In 1997, a peculiar business deal went down.
To keep the then-fledgling Apple Computers from becoming a figment of Silicon Valley’s past, an unlikely investor breathed new life into Apple’s core through an investment of $150 million. This key investment allowed Apple and its newly returned CEO, Steve Jobs, to keep pushing, keep thinking and keep creating. The investor? CEO and founder of Microsoft, Apple’s largest competitor, Bill Gates. Jobs told the audience at MacWorld in Boston when the news went public, “We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose.”
Both Jobs and Gates knew their companies stood a better chance at surviving and thriving with their competitor still making advances in the marketplace.
When you think about your current or future marriage, what is it that you believe to be the key to your marriage flourishing? What aspects of Paul’s treatise on love in his first letter to the Corinthians do you give the highest elevation (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)? In the same way that Steve Jobs wouldn’t have predicted his biggest competitor to be the salvation his dying company needed, you might not identify marital conflict as an integral component to deep happiness in your marriage. Jobs knew the life of Apple wasn’t synonymous with the death of Microsoft. We need to learn that true marital bliss isn’t synonymous with the absence of conflict.
Through healthy conflict we grow, we’re sharpened, we’re molded and we’re sanctified. It’s healthy tension. And yet, it seems we only believe the “no pain, no gain” proverb as it pertains to things outside our bonds of matrimony. We know the pain of athletic training brings greater agility, speed and strength. We understand the forging of steel requires the heat of a flame and the friction of the anvil. But we struggle to see conflict within our marriage as anything more than dross to be discarded. On the contrary, conflict is like the gemologist’s magnifying lens, enabling us to see the precious intricacies of love: that it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Conflict nurtures confidence. Allowing a place for healthy conflict between you and your spouse gives evidence that your trust of one another is grounded in something much deeper than mere conversational agreements. It shows the beauty of a patient love, one that doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing (1 Corinthians 13:4, 6). Healthy conflict shows that your trust reaches far past doing simply what you’re told and never veering off-course. Having conversations that are more tense than tidy shows you understand that happiness in your marriage isn’t the product of constant affirmation, empty compliments, thoughtless submission and consistent states of euphoria. The trust that shows its face in the heat of conflict is one that laughs at insecurity.
Approaching your spouse with a rebuke or word of correction displays, with such gospel beauty, the reality that within the covenant of marriage, we don’t have to fear a fickle love. Healthy conflict can bring security to who we are and how we’re loved. We can breathe in moments of conflict when we’re standing firm in our spouses love for us and they can stand firm, trusting our love for them. Conflict isn’t the antagonist in a narrative where blind support and affirmation are the heroes. This is a dangerous false dichotomy we’ve created. This isn’t what we find in God’s Word.
Jesus explains in Matthew 18 that we are to approach our brothers and sisters to show them their faults. Solomon tells us in Proverbs that wise words bring healing. Paul tells us that we must look to the interest of others. This means we must ask, “Is it in their interest, their pursuit of godliness, their sanctification, for me to bring this to their attention?” If the answer is yes, then we must press on. But in everything, we remember James’ wisdom that we must be quick to listen and slow to speak.
A marriage free from conflict doesn’t mean a marriage free from strife. When practiced well, conflict can be the path to great beauty. Actor Denzel Washington recently remarked, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” Conflict refines us. It sharpens us. A conflict-free marriage doesn’t have the edge for that.
Until Christ’s return inaugurates new creation, marriage remains a daily war against the persistent enemy of sin for both husband and wife. In conflict, we see this clearly. By its very nature, conflict shows our daily need to be refined and sanctified through the power of Christ at work in us and in our marriages (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Conflict shows that we are still on this side of the redemption of all things. It shows us we are still being made new every day.
Conflict reveals to the on-looking world that despite what people think about life in marriage, there is still work to be done in all our hearts. Conflict shows us that Christ is our only confidence for improving as a spouse. A quick word of wisdom, a sharp word of critique reminds us that we are all in a state of progress, that we all need grace each and every moment.
As the Psalmist writes, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” We’re in a fight, saying things and acting in ways we don’t want or intend (per Paul’s exhortation Romans 7). Healthy conflict, living and breathing in our marriage shows us our dire need to continue living and breathing in the grace and mercy Jesus offers fresh each morning, even before our first cup of coffee (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Most importantly, the presence of healthy conflict in our marriages, both present and future, reveals the glorious nature of Christ’s rescue of helpless sinners (Romans 5); that even when we fail and even when we stumble, even when we say the wrong thing at the wrong time, God remains committed to us and will never abandon His wayward Bride (Hebrews 13:5).
This is the reality we display when conflict goes well and even when it goes wrong. Our marriage screams the grace of Jesus and His compassion on people that can’t fix themselves and make themselves better when we remain steadfast and in pursuit of our spouse in the midst of the clouds of conflict. Our love and care for our spouse through difficult conversations and arguments reveals to us, our spouse, and others that God is eternally committed to multiplying His strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), as well as continuing to pursue us even when we’re frustrated or upset with Him. He loves us no matter our insensitivity or depth of complaint.
When our marriages display this truth, we experience exponential joy and confidence. When our spouse envelops us with a hug or a gentle kiss on the cheek after conflict has subsided, it’s a tangible gospel reminder that they’re committed, their love is unaffected and their pursuit is unhindered.
God knows us intimately, and yet there’s nowhere we can go to escape His presence (Psalm 139:7-12). He will continue to pursue us despite our flaws and failures (Hosea 2:14-23). This is the beauty of God’s character that we come face t0 face with through the storms and aftermath of marital conflict.
Pastor and author Louie Giglio says, “In Christ, conflict is not a deal breaker but a path to depth and intimacy.” On this path, we can rest, free from insecurity as we experience deep gospel joy in our marriages.