell. May the best fighter win!” I have often thought that this referee would make a great wedding officiant. He could wed people and start them off on the right foot on how to fight fairly.
Jody and I have been investing in young marriages for a few years. It happened organically. You see, Jody and I had three children born within a three-year period. The first two, were born 11 months apart. Therefore all milestones have happened in clumps in our household, and Jody and I have prepared and braced accordingly. When they were all preschoolers, we worked in the church nursery. I developed a scripture memory verse system corresponding with the letters of the alphabet and we knew every Veggie Tale song by heart. As they grew up, we moved up, too. We spent about three years teaching through the Bible in a Sunday School class as each of our children moved through it while at the Protestant Chapel in Katterbach, Germany while Jody was on active duty in the ‘90s. As the years rolled on we found ourselves spending our free time in the Word and researching popular Christian views on their respective age appropriate topics, from allowances, chores, appropriate discipline using your child’s love language, (Excellent book by Chapman and Campbell, by the way), to teen topics such as dating and hearing God’s voice about the plan for your life. As our children left for college, we begin to see that God had put very special people in our children's path that could be their future spouses, so true to form, we began to pray and read everything we could on what God said about marriage.
We read many books and gleaned a lot of knowledge that strengthened our marriage and gave us potential insight into our children’s views on marriage and the challenges they may face. As our children accepted proposals and had proposals accepted, we asked them if we could read our newly found favorite marriage book with them and their intendeds. Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage is an excellent book and it was our choice for the kids. Keller’s book is very well written and logical in its approach to unpacking the truths about marriage and more importantly the way God had intended marriage to reflect the gospel. All three of our children are engineers, like my husband, and we felt this book would appeal to their organized minds. We fluffed our way through the first couple and did a wee bit better with the second, but by the time our youngest child was engaged, we were more comfortable. Over a period of a few sessions, some that even occurred during a family vacation on the beach, we successfully walked them through the book and realized its power.
During these years, God also put us in the path of a few struggling Christian couples who were unhappy in their marriages. We were eager to be used of God to hold His hurting children, and we began to use all the head knowledge we had acquired paired with a very happy Christ centered marriage that we had walked out over the past 3 decades along with the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We began to pour the truth about the marriage covenant made with God into lives outside our immediate family. God also opened our eyes to the needs in today’s church, specifically our young growing church, and we felt compelled to start an organized 10-week Marriage Covenant Group using Tim Keller’s book and a few other resources for conversation fodder. We’ve also in the last year developed a Marriage Covenant 201 retreat and God has faithfully used this event to help strengthen marriages as well. Given this base, I can say with limited authority, that many couples today do not know how to fight fair. This could be true because of any number of factors, but most commonly the young couples did not have a good role model in this area. The lack of ability to fight fairly is further evidenced as we discover the wounds caused during these ill thought out fights with one or both spouses spiritually looking like the bloodied face of Rocky at the end of the movie as he yells for his wife - “Adrienne! Adrienne!” Thus, we camp out on forgiveness and repentance.
I could, and I may, write three or four blogs on this one topic, on how to fighting fairly, but for right now, and in the interest of time, let’s keep our conversation restricted to two biblical truths that are found in the same meaty verse in Ephesians. Ephesian 4:26, Paul writes “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are angry.” In a nutshell, Paul is giving us rich, God inspired, instruction about how we should act as the body of Christ. This is also useful information for married believers, the smallest possible subset of the church, as well. So let’s dig in, the first truth is simple- do not sin when you are angry. So, God knew we would get angry. Do you think God knew my husband, granted a very smart man, would act as if he didn’t understand how to load his dirty coffee cup in the dishwasher? Instead he would day after day, leave it on the counter next to the sink, so the heat of the day would bake in that brown ring and make a 20 second rinsing job turn into a 20 minute scrubbing one. Yes, truthfully, God did. God also knew that I would forget to save my receipts so instead of making it easier for my husband to balance the checkbook each week, I would create a sort of banking scavenger hunt for him, with the prize being the discovery of the ridiculous amount of money I had spent that day getting my nails done! Friends, please remember, God created us, and we don’t surprise Him. I find this fact extremely comforting. He clearly stated in His word and translated in my southern vernacular, “you will get angry…just don’t be ugly!” This means that the world’s example of marital disagreement can’t be our standard. The world is quick to depict an argument as something that has a winner and a loser. It glorifies the fight, it applauds the steam roller approach as we out debate the other. God’s plan looks radically different. God is quick to show us that with the right approach both, husband and wife can win and even draw closer to God and each other during the conflict. OK, I saw that eye roll, keep reading. I know this to be true, from personal experience. Conflict handled correctly can increase intimacy with God and your spouse, if we let it.
