Solving Marriage Conflict: A Bible Plan to Resolve Family Strife and Alienation
Strife, conflict, and alienation trouble many modern marriages. Quarreling and even violence and abuse may lead to bitterness and divorce. God invented marriage, so His word reveals how best to conduct it and how to resolve marital problems. God’s word does not guarantee marital bliss, but it does give guidance and counsel to help couples with serious problems.
In far too many cases,…such continue in our homes because we are too proud or too foolish to pursue the Scriptural course for seeking help
Every family has disagreements.
The couple that never has conflicts does not exist. Unfortunately, conflict can lead to bad fights. A bad fight is one that seriously alienates husband and wife but never resolves the cause of the problem. As a result couples build up bitterness, quarreling, uncontrolled anger, hatred, and often divorce, violence, and abuse.
What many couples lack is the skill to discuss disagreements and resolve them. Specifically, they need the ability to discuss serious problems, reach a plan to resolve them, and then put that plan into action. I emphasize that this is a skill that many people simply never have learned, but which can be learned.
The purpose of this study is to learn what the Bible says about how to resolve conflict in marriage.
We are concerned with conflict, strife, and alienation in general, but especially with serious conflicts that destroy the relationship of husband and wife and that may lead to divorce.
Consider the following Bible counsel that can help couples avoid or resolve such serious problems.
I. HAVE FAITH
Many couples have bickered and quarreled so long that they lose hope things will ever improve. They resign themselves to go on quarreling and hating the rest of their lives, or they end the marriage by divorce.
Couples need to believe that, by God’s power, they CAN resolve their marriage problems if both parties will really work at it.
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If we trust in ourselves we may fail. But we must believe that Jesus will provide the strength we need to please to God.
Careful thought will convince us that serious marriage conflict is not God’s will for us. God created marriage for the good of man and woman. He never intended for marriage to be a source of hatred and bitter grudges.
Hatred, bitter quarreling, and alienation in our homes mean that someone is disobeying God.
Either the problem began because someone disobeyed God, or else the original problem led someone to commit other sinful acts. In either case, serious marriage problems almost always involve sin.
If so, then we can overcome the problems by the same methods the Bible describes for overcoming other sins! Recognizing that sin is the root of the problem gives hope, because a Christian knows that God has the solution to sin.
However, marriage involves two people. A problem between two people can only be completely removed if both parties are willing to work at it. If only one person obeys God, the other person can keep the problem alive.
However, if your partner will not work to improve the marriage, this does not remove your responsibility to do what you can.
To please God, you must follow His will regardless of what your partner does. You must believe that you can please God regardless of how others act.
1 John 5:4 – If we are born of God, we overcome the world through faith. This includes overcoming improper family relations, but we must believe that it can be done by the power of God.
If both parties commit themselves to practice God’s plan, any couple can eliminate sin from their marriage. And regardless of whether or not your partner obeys God, you can still please God if you will follow the steps we are about to describe.
[1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 9:8; Josh. 1:5-9; Eph. 3:20,21]
II. PRAY FOR GOD’S STRENGTH.
Philippians 4:6,7 – Don’t be anxious, but by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. Christians should do this for all our problems, but specifically for our marriage problems. If we have proper faith in God’s power, then we will pray diligently about our marriage problems.
1 John 5:14 – Be confident that, if we ask according to His will, He hears us. [Matt. 6:13; 1 Pet. 5:7]
When we have marriage problems, especially serious ones, we need to believe that God will answer prayer. If both the husband and wife are faithful Christians then they should spend much time together and individually praying for God’s help with their problems.
Remember, however, that God answers according to His will. If your companion is not a Christian or is not faithful, then God will not force them to do right. He may, however, give them an opportunity to learn His will for their lives.
When your family faces serious problems, how much do you pray to God together and trust His power to answer your prayers?
III. RESPECT BIBLE AUTHORITY
A. Follow the Bible Instead of Feelings, Human Wisdom, etc.
Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord and let Him guide our paths. Don’t lean on our own human understanding. Too often troubled couples seek sources of guidance outside the Bible.
