A Simple Tool for Responding to Conflict in Marriage
“I don’t know how to help them in their marriage. What can I do?”
A friend recently called me and wanted to know if I had any ideas for her as she tried to encourage and counsel her friend whose marriage is hurting. The wife had confided in her, but my friend wasn’t sure how to best help. I shared with her one simple idea that we’ve used ourselves and offered to others.
My suggestion was mediation.
Marriage mediation is simple and very helpful. When a couple finds themselves at an impasse or cannot communicate effectively with one another for whatever reason, they find another couple to sit down with them and hear both husband and wife communicate their side of the story. The couple in conflict can speak to one another or they can speak to the couple they’ve invited in—whatever works at that moment. The point is that another couple is present.
What to look for in a mediating couple:
- Another couple that is for you and for your marriage.
- Ideally another couple that you have been in community with.
- A couple with whom you feel secure and certain that each partner in the other marriage is for each partner in yours—in other words, you’re certain that the wives won’t join in a husband bashing session or the husbands won’t team up to belittle the wife.
- A couple in whom you have trust and confidence that a stronger, more unified marriage in the Lord is the end goal.
My husband and I have been privileged to be on both sides of mediation throughout our 19 years of marriage and ministry. Thankfully, in spite of our various moves around the globe, we’ve always pursued and been blessed with intimate community in each of our locations. We’ve been able to readily identify other couples who we know want the best for us, will uphold Biblical wisdom in our presence, and will fight for our marriage alongside us.
Whether we’ve been the couple in conflict or the couple providing mediation, here are some of the benefits I’ve observed from this simple practice:
- It keeps the conflicted couple honest—you’re much less likely to stretch the truth or embellish your side of the story in the presence of others.
- It keeps the conflicted couple kind—you’re much less likely to take a cheap shot in the presence of others.
- It keeps the conflicted couple humble—the act of admitting you need help and asking for help naturally deescalates the situation and places you in a posture of pursuing reconciliation.
- The mediating couple can better hear what the husband and wife in conflict are saying to one another. They can restate what they hear, helping the conflicted couple better understand what their spouse has been trying to communicate.
- The mediating couple can often offer ways out of the impasse. They can see ways towards compromise or even—if needed—lovingly provide a rebuke or correction.
- The mediating couple can see things that sometimes both conflicted partners can’t—for example they can remind you that you’re tired from having young children to tend to, or stressed because of your job, or not thinking totally clearly because of a recent loss.
- The mediating couple can pray with the conflicted couple, provide accountability in the days to come, and bolster the couple’s drive for reconciliation.
If you’ve never invited others in to such an authentic and intimate setting before, it can be scary at first. Trust, a friendship with a track record, and mutual faith are important. However, taking the risk and inviting others in can be a simple practice that nets profound results.
We were made to live in community. We need one another. Bringing our struggles and sins into the light and into the presence of those who love us, disarms the darkness and deescalates the discord. Mediation in marriage can be a tool in God’s hands, through our communities, for the lasting joy and strength we long to have in our marriages. Make good friends now so that you’re ready for mediation, if necessary, in the future.