Conflict in Marriage
As a Church Planter, there is only so much training you can receive before you land in your city and begin holding weekly services. When we landed in Alaska, I felt trained. I felt ready for what was about to come my way. To be honest, in many ways I was. I had amazing theological training in my undergrad. I lived 2 years in Sudan as a Journeyman (Missionary). Upon returning home I even did some graduate work. I was well trained. But looking back now, there were some weak spots in the armor that I thought I had built up so well. My hope is that this blog might allow you to spot these before I did, and maybe even address them before you launch and start pastoring your church. The biggest blindspot I had was in dealing with conflict. Sure, I had dealt with my fair share of conflict before, but as a church planter so much of it is amplified. Speaking from a personal perspective, much of the conflict I encountered came from within my own family and, more specifically, my spouse. Before you start reading too much into that previous sentence, let me just say that I have a fantastic marriage. A wife that serves me and the church without most people even knowing she is doing it. We enjoy time together. In fact there is no one I would rather spend time with. Even the best marriages, though, will tell you that conflict is apart of their journey, and no more so for us than when we were planting True North Church.
When we arrived in our city, our family was the team. We would have loved to have been surrounded with others in this process, but that is just not the way it worked out for us. So the team was me, my wife, and our two boys (we now have a third). It did not take long for the pressure and responsibility of church planting to take its toll on our marriage. What follows are things that my wife and I have learned throughout the last few years in dealing with conflicts in our marriage.
1. Understand how each of you deals with conflict.
In the church world, there has been so much emphasis on the “Love Languages” between husband and wife. This is an absolute needed process to go through and can serve the couple well in their marriage. However, there also needs to be a greater emphasis on how each spouse handles conflict. Perhaps an example from my own marriage will shed some light on what I’m talking about.
I’m a passionate guy. It is just how God made me. Sometimes in my passion I tend to raise my voice and be very vocal...Hey I’m a pastor, it’s what God called me to do, right? This passion does not get shut off when in a conflict with my wife. I’m just as vocal and loud as I am on a Sunday morning. Not only am I passionate, but I also don’t let my anger sit for very long before I let someone (my wife) know. And after I have expressed myself, I’m perfectly content to move on as if nothing was wrong in the first place.
My wife is not like me. As I process outward, she processes inward and slow. Very slow. The way that she handles conflict is completely different than me. She cannot forgive and forget as quickly as I can (which drives me crazy). She likes to let the conflict stew and come back together when we have had time to cool off.
Now, neither way of dealing with conflict is necessarily wrong. The problem comes when we don't understand what the other is doing. As we have grown to understand each other in this regard, we now handle the conflict with greater love and respect for each other, and I think, in a way, that allows us to move past it more quickly.
At first you might be thinking, this sounds like what I was just saying above, but hear me out, because there is a difference. When I say communicate here, I am talking about in all phases of your marriage, not just in how you handle conflict. My first point was very narrow, and now I want to broaden things up a bit and talk about how you communicate as a whole.
I know that we all have pressures in our jobs. I felt this as a pastor in an established church, but it was intensified when we planted True North. It was as if a timer had been started, and we had a job to do or we were going home. My wife loves what we get to do and so she is very hands on. She does our graphics, she disciples the ladies, she was the kids director (now we have a part time director). She did so much and was so involved. I no longer had a staff, like I did before, who could do some of these things, so Caroline took on much of that responsibility. For us, we work well together and enjoy this.
However, in all this excitement we miscommunicated about many things. Most of it was unintentional. Most of it was just that we thought we were on the same page, talking about the same thing, when we were not. But boy, did it cause some tense moments. “I said this...” “How could you have possibly thought that I mean that...?” “Did you really think that I would like this...?”
Now, as we talk and process things together, we try to be proactive instead of reactive. Reactive leads to much more conflict. Reactive breeds negative thoughts about the other person. Proactive allows us to work together and achieve the same goal. It takes work up front, but I believe is so worth it. Communicate!
3. Be a family not a staff
I don’t know if you find yourself in the same boat that I’m in, but True North Church and my family go hand and hand. Whether it is breakfast, lunches, or dinner they are discipleship moments or vision casting. Sometimes it is so hard for me to turn off Pastor Jason. To be completely honest though, I love it and can think of nothing better for our lives.
But do you want to know something that I had to learn the hard way? My wife does not always want to talk about True North Church. Crazy, right? How could she not? Doesn’t she understand how important it is to me.
Now hear me out, pastor. My wife loves True North Church. She feels the weight of it like I do. All the pressures and responsibilities—she gets it. But she also needs me to turn it off from time to time and be a family. Every conversation we have does not need to be about the church. It does not have to be figuring out best how to pitch vision to the church. Listen, she hears it all anyways, more than anyone, but you need to be a family. This allows you both to have release and talk through other issues that you might need to talk through. This is one of those proactive things that I was talking about above. In our family we call these “Family Days.”
During “Family Days” we talk about our family. We ask each other how we are spiritually. We want to know what our weaknesses have been and where we have been growing. Sure we do this most days, but this is an extended time for us to be husband and wife.
Yes I know the church plant is important; it’s important to me. But don’t make it the only thing you and your spouse talk about or conflicts will ensue, because you will focus all your time on the church and neglect each other. [quote]Yes I know the church plant is important; it’s important to me. But don’t make it the only thing you and your spouse talk about or conflicts will ensue, because you will focus all your time on the church and neglect each other.[/quote]
Conflict is inevitable. When two sinners are joined together in one house there are bound to be problems. Add a few kids to the mix and just wait for an explosion. However, If we can communicate and be proactive rather than reactive, we are setting ourselves up succeed and lead others to do the same.