“Do not marry someone you have not had a big fight with.”
The first time I heard this piece of advice, it startled me. It seemed counter-intuitive. Why would anyone want to marry someone with whom they have not merely argued, but even had big fights with?
While most of us do not expect relationships to be smooth-sailing all the time, we do tend to view conflict negatively. Many of us avoid encounters with conflict as much as we can, and are discouraged when we see it in our relationships. We think that fewer conflicts mean that we have grown better at being together.
Do you believe that the less often conflict comes in a relationship, the better it is for us? I urge you to reconsider. Here’s why.
1. Conflict helps us learn more about ourselves.
As we grow closer to a boyfriend or girlfriend, we will eventually end up touching or exposing raw nerves and soft spots. We may never have known that these existed, and they could be surprises even to ourselves. Never knew you were insecure about your identity, personality, or skills? Or that you fear being left out, neglected, or pushed away? Learning more about ourselves in this way can be helpful for us and our relationships too.
As we identify the insecurities and fears we have, God rebukes, encourages, and points us to His Son Jesus, in whom we can be completely safe, secure and complete. For instance, as we realize how insecure we might be about ourselves, or how much we value what our other half thinks of us (or the other way around), we become cognizant of our need for Jesus and the need for us to repent and turn back to Him.
Conflicts reveal what’s in our hearts and how much we can love, trust, and forgive. Through the way we respond, we learn more about ourselves—and about each other.
2. Conflict reveals to us how we respond to God.
Once, I felt I had wronged my boyfriend. Even though he assured me that he did not hold anything against me and that our relationship had not been impacted by how I acted that day, I could not quite believe him. After the hurt I had caused him, how could things go back to the way they were?
As I sat down and listened to his assurances, it occurred to me that that was exactly the way I responded to God each time I felt I had let Him down. I had always believed that I did not deserve to approach God when I disappointed Him. I often felt like I was not good enough for Him, and that He would push me aside when I angered Him.
Our human relationships are small reflections of our relationship with Him—how we respond to our human partners give us a glimpse of how we relate to God. This is especially so in close relationships with friends or family—the words we say and actions we make are tell-tale signs of how we respond to God and what we believe of His character.
3. Conflict forces us to grow.
When our expectations of our partners have not been met, we usually become upset, angry, or even bitter. However, such conflicts give us a chance to test our hearts, to see how far we are willing to place the needs and expectations of others above our own. They provide opportunities for us to practise love, and to show love and care to our loved ones. In this way, we train our humility, meekness, and gentleness.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. In the heat of the moment, when we feel that our rights have been infringed or that we have not been cared for enough, our first and instinctive response is to lash out or protect ourselves. But as conflict and pain reveal more and more of our heart and nature, we will learn to see how self-righteous and self-centered we can be, and allow God to make us more Christ-like.
Having said this, there could be relationships where we find ourselves consistently being betrayed by our boyfriend or girlfriend, or struggle to see eye-to-eye on critical matters like faith and priorities. In those instances, it may be a good idea to find suitable mentors, friends and support groups to help us discern if ending the relationship is the wisest and most loving thing to do. Nevertheless, God can work in the most impossible of situations. And quite frankly, it is often much less about whether we should stay together with our partners, than it is about the willingness of our hearts to put down our egos and submit to Christ in our relationships.
American pastor Timothy Keller once said, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Conflict can push us to understand ourselves better and to grow in maturity, it can also help us know each other more deeply and grow closer in our relationships. Let’s use them to transform the way we relate to each other and to God.