How Couple Conflict Can Make You Better

2015-06-30-1435696507-5288257-ITFQUPVCVM.jpg by Nathan Fertig

We planned to spend the weekend on the Kings River with family. I was riding in the passenger seat, trying not to lose my lunch while my husband navigated the hairpin curves. (He grew up on rolling Mississippi farmland and now lives with me in the Ozark Mountains, where, he says, "the road crew must have followed a rattlesnake through the woods when they laid the asphalt.")

Our son had ridden with my parents earlier in the day, so it was just me, my husband, and tension (so fat it needed a seat belt extension) crammed into the cab of the truck.

My husband wanted to discuss (what he thought was) a pending 4-wheeler purchase. My most recent understanding was that we would wait a year and revisit the subject. The argument had ensued not because we reached an impasse on the purchase, but because we had totally misunderstood what the other had said about the subject.

We shared the details from our last conversation as we remembered them; they were nothing alike. As I (half) listened (and half planned my rebuttal), I snarled and thought, "Were we even in the same room?" After my husband finished (but maybe a tad bit before), I started shrilly defending my case. He grew noticeably agitated and said to me, "We're done talking about this."

I protested, "You can't just say what you want to say and close the subject! That's ridiculous!" He went silent (and punched his foot into the floor, speaking volumes with the accelerator as he revved up the RPMs).

Anger struck my center like lightening and numbness shot throughout my extremities. The temperature in my heart dropped to single digits; my capacity to empathize froze. With steely sarcasm I said, "You are 100 percent right and I am 100 percent wrong. It must have gone down exactly like you heard it and I must be an idiot."

Pressure pounded my skull as my ego reverberated, "How do we end up here again and again? How does he so drastically misunderstand me when I use plain English? And how do I always (yes, the "A" word) end up being the bad guy?" The questions shot and dinged and rolled around my brain like someone was playing pinball in there.

We drove another 30 minutes without speaking. He finally broke the silence and said, "Someday, I really am going to learn how to keep my mouth shut." And I told him (like I tell him every time he says it), "No you won't, and I don't want you to. I just want to understand why we get things so mixed up." He nodded (both of us knowing we've been trying to crack that nut for 17 years and counting).

Without resolution, we decided to set the squabble aside and enjoy the weekend (which means we silently agreed to let the other one be wrong in peace. We are very mature like that).

When I got up the next morning, I was still bothered by the abyss between what we had heard (and not heard) the other one say. Voices in my head tried to convince me that "we can't get along," because "we are too different," and that "he never understands me." Then my longer list of grievances began to whine like a snake charmer's flute.

I needed to find a safe spot to process and pray, before I fell into that all too familiar viper pit. I asked Jesus to help me avoid the venom.

A strong spirit countered the attack. Not words hissing at me, rather words rising up in me, "God has put us together for a reason, a holy and purposeful reason." As the truth rose up, I wrote it down. I realized the very things that piss me off most about my husband are the ones that make me better.

It's true. I grow, not because we see eye to eye, but because we don't. I have to duck or stand on my tippy toes or turn completely around to see what he sees sometimes. And that's when I gain a new perspective.

I continued to write about him.

He causes me to look inward and be real, like he is real. He has helped me establish myself as an individual, breaking life long bonds of people-pleasing. He is my encourager. Even when he doesn't see hope for himself, he sees it for me. He cheers for my dreams. He has given me a firm foundation for launching them. He gives me room to try (and often fail) without judgment. He makes me stronger, more self-aware, and more open. He has been exactly what I need him to be every step of the way. Thank you, Jesus, for giving me Shep.

My husband is a complex cat. He is tender-hearted and hot-tempered; kind yet candid; hilarious then surly; sensitive and insensitive; long on generosity and short on patience; a phenomenal cook and a mediocre dishwasher; a big dreamer and a small risk-taker; a great story-teller (and a below average listener if you had asked my opinion in the truck that night).

Yes- my husband pushes my buttons, but they are my buttons. His presence and authenticity in my life compel me to examine my motives and continually own my shit. Shep is my "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who makes things clearest of them all."

I learned something this week about fairy tales (and real life drama), "conflict is critical to every great story, because conflict is the catalyst for the resolution."

Conflict on the journey is what pushes the hero or heroine to reach his or her potential. So surely conflict (especially with our significant other), is what God uses to help us reach our potential too.

Will you help spread some hope and authentic connection with couples by sharing this post on social media? It seems all too often people post the sappy stuff about being a twosome and leave out the prickly parts. Yet we all have prickly parts. As we share our honest lives with one another (and find the good and the growing), God will heal our hearts and restore our families.