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Marriage (2)

Managing Our Feelings by speaking the Truth in Love

Ephesians 4:15-16

Jim Davis

Over one-third of all Christian marriages end in divorce. However, marriages don’t have to end in divorce to fail. Many marriages are failing that will never end in divorce court. They fail because they never reach God’s goal. They simply adjust to their failures and continue to live together in misery.

The biblical view of love is an unconditional commitment as two people seek one another's greatest good. Jesus Christ’s love for you is unconditional. You can never do anything to him to make him stop loving you because his love is irrevocable. Of course, you can spurn his love, but his love for you will not cease. You may choose to be lost, but his love for you remains constant and steadfast. His commitment to love you does not diminish because you choose to reject his love. He continues to seek what is best for you.

Our world believes that it is unrealistic that we should commit ourselves to one another for life. Yet, without this unconditional commitment there can be no true love; for true love last forever because it is eternal.

The world’s view of love is that it is a feeling. Our love last as long as there is a romantic feeling. When this feeling is gone, then our love is gone. My wife is an activity director at a nursing home. There is this one couple that sits on the front porch of that nursing home daily. The woman is debilitated mentally and physically as the result of a stroke. The husband comes to see her two or three times a day. He sits and rubs her hand and carries on a conversation with her, although there is usually little or no response from his wife. I admire him, for he is there every day. His love for her has not died through the most difficult of times. His love for her goes beyond romantic feelings, it goes beyond his need to have his needs fulfilled; it has entered into a commitment where when she suffers he suffers with her.

"To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise." (Erich Fromm, "The Art of Loving (New York: Harper & Row, 1956, p. 56.)

The world’s view of love is that I am loved as long as my needs are met, and I can love another as long as my needs are met. It is a conditional love that last as long as I am happy. The world's view of love is based upon how we feel about our needs being met.

Love Must Control Our Feelings

The first thing we need to realize is that our feelings are God given. Even God has feelings. God designed us to have both negative and positive feelings. We may not like how we feel, but feelings are a gift from God. Try to imagine what life would be like without feelings. Feelings aren’t necessarily good or bad if they are dealt with in a godly fashion.

Proverbs 25:28
Whoever has no rule over his own spirit
Is like a city broken down, without walls.

We can’t deny our feelings, for they are real. They must be dealt with in a realistic way so as not to give them control over us. To do this we must honestly deal with our feelings. Failing to do so only causes more problems. I want us to think about how we deal with our feelings for a moment.

It was [many years ago] in a small Oklahoma town which had produced a series of terrible football teams.  They usually lost the important games and were invariably clobbered by their arch rivals from a nearby community.  Understandably, the students and their parents began to get depressed and dispirited by the drubbing their troops were given every Friday night.  It must have been awful.

Finally, a wealthy oil producer decided to take matters in his own hands.  He asked to speak to the team in the locker room after yet another devastating defeat.  What followed was one of the most dramatic football speeches of all times.  This businessman proceeded to offer a brand new Ford car to every boy on the team and to each coach if they would simply defeat their bitter rivals in the next game. Knute Rockne couldn't have said it better.

The team went crazy with sheer delight.  They howled and cheered and slapped each other on the back.  For seven days, the boys ate, drank, and breathed football.  At night they dreamed about touchdowns and rumble seats.  The entire school caught the spirit of ecstasy, and a holiday fever pervaded the campus.  Each player could visualize himself behind the wheel of a gorgeous coup, with eight gorgeous girls hanging all over his gorgeous body.

Finally, the big night arrived and the team assembled in the locker room.  Excitement was at an unprecedented high.  The coach made several inane comments and the boys hurried out to face the enemy.  They assembled on the sidelines, put the hands together, and shouted a simultaneous "Rah!"  Then they ran onto the field and were demolished, thirty-eight to zero. (Source: The 21 Unbreakable Laws of Life, Max Anders)

Feelings must not be the driving force of our lives, even if our feelings are valid. Feelings and emotions have a definite place in our lives, but they should never take control of us.  I've heard it said, "Emotions don't make a good engine.  They only make a good caboose."

