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To have a good marriage, be honest, stay current and attack the problems, not your spouse

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Chris CookstonAt times, the conflict within your marriage may make it seem like you are married to the enemy, but you are not. Unfortunately, the negative emotions brewing in both your hearts is like a kettle slowly warming up on the stove. No one knows exactly when it will boil—but it will! To be sure, conflict left unresolved always comes to a boiling point! When it boils, people tend to either fight or run. But marriage doesn't need to be like that, and conflict can be an opportunity for God's grace.

The initial step to resolving problems in your marriage is to understand that you're not healthy. That is, we're all sinners, and conflict, which brings about fighting or fleeing, is a result of sin. Since we are sinners married to sinners, conflict is unavoidable.

However, God's redemption in Christ can save us and free us from this. And even if you really believe you are married to the enemy, there is hope for real peace in your marriage with the gospel. Although conflict is the result of sin, the result of the gospel is peace. And to attain this gospel peace, here are a few ways, or keys to communicating that work to resolve conflict and make peace.

1. Be honest with your marriage partner. "Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25). It is quite amazing how little married couples actually talk to each other, and couples with small children struggle to talk much due to the constant needs of the children. But for marriage to work we've got to speak, and we've got to be honest with each other about everything.

Guys, she can sense if you're worried about something, and she can sense if you're in an adulterous relationship. Whatever is going on, good or bad, you need to be talking to each other and remember you cannot hide your sin. Confess it and seek forgiveness from each other and from God. Get help from your pastor if you need it. Overall, be honestly communicating with the one you are married to more than anyone else. And do so with as much love, consideration and patience as possible. Put your phone away and listen to your spouse so well that he or she really knows you're listening to them.

2. Stay current with your spouse. "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity" (4:26-27). When we don't get what we want, we become angry. Not long after Shera and I were married, she purchased a membership to an exercise club for women. Little did she know it would automatically renew after the year membership ended and she had stopped going. When I read the credit card statement and saw the automatic $150 charge, I came unglued. I was in school, we had little money and so I justified my anger at her. But after I simmered down, we talked through it, worked it out, and today we're able to laugh about it.

In the overall scheme of things, this was a small offense. But if we hadn't worked through it and I had held onto my anger, it could have become a source of resentment. When you're in conflict, do not go to sleep until you talk and work it out and seek forgiveness. Don't try to mask your anger. We cannot give the devil an opportunity in our hearts by not dealing with the one we are angry with as soon as possible.

3. Attack the problems, not your husband or wife. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). Our speech is to always build up our spouse, and it is never to tear them down. But often in the heat of the moment when a problem surfaces, you will be tempted to strike. Don't do it! Instead, talk through the problem and seek to find out their motive (if there is one). And really seek to understand the problem without casting blame or bringing up what you think are their character flaws.

Countless times, I've dealt with a person who has been verbally murdered by their spouse, family member or friend. It is crushing to the person on the receiving end, to say the least. And it only makes the conflict worse. God's purpose for our speech is to edify other people, especially those whom we are covenanted together with in holy matrimony. Say kind words of encouragement to the person you're married to. Speak grace, love and mercy to them.

These are only three ways to promote peace and harmony in your marriage. The Bible is filled with many other ways to resolve conflict and to love each other. Jesus Christ and His gospel are always at the heart of our peace making. Without Him, you cannot know true forgiveness, nor will you have the power to fully resolve conflict.

Chris Cookston is the pastor at Prineville Community Church. He can be reached at 541-447-6315.

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