"We never fight. We just always agree on everything."
"We used to fight, but we realized that it wasn't helping us. So we just don't do conflict anymore."
"We're so in love...how could we argue about anything?"
"I just decided not to argue with him anymore. I didn't like how out of control I was getting...so I stop saying what I feel and think before it can get out of hand."
"It's not 'Christian' for marriage to have lots of conflict."
I hear comments like this from couples in their twentys and thirtys pretty often. It's like once we all got a few years into the 'having kids' stage, everyone decided that the best way to keep their marriage healthy was to stop fighting.
I SO disagree with that strategy. It typically leads to a 'happy marriage' on the surface, but missing the depth that is found in truly happy marriages.
Honestly, I really hate conflict. It's one of my least favorite things, ever. I start sweating. My voice shakes. My lower lip trembles. I sometimes do that yucky out-of-control cry. Conflict is definitely a scary thing to engage in, for sure. But I really can't think of much else that has brought such good things to our marriage besides the intimacy that conflict brings.
I'd like to propose that a good marriage is impossible apart from intimacy (really knowing each other deep down in the nitty-gritty, too real places of our hearts), and real intimacy can't really be nurtured apart from conflict.
The reason I think that a good marriage is impossible apart from intimacy is because you can't really experience real, deep, 'marriage love' without knowing your spouse and being known. Deeply. You can tolerate each other. Or pretend to be head-over-heels. You can be infatuated. But you can't experience real, true, I-know-you-and-I-accept-you-as-you-are-and-you-are-safe-in-my-deep-enjoyment-of-you love without first risking your spouse knowing you in that nitty-gritty, too real way.
And often this being known intimacy stuff comes through conflict. Arguing. Trembling lips and sweating and the yucky out-of-control cry. In marriage conflict we let our spouse see us in ways we'd never allow other people to see us. And when they see us that way, they really know us. And when you can be loved in the middle of your mess, that's intimacy. That's real love.
I think couples give up conflict for several reasons.
One reason is that they don't like being seen as a mess. They don't like being out of control. They can't stay in that risky, scary place of saying what they feel and listening to what their spouse feels...and they don't know how to wait in the messy unresolved long moments before understanding and resolution and God's grace come.
I think when we give up conflict because we can't stand to wait in that in-between place of messiness, we often get in the way of what the Holy Spirit wants to do. We forfeit the grace that could be ours if we would just keep sticking together in that uncomfortable place, waiting for God to show up and help. I think that the Holy Spirit has purposes and things He's doing in the middle of conflict. For example, He's bringing up the things we really value deep inside. He's wanting us to let ourselves be seen, really seen, by another person, and transformed little by little in experiencing that over and over. But we miss out on what He's doing when we decided to stop engaging in conflict because it's too scary, too messy, too vulnerable.
Another reason that spouses give up on conflict is that alot of people don't know how to do conflict well: it never ends up in a good place. When I say that conflict brings good things to marriages, they think "What?!?" because all they've experienced is the screaming, hitting, slamming doors and sleeping on the couch kinds of conflict.
But I have a wonderful suggestion for people who only find conflict to be negative, never leading to a good place. First of all, it's OK! Most of us didn't grow up in a home where arguing was done well. Most of us are extremely broken in the area of conflict. We've had very sad examples of what conflict even is. BUT there are people out there who do conflict well. It leads to a good place, an intimate place, even a more-healing place. And there are so many learn-able strategies for how to walk through conflict. So my suggestion is to, without shame or embarassment, find people like that, who use conflict as a tool to greater intimacy, and ask for help. If you get stuck in conflict at the same place over and over, and it never leads to a deeper-intimacy-type resolutiuon, get help. Not because you're not good enough or you have all these problems, but because there's so much more you could be experiecing in the area of conflict. True intimacy, real love, and an honestly good marriage are some of the benefits of well-done conflict.
So, honestly, in a way, it kind of sucks. You have to go through such messiness to get to deeper intimacy. But there's really no way to authentically fake it. You might be able to make conflict-free marriages look good and nice and happy on the surface, but deep down, you'll feel that something's not right. It's not fulfilling; it's lonely. But choosing to not argue is not the way fix it.
Saying what you really feel and engaging in conflict will put you on the path to truly enjoying and being enjoyed by your spouse.