I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10
During the first year of our marriage, my husband and I were good friends with a young couple. They were at that do-we-break-up-or-get-married crossroads, and we did what we could to support them as they struggled with their relationship. One evening, they stopped by our apartment to tell us they had decided to get serious about marriage. “Thank you for helping us with this,” they said. “You’ve been a great example of people who fight all the time even though you really love each other.”
It sounded like a backhanded compliment. But they came from homes in which arguments escalated into shouting matches, and parents left in anger and didn’t come back. We had shown them a marriage in which two opinionated people managed to work through their differences—and differences are inevitable when two people try to make a life together—and still hold on to their connection.
A certain level of conflict in marriage means both partners feel free to speak their minds, can be honest about what they think and feel, and trust each other to stay committed despite occasional disagreements. First Corinthians 1:10 helps us understand the fine line between healthy conflict and hurtful discord.
Paul told the people in the church at Corinth to be perfectly united in mind and thought. But seriously, who could ever pull that off? It’s important to understand that Paul wasn’t suggesting that they agree on every detail of their lives. We see proof of that later in this letter; chapters 8–10 deal with gray areas such as whether or not it was OK to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. Rather, Paul was talking about the big picture. “Look,” he was saying, “you’re never going to agree on all the details, but those details don’t matter as much as you think they do. What matters is that you love God and that you help each other follow the way of Jesus.”
Working out the details of married life naturally generates conflict. Why would we expect it to be otherwise? You take two people who grew up in different families with totally different sets of life experiences, expectations, hopes, ideas and beliefs, and, well, eventually someone’s going to load the dishwasher the wrong way.
But the big picture of a healthy marriage is a different story. Two people, despite all the ways they differ from each other, have decided they want their lives to follow the way of Christ together. On that path the details and differences fade into the background to reveal the beautiful mystery of two becoming one. It doesn’t mean their minds meld together. Or that only one person gets to have an opinion. Or that we pretend we don’t argue. Instead, our unity comes as we, in Christ, daily and persistently strengthen the common bonds of love, respect and faith that make a marriage thrive. Carla Barnhill
What conflicts come up in our marriage? Which ones are big-picture issues? How do we manage those? Which are detail issues? How can we work together to avoid getting caught up in details that don’t really matter?
Do people think of us as a unified couple or as a couple who constantly argue? Which perception is accurate?
Do we have too much or too little conflict? Let’s talk about ways we might keep these things in balance. Could a Christian counselor help us develop better conflict management skills?