What can you do when conflict has become the “new normal” of your home? When there is a spark we expect things to go poorly and we only wonder, “How intense will it get this time?”
The first thing that we must do is stop trying to avoid conflict. This may sound strange, but when we try to avoid conflict, then the first sense of dissension will trigger the thought, “Oh no, here we go again!” Instead we must be able to realize, “Here is our chance. If our marriage is ever going to be better, it is going to be better in a moment like this.”
But more than positive thinking and altered expectations are needed. We need some tangible way to signify that we are both trying. After all you can't hear “not yelling” and you can't see “self-control.” You can only hear yelling and see disrespect.
Let me offer this tool for raising a mutual awareness of the moment that we are praying God will redeem by changing our character and teaching us self-control. Get a recent picture of the two of you smiling. Take it to a local print shop and ask them to print it as an 8 x 10 on foam board.
On the back of the picture write your wedding vows. Here is a classic set of wedding vows from the Book of Common Prayer if you need them.
O GOD, who hast so consecrated the state of Matrimony that in it is represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church; Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
FORASMUCH as John and Jane have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are Man and Wife, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Use a scalpel to cut the picture into a 20 piece jigsaw puzzle (use one of your child's old puzzles to trace an outline). Now you have a puzzle with a picture on the front and text on the back. Your goal is to put it back together again.
Any time you can tell you are entering a conflict either of you can grab a piece of the puzzle or simple say, “This is our chance to put our marriage together again.” If the two of you are able to get through the conflict with honor, then this piece can be added to the puzzle.
This blog is about raising your awareness regarding “recognizing the moments of change.” If you would like more instruction on “navigating the moments of change,” I recommend you read the blog on “Communication with Our Desires 'On the Table'” and “Why Humility is Doubly Important in Marriage.”
It may take several months, but if/as the two of you show an increasing awareness of the moments when change will happen and an increasing willingness to engage in those moments with humility then your marriage will be different once the picture is complete. And you will have an heirloom to signify the difficult journey you have made and remind you not to regress.