Some folks follow psychologists, marriage counselors, etc. Others are guided by feelings. People get divorced saying, “I just don’t feel anything for her (or him) anymore.” But no amount of feelings can change what God’s word says.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 – Scriptures provide to all good works. If solving marriage conflict is a good work, then the Bible will tell us how to do it. Other people may help, but we must reject any ideas that do not agree with the Bible.
Most of us accept this view of authority regarding salvation, worship, church organization, etc. Why should it be any different regarding our homes?
[2 Pet. 1:3; Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12; etc.]
B. Study What the Bible Says About Our Problem.
Psalm 1:2 – The righteous man delights in God’s law and meditates on it day and night. If we really believe the Bible has the answers, then we should study what it says. This is what we would do about any other spiritual problem. Why do otherwise regarding family problems?
Acts 17:11 – The Bereans learned the truth by searching the Scriptures day and night. We need to do the same regarding our family problems.
C. Be Willing to Obey the Bible.
Matthew 7:24-27 – The wise man not only hears what God’s word says, but also does it. The foolish man hears but does not obey.
If we believe that God’s word holds the answers to our marriage problems, then we must be determined to do what it says, not just learn what it says.
IV. RESPECT THE BIBLE PATTERN FOR AUTHORITY IN THE HOME.
Ephesians 5:22-24 – The wife must submit to her husband as to the Lord.
1 Peter 3:1 – She must obey her husband even if he is not serving God. A wife may think she can disobey her husband if he commits sin, but God says she must still obey. She may disobey only if the husband asks her to commit sin (Acts 5:29).
We will see that the husband also has God-given guidelines to follow when he makes decisions. Often conflict arises or remains unresolved, because the husband disobeys Bible teachings about how to make decisions or because the wife disobeys Bible teachings about submission.
Resolving conflict requires decisions to be made. God has provided a way to make those decisions. Husbands need the wisdom to make decisions according to God’s guidelines, and they need the courage to make even the tough decisions. Then they need the strength to see that those decisions are carried out. And wives need the strength and the humility to accept those decisions.
[Tit. 2:5; Col. 3:18; etc.]
V. ACT IN LOVE.
Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25,28,29). Wives should love their husbands (Titus 2:4).
A. Love Is Concern for the Well-being of Others.
Ephesians 5:25,28,29 – Jesus’ love for the church illustrates the love husbands should have for their wives. He loved us so much He gave His life so we could be saved. So the husband should be concerned for the wellbeing of the wife. He should nourish and cherish her. He must not use his authority just to please himself but to do what is best for her and the family.
1 Corinthians 13:5 – Love is not selfish.
Romans 13:10 – Love works no harm to its neighbor.
As long as one or both companions selfishly insist on their own way, differences will not be resolved. Serious problems can be solved only when we are willing to seek the welfare of others besides ourselves.
B. Love Is a Choice of the Will.
Ephesians 5:25,28 – Love can be commanded because it is a matter of the will. We can choose whether or not to love, just like we can choose whether or not to obey any other command.
Some think love just happens and cannot be controlled – you “fall in love” or out of love. So, if a couple “just don’t love one another anymore,” nothing can be done except to get a divorce. But when we realize we can choose to love, then we realize we can put love into a marriage. And if we fail to put it in, we sin.
Furthermore, just as Christ initiated love toward the church when we were sinners not acting lovingly toward Him, so it is the primary responsibility of the husband to initiate love. The command is emphasized to the man. He is to love the wife first and put love into the relationship, as Christ first loved the church.
Romans 5:6-8 – Christ loved us while we were yet sinners, not because we were so loveable He couldn’t help Himself. He chose to do what we needed done.
Luke 6:27,28 – We are commanded to love our enemies. Loving ones enemy is about what it would take to put love into some marriages! But we love enemies, not because we uncontrollably “fall” in love, but because we choose to do what is best for them.
The statement “I just don’t love her/him any more” is a confession of sin! It must be repented of and corrected as an act of the will!
When serious disagreements build up in marriage and are not resolved, one or both companions are not choosing to show love.
C. Love Must Be Expressed in Action.
Love should be expressed by what we say.
Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands should love as Christ loved the church. But Christ states His love for the church (Ephesians 5:2; John 3:16). So husbands and wives should express love for one another in words.
This does not require an overwhelming romantic “feeling” that wells up and can’t help but be expressed. We are discussing love by choice of the will.