If we are allowed anger, but challenged not to sin, God must be pointing us to a more civil, love your neighbor more than yourself sort of way to resolve conflicts. He knows that conflict is unavoidable and that it will exist in all relationships- so do it in a god glorifying fashion! When we use love as the bases for the disagreement, closeness and spiritual growth are the likely outcomes. For example, if we honor God with our words, and do not throw those sucker punches the referee warned us about, like name calling, shouting, or scare tactics, God will allow His spirit to fill the moment and solutions to disagreements will be miraculously found and our spouses encouraged and left unscathed. Isn’t that what we really want- a resolution and a happy, healthy spouse! Plus, if we wield the gospel based power of forgiveness and allow God to heal the hurts in our marriage, we will not become insatiable historians and dredge up every previous wrong. Our arguments will be relevant and manageable. Conversation will be calm and will not get over heated. If we view marriage through the lens of the gospel, and recognize its power in our personal pursuit of holiness, we can’t help but see the benefit of the sharpening process. And learn to respect that our spouse is giving a practical application of the iron sharpening iron concept read about in Proverbs. (Proverbs 27:17.) If we see God using our spouses in this way in our life, when we are out of step, we will handle the correction more graciously, and the correction will be dripping in grace and love. Conflicts can result in spiritual growth and a heightened sense of oneness or alienation and a sense of loneliness. There is no one more committed to seeing my walk with Christ grow than my husband. Why? Because no one is more benefited and/or more hurt by my faith or lack thereof. The Godliest of marriages, I have observed, are the ones that expertly apply the concepts of repentance and forgiveness. Those who are quick to forgive and cast that sin far away, with no strings attached to reel it back in, will have more opportunities to live out their days happy and blessed, growing in Christ together.
The last part of the verse adds a time element to the argument or conflict. We can’t ignore the conflict or let it fester. We must come up with a way to handle the conflict in a timely manner. I must admit Jody and I have not settled every argument before the sun goes down, we flatly can’t talk that fast. But before the problem grows too big, we have an agreed upon a time to discuss it. This helps my logical husband to get his thoughts in order, and his hot-headed Cajun wife, me, to cool down and pray a while so the Spirit can bridle my tongue. I really like a negotiation technique introduced by Dr Willard Harley’s book Love Busters. Mutually Enthusiastic Agreement. My spin on this process: each spouse calmly and clearly states their side to the argument. The other spouse must then restate it and continue restating it until their spouse proclaims “Yes! You understand me!” When both parties have been heard and demonstrably understood, the next step is problem solving with reckless abandon. Couples continue to brain storm until a solution both spouses are enthusiastic about is found. Winner, winner chicken dinner! No more victor and the other guy! Both feel like they can raise their arms up like Rocky at the end of second movie- victorious! And since they have both been heard and understood, the couple has a heightened sense of closeness.
Jody and I have used this technique since we first read about it six years ago. Oh, how I wish we had been told about this years earlier. Each spouse’s opinion is affirmed, brainstorming gives a voice to both parties and the process is pleasant- absent of malice or a rabbit punch or knock out blow. Dr Harley also states that if the conversation gets heated, break for a recess- return to your corners and do not come out until the bell has rung, or the designated time to continue the discussion has come. Sidebar: It is impossible to be relaxed and angry at the same time, so try scheduling these deliberations over dessert, in the hot tub or naked. Whatever keeps you both interested and loving!
Fight fairly, new friend, and let God be glorified and your marriage strengthened!