1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “ “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.””
When my wife, Barbi, and I (Dr. Townsend) were first married, we used to have conflicts about conflict. Looking back, it’s kind of funny as I later went on to write a Christian relationship book called Boundaries in Marriage. Imagine watching us have boundary conversations about how bad our marriage boundaries were. Barbi’s approach to conflict was to avoid it. My approach tended to be more blunt. We’d talk about a problem and it wouldn’t go well. One of us would misunderstand, we would pull away from each other, and the problem wouldn’t get solved.
One day, I asked Barbi, “When we argue, I never stop loving you. Is there anything I can do to make this better for you?” She thought a minute and said, “Maybe if you let me know you love me before you confront me, that might help.”
I thought that was a good idea, so I agreed. The next time I wanted to have a talk with her about a concern, I walked in the room and said something like, “Honey, I just want to let you know I really care about you and I hope you feel safe with me.” Then when I brought up the problem, things went better for her and for us.
This method of having successful conversations went on for a while. As time passed, however, something changed. I needed to bring up an issue, so I began with, “Honey, I just want you to know…” Barbi said, “Stop! It’s okay. I know you love me; just get to the problem.”
We had a good laugh about it. Over time, she had begun feeling safe enough not to need reassurance before each conversation. She realized that I love her even in the midst of confrontation, and she was ready to go straight to solving whatever problem needed to be solved.
When God created marriage, he gave us one of his best gifts. He provided a permanent and safe connection for a man and a woman to experience love, joy, meaning, and purpose together. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God designed marriage to be a whole-person connection. This means that, more than in any other human relationship, every part of you ideally is to connect and cleave to every part of your spouse. The love you share should be complete as you intertwine your lives and emotions around each other.
Because marriage is such a wonderful type of relationship, confrontation within the marital relationship is very important. Who is better qualified to understand and speak to someone about a problem than the person who is living life right next to him? You are intimately involved with him. You see the real person, imperfections and all. His ways and actions affect you; you are not dispassionate about him. More than anyone, a spouse should be able to see what her partner’s true problems are.
Marriage is not about making each other happy; it is about growing and helping one’s spouse to grow. For instance, Ephesians 4:16 says good marriages are a large part of how the body of Christ “grows and builds itself up in love.” Happiness can and does come to a good marriage. Happiness, however, is a byproduct of growth and life. It is not the goal.
Confrontation brings empowerment, which is the ability to make choices and changes in your relationship. God created all of us to be change agents for each other. We have a responsibility to influence the people in our lives to be the best possible people they can be. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
Healthy confrontation helps us grow by making us aware of what we are doing and how our behavior affects others. God uses us to deliver the ingredients of growth to the people in our life. Part of the reason we are with whomever we are with is to provide those ingredients for those people. While most would agree that we can’t make someone change, it is also true that we can do much to encourage change.
As Barbi and I have learned to confront each other lovingly, directly, and effectively, we are often pleased in the change not only in our marriage but also in ourselves. We feel a sense of power that we can make changes and that we have choices. God designed all of us to connect and act, and confrontation helps put the “act” into the connection.