We can and should state, by the choice of our will: “I want you to know that I still love you, I am committed to this marriage and to your welfare.”
Love should be expressed by what we do.
1 John 5:2,3 – Love for others requires us to love God and keep His commands. Keeping God’s commands is loving God.
1 John 3:18 – We must not love just in words, but in deed and in truth. This is a vital principle in every home. We ought to say loving things, but that alone is not enough. We must act in love.
[Luke 10:25-37; 6:27,28]
D. Love Requires Giving & Self-sacrifice.
Giving of self is the essence of love.
John 3:16 – God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.
Ephesians 5:25 – Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it.
1 John 3:14-18 – If you see your brother in need and don’t give what is needed, you don’t have love.
Romans 12:20 – Loving you enemy requires giving food and drink when needed.
A basic requirement in solving family disagreements is a willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others.
Typically each spouse refuses to change because he/she is upset at something the other person did. If we would view the situation honestly and objectively (as if it were someone else’s problem), we would admit we should do differently. But we refuse to change because of some habit or characteristic we dislike in our spouse.
The fundamental lesson of Christ’s love is that we should give up our own desires for the good of others even when they are not acting the way we think they should. Don’t say, “I’ll change if he/she will too.” If an act is good for others, do it regardless of what they are doing. If we have been wrong, admit it regardless of whether or not they have admitted their errors.
Even if we are convinced we are not the root cause of a problem, we should ask ourselves honestly what we can do to help improve it. This does not mean ignoring sin. Jesus did not cause our sin problem and He did not compromise with sin, but He did sacrifice Himself to provide a solution to our sin problem. He did not just sit back and criticize us for our sin, but He became involved to provide a solution. He did not do everything for us, but He made sure we had a way whereby we could overcome the problem.
A spouse will often criticize: “It’s his/her fault, so let him/her solve it.” Even if that is true, is it helpful? Instead think, “What can I offer to do – how can I become involved – so as to help resolve this problem?” Instead of saying, “Why don’t you do this?” say, “Why don’t you and I work on this together?”
As long as neither spouse will take the first step to give up what they want, strife will continue. When one is willing to give in for the good of the group, then a start has been made to resolving the problem. When both are willing to give in for the good of the group, then the solution definitely will be found.
The husband has the final say, but he must not just do what he wants. He must put aside his own desires and do what is best for the group. The wife must not insist on what she wants, but must give in and submit to the husband’s decisions.
[1 John 4:9,19; Acts 20:35; Luke 10:25-37]
VI. MAINTAIN AND EXPRESS COMMITMENT TO THE MARRIAGE.
A. Divorce and Separation Are Not Options.
Read Romans 7:2,3; Matthew 5:31,32; 19:3-9; 1 Corinthians 7:10,11 – Marriage is a lifetime commitment. One can Scripturally divorce a mate only if it is done because he/she has committed fornication. If we have unscripturally divorced, we must seek reconciliation with our spouse or remain unmarried. Remarriage is not an option.
Obviously one should never want his/her spouse to commit fornication, so it follows that each one must sincerely hope for the marriage to continue.
1 Corinthians 7:2-5 – Since the sexual union is upright only within marriage (Heb. 13:4), the man and wife are to fulfill one another’s desires for sexual affection. They are not to voluntarily separate except by mutual consent for a temporary time for spiritual purposes.
Sometimes troubled couples choose to separate. Separation not only causes sexual temptation, but it weakens commitment to the marriage and increases the likelihood of divorce. Doubts about one another’s conduct and motives increase. Problems cannot be discussed and resolved.
Clearly the Bible requires both spouses to continually view the marriage with commitment.
B. Express Your Commitment to the Marriage.
Sometimes one will make statements that show lack of commitment to a marriage.
Some will say:
“I wish I never married you.” “I wish you were dead.” “I should have divorced you years ago.” “If this doesn’t stop, I’ll see a lawyer.” “I’m leaving, and I don’t know if I’ll be back.”
In the absence of Scriptural grounds for divorce, all such statements are sinful, because they destroy the security and commitment of the marriage. They do not express love, but are used as a weapon to threaten and hurt the spouse.
Not only is it sinful to practice wrong, it is also sinful to DESIRE to practice wrong or to THREATEN to do wrong.
