Imperfect Marriage

I Peter 3:8-9


Skit by Bob and Dorothy Muir

Conflict Is Inevitable

Probably just about every one of us can identify with the whole lost and need directions scenario.  You might be saying, “I could only wish that was the extent of our conflicts in marriage.”  When was the last time you had a disagreement, argument, or maybe even a no holds barred word fight with your spouse?  A time when an offense of one was met with an angry response from the other?  Then, afterwards, the awkwardness of being in each other’s presence.

You know the feeling.  The sour taste in your mouth.  The heavy feeling in your heart.  That unpleasant aura of conflict that everything in you wants to avoid.  You either turn to the silent treatment of each other or run away and hide from each other or avoid each other as much as possible.  Maybe you tough it out . . .  acting if nothing is wrong and talk about only nice things.  You make comments on the weather or what is happening in the kids’ lives, but you don’t dare embrace the awkwardness of the moment and actually address the elephant in the room.

We’re quick to believe the lie, that if we just avoid the conflict, or at least minimize it, then it will diminish over time and eventually go away.  But biblical wisdom says differently.  Sure, there are offenses we can forebear and personal frustrations we can get over, we talked about some of those things last week, but interpersonal conflict doesn’t go away with inattention.  It festers.  It deepens.  It curdles.  It separates and divides.

Conflict in marriage is difficult.  Honestly, marriage is hard, it takes work, but marriage is meant by God, to be a glorious and pleasurable relationship.  I think we are led astray by the notion that a healthy family has no conflict.  I disagree with that.  In fact, Dr. Gotman, says that, “The absence of conflict is the sign of an unhealthy marriage.”  No conflict indicates no contact with each otherTwo birds in the wind barely crossing paths with one another.

You see, the problem is not the conflict itself, it is our responses to the conflict.  This is where it takes a lot of hard work.  Conflict resolution is not simple and takes effort for both husband and wife.  We cannot neglect it and somehow hope it will go away.  Because it won’t.

Pete Wilson-

Can you name an area of your life that you can neglect and then expect improvement?  Does this work with your:

~ Body?  Ignore it and you will experience health problems.

~ Business?  Ignore it and it will go bankrupt.

~ Yard?  Ignore it and it will be overrun with weeds.

So, why in the world do we think we can put our marriages on auto pilot, ignore the problems, and expect it to succeed?  Even more important expect our marriages to become what God wants them to be.

I love marriage.  Marriage is deeply satisfying.  Marriage is incredibly fulfilling.  Marriage is loads of fun.  Marriage is full of joy, hope, and laughter.  But marriage is not easy.  Those who work out in the gym say, “No pain, no gain.”  In a similar way, marriage is something we work at and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Relational conflict is not something that should surprise us as Christians.  We need not be ashamed that it exists in Christian marriages, or even that we’re the ones involved.  We should expect it.  The world is complicated and fallen, and we are complicated creatures, and fallen.  Conflicts will come.  They are inevitable and unavoidable.

And yes, conflict is inevitable in the church as well.  Christians have conflict with each other — true, genuine, faithful Christians.  The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them.

1 Peter 3 is a challenging passage on godly living in the home.  We touched on it a couple of weeks ago.  The first part of the chapter gives instruction for wives and verse 7 gives instruction for the husbands.  Then when we come to verses 8 and following, it talks about handling conflict.

I believe the emphasis is in the home, husband and wife relationships and parents and children relationships, but this applies to the relationships of all Christians.  That is why verse 8 begins, “Finally, all of you.”  So how do we handle conflict?  I have outlined these two verses this way – Respond in Love and Regain Perspective.

Respond with Love – An Occasion for Grace (v. 8)

How do we respond with love or grace (giving what our spouse does not deserve)?  Though we may think conflict will go away over time, it really doesn’t.  When conflict takes place, it is an opportunity to respond with love.  It is almost as if the conflict is there for that very reason, it is looking for a gracious and loving response.  But often our response to conflict continues to heighten the issue as selfishness and pride take their place in our lives.

Listen to verse 8.  It tells us how to respond with love or grace in the face of conflict.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

So, how are we to respond?

