Written by: Ryan and Marissa Pierce.
A Conflict Story
We all know the anger that rises in us when our spouse does that one thing that triggers us. You may have thought you established how much it hurts you when they did that thing last time, but there they are, doing it again. The wound runs deeper each time, making the ability to stay quiet all the more impossible.
Ryan and I(Marissa) are in our second year of marriage. Although we are still new to this marriage thing, cyclical arguments are not new territory. We struggled with this just a few months into dating.
We began our relationship in October, and it quickly flourished into a serious courtship within the first few dates. I wanted to be engaged as soon as possible. Ryan and I had talked about getting engaged in March. March came and went, but there was no ring on my finger. I was beside myself! He did not communicate with me that he was even working on buying a ring, and I felt unfairly treated. We had established a time frame together, and I set my expectations around that.
It sounds silly, but these feelings were so real to me in the moment. When I talked to Ryan about it, he did “The Thing.” The thing that still to this day triggers me. I communicate my hurt to him, and he goes silent. No response. Just stares into the distance. Instead of viewing his silence as a fight to repress sinful anger, I viewed it as him invalidating my hurt.
I hated the tension this caused, so I poked and prodded until I could get a response out of him. Even if it was anger he was feeling, at least I could know how he felt. I got nothing. I stayed upset, and Ryan stayed quiet.
We were engaged April 4th, just days after this argument. Ryan had just been waiting on the ring. In the happiness of the moment, we never returned to the conversation, but the same types of conflicts have come up many times since then. I was still upset that he did not validate my feeling and communicate with me.
And Ryan, without me ever knowing, was hurt that I did not trust him. Ryan thought it would be best for me to see, just a few days later, that I could trust him. He felt his actions would fix the problem. He felt there were no words to explain this in the argument. What I really wanted was to be heard and validated. He saw it as an attack on his manhood, I saw it as an attack on my heart.
As the Enneagram 9 (the peacemaker) in our family, I (Ryan) want nothing more than for conflict to be over, even before it starts. Marissa, the Enneagram 4 (the romantic), wants to be known and validated down to even the most fleeting thought. The cycle goes like this.
Marissa feels something and shares her feeling with me. I immediately feel attacked, and as a husband, I want to fix it. I stay quiet to keep from speaking out of anger and disappointment in myself, and often feel there is nothing I can do to fix it. Marissa gets triggered and takes jabs until she can get something, anything, out of me. The longer this goes on, the lower chance we have of getting anywhere productive. The anger builds like a roaring fire, and the blows get deeper. If she gets anything out of me at this point, it’s not love or validation.
We recognized that this was our cycle early on, and even with the incredible tools at our disposal, we still didn’t have a great way to fix it. Sometimes we would win, die to our selfishness, and find unity. Other times we would reciprocate our hurt, dealing deep, gruesome wounds to the one that we love. The outcome was a coin toss. We needed a way to find unity when our sin was driving a wedge between us. What we needed was a system to tip the odds in our favor.
The Faith Principle
Faith Principle #5: By faith, we must seek God’s wisdom concerning our responsibilities of mutual love and respect.
In Chapter 8 of Two Becoming One, we find the fifth faith principle. In that same chapter, we read,
“A husband serves his wife by loving her above all others, devoting himself to her, seeking her opinions, and valuing her as a person. He speaks and demonstrates love. A wife serves her husband by treating him with respect, seeking his opinions, and valuing him as a person. She speaks and demonstrates respect. Both listen to the heart of the other.”
Love and respect. Those are the charges given to husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33. By faith, we can mutually love and respect one another. On our own, apart from the perfect love we receive from God, we are hopeless to do so. When we get caught up in a cycle of not loving or respecting one another, we need to recognize and break that cycle as quickly as possible. We need the Holy Spirit in that moment to soften our hearts and return us to the commands of scripture in our marriage.
Cyclical conflict is a “rooftop” issue, but it indicates an underlying “foundation” issue. Our response to any offenses in marriage, specifically repeated offenses that cause cyclical conflict, are multi-faceted. There is hurt, which is an acceptable response to an offense, and must be discussed to maintain unity.
Then there is the expression of that hurt, which is most often anger. This is where the problem lies. The anger is an indicator that we do not trust our spouse to love and respect us by faith. To break the cycle, we need a system.
- Identify the Cycle
Our system involves mutually validating one another, and finding unity in those trying moments of conflict. The most important part of our system is first to recognize the cycle. It sounds obvious, but in the moment, it can be much more difficult than it sounds.
2. Permission to Pause
Once one of us realizes we’re in, or heading toward that cycle, we need to ask the Lord into that moment for help. It is only by His strength that we can overcome the selfishness in our heart and achieve unity. Once we’ve recognized our selfishness, we need the permission to pause and allow the fleeting emotions to leave, so that we can communicate from a place of faith love, and not anger.
The pause is the key to breaking the cycle for us, because that pause is the moment we remember that God uses conflict in marriage to remind us of our total and eternal dependence on him. He uses the lack in our hearts to turn us to the fullness of his love and grace.
3. Seek Unity Out of Abundance
While we should still seek to meet one another’s every need, we cannot expect our spouse to do this perfectly. This is when the anger subsides, and there is a mutual love and respect for one another. We may not solve our problem or end the conflict indefinitely, but in that moment, we can come together as one and be reminded of the gift we have in one another. We can then return to the conflict later and fight that battle together.
“If you look closely, you can see how God continues to show you a need he designed your spouse to fill.” (Two Becoming One, page 57)
We pray that finding resolution to cyclical conflict becomes a reminder that we are designed by you and empowered by your Holy Spirit to meet one another’s specific needs. May this ignite the desire in us to meet one another’s needs in a deeper way, and breed emotional intimacy in our marriage. May you soften our hearts, and may we see your perfect provision in our spouse. Help us seek to meet one another’s needs in love, fueled by your Holy Spirit.
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