Too often feelings are the driving force in our marriages. This is especially true when it comes to our methods of communication within the marriage relationship. Feelings may determine whether we communicate in a negative or positive way. This makes it essential for us to learn how to communicate our feelings in an effective positive way.

Most of us fall into one of four categories as we deal with our feelings.

Many deny their feelings in order to appease others. They try to be the nice person by giving in to another’s wishes even though they have strong feelings about an issue. This person may be angry and resentful on the inside, but true feelings are hid in order to appease. This kind of dishonest approach may eventually leave the person extremely bitter after a life time of giving in to their mate.

Others deny their feelings to make themselves feel better. Pointing the finger of blame or accusing others is a means of denial that many use. We deny our feelings by victimizing another.

Often we seek to hide our feelings by trying to be extremely rational. We seek to overwhelm with words as we try to explain ourselves in a very rational way. We may become rather stoic in our evaluation of our experiences as we deny feelings in rational ways.

Feelings are treated as unimportant by some. Have you ever tried to have a serious conversation with some about how you feel about an issue, only to have them turning everything into a joke as they refuse to deal with the issue? They make it out to be a joke as they jump from one subject to another in the conversation as they refuse to face their true feelings.

In each case we have mentioned we must recognize that we are allowing our feelings to control our actions. We are allowing our feelings to become the driving force behind how we communicate with each other.

There is a difference in bad feelings and bad actions.

Ephesians 4:25-27
26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Anger in and of itself is not sinful, but can become sinful when we fail to deal with it honestly. We misuse our anger when we give way to it by allowing it to turn into bitterness, or when we allow it to motivate us to hurt others in an effort to promote our own selfish ambition.

I knew a couple that were married for years. There seemed to be no apparent problem because both seemed to be very stoic emotionally. They had one daughter, and the day the daughter graduated from high school, the wife delivered the earthshaking news to her husband that she was leaving him. She revealed that this had been her plan for several years. She intended to stay with him until their daughter graduated from high school. The feelings of resentment had been building over the years and those feelings gave away to bitterness. The husband was completely shocked because he thought they were happily married.

Love must Control our Communications

Speaking the truth in love is the greatest help in dealing with conflict constructively.

Ephesians 4:15-16

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. NIV

We may look at the verses only as they apply to our relationship within the church, but Paul is giving us instruction that applies to every relationship, especially marriage. A couple endeavoring to grow up in Christ will also grow in their relationship with each other as they endeavor to speak the truth in love.

It is difficult to express negative feelings in a positive way, so we try to conceal them. We sometimes question whether being honest is worth the risk of negative consequences. Intimacy requires honesty.

Marriage forces us to face our personal differences, values, feelings, and thoughts, in an effort to merge our lives into a one flesh relationship. This forces us to evaluate our communication skills in order to deal with the inevitable conflict. Failing to deal with how to face this inevitable conflict may cause serious problems.

We may end up quarreling as we allow our negative feelings to produce uncontrolled anger. We may refuse to deal with the real issues as we berate each other. When this happens we completely lose sight of the real issue. This will prevent us from dealing with our problems honestly, while it does untold damage to each others’ self-esteem.

Proverbs 20:3

It is to a man's honor to avoid strife,

but every fool is quick to quarrel. NIV

Norm Wright defines quarrel as "verbal strife in which angry emotions are in control and the couple does not deal with the issue but instead attacks the other person."

Ephesians 4:29-32
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. NIV

Quarreling usually ends up blaming others for how we feel, rather than allowing our feelings to be expressed honestly in order to share what is going on inside of us. Honesty isn’t made any easier when those we share our true feelings with become offended over how we feel about a situation.

In order to have constructive biblical conflict we must learn how to speak the truth in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. NIV

The conflict we have is not wrong, but the way we handle our conflict as we strive to become one-flesh can be wrong if we do not speak the truth in love.