~ Harmony

The Greek word translated “unity” is the word homophrones = harmonious.  When we are told to have unity of mind, that doesn’t mean that we will all think the same about something.  In fact, that is why the conflict exists in the first place; we disagree about something.  But no matter what we disagree on, we need to recognize the oneness we have with each other.  Whether we are talking about a marriage or the church body, there is a common purpose, a common goal and we need to strive for unity in that.

When we were married, we became one flesh, one in life, one in purpose, because we are one in Christ.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree, but when a disagreement or conflict about something happens in a marriage we need remind ourselves . . . our spouse is not the enemy, Satan is the enemy.  We need to learn to live in harmony because we are one flesh.

Harmony in music – two totally different notes that sound completely different in a chord or song but when they are played together, it is pleasing to the ear, harmony.  When two different notes do not sound good together, it is called tension.  However, there is a resolution or else the music would not be used.  The tension calls attention to an issue that needs changed.

The same is true in marriage.  The conflict should call attention that something needs to change and if we don’t change something, the music of our marriage does not sound good.

Respond to conflict by reminding yourself that you and your spouse are on the same team though you may disagree about something.  This, in and of itself, changes how you respond to each to each other.  So, respond with unity or harmony, second, respond to conflict with:

~ Shared Feelings

We are told here to have sympathy.  This is not pity for your spouse.  The word “sumphathas” means sharing the same feelings.  This means to identify with feelings of another.  Sympathy is often used when someone has experienced death of someone close to them and we tell them they have our sympathy.  We identify with their feelings of loss.

When conflict arises in a marriage it is so important to try and sympathize.  In other words, try to understand why your spouse feels the way they do about the issue you are in conflict about.  Attempt to share their feelings and understand their perspective.  Put your feelings on hold for a moment and understand why spouse feels the way they do.  Third, respond to conflict with a

~ Bond of Friendship

Brotherly love.  This is the bond of Christian friendships.  Now we have talked a fair amount about agape love, God-like sacrificial love that we are to have in a marriage relationship, here we are talking about Phileo = brotherly love.  I find it interesting that this word is used here but remember that this is for all the church including the husband and wife.  However, I do believe that your husband or wife should also be your best friend.  Yes, it should go well beyond that, but still your best friend.

When conflict arises between a husband and wife, they need to recognize the importance of their friendship in this relationship.  They are brother and sister in Christ.  God is their Father.  God has called them to respond toward each other in respect and honor, not insults and anger.  God desires that they continue to build each other up and help each other become the person God wants them to be.   They should show brotherly love.  The fourth response to conflict is:

~ Affectionate Sensitivity

The words “tender heart” have the idea of having affectionate sensitivity to the needs of others.  I love the Greek word used here because it refers to the innermost emotions of our heart.  For the husband, most of us would react with disdain to think we should respond with affectionate sensitivity to a conflict with our wife.  We think of that as an unmanly trait, yet this is the word most often used for Jesus Christ in the gospels.  He had compassion and showed tender heartedness toward people.  Affectionate sensitivity.

When in conflict with our spouse, we need to make an attempt to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of our spouse.  This doesn’t mean that our spouse is always right or that they should always get their way.  It means that we should respond to conflict with a tender heart that is open to what is going on in their lives.  Finally, the fifth response to conflict is probably the hardest:

~ Humility

A humble mind is not putting yourself down, but esteeming others better than ourselves.  From your perspective, your spouse may not seem to be a better person than you at the moment, but you should choose to treat them as such.

Philippians 2:3-7

[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Humility is definitely something that goes out the door when we are in a fight with our spouse.  But we should respond to conflict with our spouse with humility.  Considering them better than ourselves.

So when conflict arises in our marriage we should respond with humility of mind, compassion in our hearts, a bond of friendship, identify with their feelings, and remember you are to be harmonious in your relationship, in unity with each other.  This is responding with love toward your spouse.  This is responding with grace toward your spouse.

One reason that avoiding conflict is such a problem is precisely because it worsens with negligence.  It doesn’t just go away.  But another reason is that it cuts us off from the most significant opportunities for grace.  This is the way God does his deepest work in a world like ours.  Not when things are peachy keen, not when all seems right with the world, not when times are easy.  It’s the toughest times, the hardest conversations, the most painful relational tensions, when the light of his grace shines brightest, and transforms us most into his Son’s likeness.

