Proverbs 18:19 An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel (NIV)
One of the hardest things to talk about with your spouse is disagreement over a standard or value that you hold dear.
When any one of these standards is threatened, emotions run high and the relationship moves into a vulnerable state whilst the issue is discussed and a resolution negotiated.
At any point along this path offense may arise and when it does so it blocks off all future progress towards resolution until the offense itself is dealt with. In fact, the offense then becomes the whole problem and needs to be the focus of your attention. It will be impossible to talk further about the issue at hand until the relationship is restored.
The process of becoming offended during conflict resolution often follows this pattern:
- Spouse A confronts spouse B on an area of concern to him or her.
- Spouse B becomes defensive, feels attacked, and refuses to accept the correction. He attaches his self-worth to the actions that are being challenged.
- Spouse A refuses to accept spouse B’s hurt feelings as being valid and doesn’t recognize the wounded ego of the other, but instead feels rejected.
- Both spouses feel that the other should reach out and apologize first.
- Stalemate ensues where neither backs down.
- Either one or both spouses begin to think critical and negative thoughts about the other, and become exaggeratedly aware of the other’s flaws.
- Emotional withdrawal takes place.
- You start to avoid the other person and close off from them.
- You begin to feel disconnected and find no reason to stay together.
Offense is the decision not to yield but to harbor hurt and anger. The Word teaches us that offense in a relationship is a tough challenge; but it is not impossible to restore harmony and achieve a greater level of understanding as a result
Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger
When everything in you feels like venting your anger and frustration at the unyielding spouse, the Bible shows that the key lies in the gentle answer. The following ways of applying this principle will greatly increase your ability to resolve conflict and defuse offense.
Show empathy with them. Use body language that tells them that you are giving them your attention and that you are sympathetic towards their cause. Turn towards them and look them in the eye. Offer to hug them if appropriate and ask, “Is that how you feel?”
Don’t invalidate, but acknowledge their emotions. They need their emotions to be understood. At the root of every argument is, “”You don’t understand me”, or “You haven’t given legitimacy to how I feel.” Don’t be critical, but ask, “How does that make you feel?” and, “How can I best understand you?” Resist the temptation to rush to the solution. When a person feels understood they cannot really carry on shouting. They feel they have a partner at resolving the issue at hand. But if you invalidate their feelings, you are in trouble. Now you start fighting about whether their feelings are valid. You have to learn how to speak softly.
Give the other person the right to have a different opinion and to complain. This is a powerful and liberating thing in a relationship. It takes the sting out of the offense and minimizes its affects. Let them know that their complaint doesn’t mean that your relationship is over.
Recognize their needs. Hand in hand with every argument is the fact that their needs are not being met. Most men don’t understand that a woman has a strong need for affection which is as strong as a man’s need for sex. Acknowledgement of the other’s needs is a powerful reassurance of love and concern.
Be prepared to act and do something about it. If you understand, what are you prepared to do about it? Be prepared to make adjustments to your interactions with your spouse. Maybe speaking more gently and considerately on a frequent basis will give your spouse the security they need to yield to your values and ways of thinking without feeling trapped.
You must show that you care. People shouldn’t be afraid of you rejecting them when they mess up. They can mess up but you will still love them. You must be hard on the issue and soft on the person. It is not so much about coming against the person as it is about resolving the issue. Don’t beat the person up about it, but take measures to curb the offending behaviors.
When you reach a place of stalemate with your spouse, seek help. Having a pastor who provides spiritual covering over your lives and marriage will be a huge strength if you both respect that person enough to agree to submit to their counsel.
Finally, someone has to be prepared to back down. It requires great strength of character to stop a fight even when you know you have a valid point that is not being received by the other. Letting it go and entrusting what is dear to you to God is sometimes the only way forward without breaking the relationship. If you choose to take that route, you can be sure that God Himself will never let you down. He will stand up for you and fight your battles. Watch and see what the Lord will do on your behalf!