Women usually have better verbal skills than men. Often, men have a tendency to shut down and withdraw emotionally when they lack the ability to communicate effectively. If you are not careful your husband will withdraw as you try to resolve conflict by out talking him. This may leave the wife thinking the conflict is resolved while the husband is only burying his building anger which will eventually manifest itself.

Conflict may instill a competitive spirit leaving both of us feeling as though we must win the argument. If our negative feelings instill the idea that we must win, we enter into a downward spiral in our marriage relationship. When proving we are right becomes the purpose of the conflict it always leaves one losing. If one loses both lose, and it has untold consequences on the one-flesh relationship.

Some personality types have a tendency to yield to those they feel conflict toward. If you or your spouse is constantly yielding in order to resolve conflict, anger is probably building up which will eventually surface.

Resolving conflict requires us to confront our differences without attacking one another. It would be extremely helpful if we would realize that there is an answer to our problems as we seek to resolve them. Having faith that there is an answer will go a long way in resolution as it will allow us to face our problems in anticipation of a positive outcome.

Dealing with Conflict Constructively

We must see the difficulties we face in becoming one flesh as a healthy, natural and normal aspect of marriages. Then we can deal with our conflict honestly. Conflict is inevitable, but it can be worked through by a couple in pursuit of a one flesh relationship with each other.

Understanding our expectations is the first step in dealing with conflict constructively. First we must understand that our spouse may know nothing about our expectations of them when they fail to live up to expectations. We may be expecting them to behave one way, when they are totally oblivious to how we expect them to act. This may cause our spouse to be uncomfortable, and then the uncomfortable feeling leads to a negative behavior.

We must recognize our expectation or need.

We must recognize the source of our expectation.

We must ask ourselves if our expectations and needs are legitimate.

When we have legitimate expectations and needs that must be discussed, there are principles that will allow us to deal with our conflict constructively.

Timing is crucial as we deal with our difference . . . often timing is everything. For your wife it may not be the right time of the month. It is not good to discuss the issues when we are physically or mentally tired.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7
1There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak, (NIV)

There are times when silence is golden. We must be aware of those times of the months when our wives don’t feel good, or when we are extremely tired. The best time to deal with conflicts is not just when both of you walk in the door from work. You need a private placed to deal with conflict. We can’t always choose an idea time, but we can be sensitive to the best times to confront each other.

Sticking to the issue is important rather than dumping all of our negative feelings about everything. Often conflict over one issue moves us to dump all or our negative emotions about everything all at once. Determine what the central issue of the conflict is and stick to it. The issue may be connected to several peripheral issues, so refocus your attention on the main issue through the conflict resolution.

Proverbs 25:11
A word aptly spoken
is like apples of gold in settings of silver. NIV

No pushing one another's buttons to evoke a negative response. Two people who live together know what can trigger one another emotionally. We may do this to make our mate feel as negative as we feel . . . it is a way of trying to get even over how we feel over an issue.

Ephesians 4:1-3
4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. NIV

Learn to manage one another’s anger. This requires us to take responsibility for how the other feels. We can help manage the other’s feelings by being quick to listen and slow to speak. Be determined that both of you want get mad at the same time. If one would determine to stay calm, the issues could be worked through more calmly.

Ephesians 4:25-28
26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

James 1:19-20
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. NIV

Each person must acknowledge his/her contribution to the problem. Most of us tend to deny our responsibility. Constructive conflict requires us to claim ownership to our problems.

Matthew 7:1-5
1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. NIV

Affirmation is essential during conflict. Self-esteem tends to take a nose dive during conflict. A simple reminder can assure your partner that they are special.

Ephesians 4:29
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. NIV

We must learn to accept one another’s point of view without feeling threatened. We may be convinced that our point is the only valid view, but this only promotes conflict.

Romans 15:7
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. NIV

Conclusion:

These principles will help you work toward a resolution.

Ephesians 4:15-16
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. NIV

 

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