“Conflict is not something to avoid or ignore.  It is an opportunity for the triumph of grace to be alive in your marriage.”  Respond to conflict with love.  Then,

Regain a Proper Perspective (v. 9)

9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

When conflict arises in our marriages, our natural reaction is to respond the same way back to our spouse.  If there is anger, we respond with anger.  If there are indictments against our character, we find fault with their character.  When our spouse breaks something in the heat of rage, we want to break something of value to them.  Our natural reaction is to respond the same way back.

Our text tells us to not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.  Reviling is simply abusive, hateful, insults toward one another.  Rather, our response to conflict should be to bless our spouse.  The word used here is the same word we use for a eulogy at a funeral.  To bless means to praise or celebrate the good of another.

WOW!  Try to do that in the midst of a fight with your husband or wife!  But you see, that’s the point.  Rather that responding with the same kind of attitude we were confronted with, we should stop and praise our spouse.

Example of praise about money.

I call this regaining a proper perspective because we often lose sight of what is really important when we are fighting with our spouse.  If we do not regain a proper perspective, the only thing that is important to us in the heat of a battle with our spouse . . . is winning.  Honestly though, no one wins.  We just drive our spouse farther away from us.  The right perspective is the building and encouraging of each other, not winning an argument or fight.

Verse 9 ends with telling us that we are called to respond properly to conflict that we may obtain a blessing.  I believe that we are called to respond rightly so that we might enjoy the blessings of a restored marital relationship.  That we might enjoy the opportunity to extent grace to our spouse. Also, we should respond rightly so that the Satan doesn’t have the opportunity to break up the marriage.  When in conflict, respond with love and regain a proper perspective without responding evil for evil.


Few couples like to admit it, but conflict is common to all marriages.  Carrie and I have had our share of conflict and some of our disagreements have not been pretty.  We could probably write a book on what not to do!

Start with two selfish people, with different backgrounds and personalities, now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations and pride, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life.  Guess what?  You are bound to have conflict.  It’s unavoidable.

Since every marriage has its tensions, it isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how you deal with them.  Conflict can lead to a process that develops oneness . . . or it could lead to separation and isolation.  You and your spouse must choose how you will act when conflict occurs. 

Resolving conflict requires:

~ Knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.

One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract.  It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did.  Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before. It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them.

~ Defeating selfishness.

All of our differences are magnified in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict—our selfishness.  Maintaining harmony in marriage can only happen when selfishness is defeated and unity in purpose is sought after.  Remember, it is not about what you get out of your marriage relationship, but about what you can give into your marriage relationship.

~ Pursuing the other person.

By that I mean taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take the first step.  To pursue the resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness and pursue peace with your spouse.  Don’t allow Satan to gain a victory by isolating youself from someone you care about. 

~ Loving discussion.

When both spouses feel the other is a good friend who will listen, understand, and work through any problem or conflict, this makes for harmonious living.  Talking to your spouse with grace and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility.  Check your motivation before discussing the conflict with your spouse, then listen to your spouse, and identify with their feelings.  Be sensitive to their emotions.

~ Returning a blessing for an insult.

Husbands and wives can become extremely proficient at trading insults.  In fact, many couples don’t seem to know any other way to relate to each other.  This is probably one of the most disarming things that can be done in the midst of a conflict.  Compliment your spouse.

~ Forgiving without conditions.

No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail.  With failure comes hurt.  And the only ultimate relief for hurt is the soothing salve of forgiveness.  Forgiving means giving up resentment and the desire to punish.  By an act of your will, you choose to not allow conflict or the wrong responses in the conflict to have hold on how you view your spouse.  It is letting go and not using a possible repetition of the wrong as a condition for your grace toward them, extend gracewithout conditions!

Marriage is hard work!  Every husband and wife needs to work at it.  Handling conflict correctly is key to having a great marriage!  I can guarantee that it will be worth every bit of effort you put into it.  Conflict can have a perfecting effect in your life if you respond rightly.  That is why it is the perfectly imperfect marriage.