Proverbs 4:23 – Out of the heart are the issues of life. We sin because we allow ourselves to think and speak about our desire to sin. See also Matt. 5:21f,27f,33-37, etc.
Matthew 12:35-37 – The mouth speaks out to the abundance of the heart. We will be justified or condemned by our words.
In the absence of Scriptural grounds for divorce, Christians should never do anything that appears to justify or lead to separation or divorce. Instead, they should deliberately express and promote commitment. “I really do love you. I want to work out our problems, and I want us to have a good marriage.”
VII. EXPRESS APPRECIATION & PRAISE FOR WHAT IS GOOD.
Philippians 4:6,7 – Let your requests be made known to God with thanksgiving. Even when we are concerned about our problems, we must remember to be thankful for our blessings.
Often in times of strife, we get so upset with our companion, that we fail to express appreciation for the good qualities they have. This tends to blow the problems out of proportion.
A. Husbands Should Express Appreciation for Their Wives.
Genesis 2:18 – It was not good for man to be alone, so God made woman to be a companion for him. A woman who fulfills her God-given role is good for a husband. She was created by God for that very purpose.
Proverbs 18:22 – He who finds a wife, finds a good thing and obtains favor of God. So let the husband say so.
Proverbs 12:4 – A worthy woman is the crown of her husband. If so, then let the husband express appreciation for her. [Prov. 19:14; 31:10]
1 Peter 3:7 – The husband should give honor to his wife. Yet many husbands give much more criticism than they give honor. How often do you deliberately say or do something intended to honor your wife? Is she supposed to consider herself honored simply because it has been a while since you insulted her?
Proverbs 31:28-31 – A worthy woman should be praised by her husband. Do you praise your wife when she prepares a meal, cleans the house, cares for your children, or fulfills her responsibilities as a Christian? Or do you just criticize when you think she fails?
A husband often gets a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from his work. He gets a regular paycheck and perhaps occasional promotions. But the wife works day in and day out at home with the family. If the husband does not express appreciation, the wife should still find a sense of accomplishment in seeing her children develop and in knowing above all that God is pleased. But she has a much greater sense of security and being needed if her husband tells her he appreciates what she does.
God tells us to praise our wives when they do good. If we did, they would find it much easier to fulfill their role as submissive homemakers.
B. Wives Should Express Appreciation for Their Husbands.
Romans 13:7 – All Christians should give honor to whom honor is due. This is a general principle. It would teach husbands to honor their wives, but it would also teach wives to honor their husbands.
Ephesians 5:33 – Because the husband is the head of the wife (v22-24), she should respect (reverence) him. Surely this includes expressing appreciation for him.
Ladies, if your husband works regular hours at his job to provide for you and the family, how often do you tell him you appreciate it? Or do you just take his paycheck and spend it without a word of thanks? When he does a handyman job around the house for you, or spends time with the children, or fulfills his role as a Christian man, do you tell him you appreciate it?
Probably the greatest need that the wife has is a sense of security in knowing that she is loved and needed. Probably the greatest need the man has is the sense of personal worth in knowing that he is respected and looked up to. Both these needs are met if the husband and wife will express appreciation one another.
If you are angry and upset with your companion, do two things. (1) Make an honest list of every good quality your companion possesses and every good work he/she does. Be as thorough as you can. (2) Then every day make a definite point to express love to your companion and find some specific thing to compliment and express appreciation for. This will significantly help when it comes time to discuss your problems, and it will also make your problems seem much less serious.
VIII. DISCUSS THE PROBLEM
A. Be Willing to Discuss.
Sometimes a spouse becomes so angry that he/she refuses to talk. Some men think they have the right to just make a decision without discussion.
The husband should be willing to consider his wife’s views.
Ephesians 5:25ff – The husband is head as Jesus is head of the church. But God listens to our requests in prayer (Phil. 4:6f).
Ephesians 5:28,29 – The husband should love his wife as he does his own body, but the body communicates its needs so the head can make decisions according to what is best.
James 1:19 – Every man should be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
1 Peter 3:7 – The husband is to treat his wife with understanding. But since men are not mind-readers, this requires listening to her views. [cf. Matt. 7:12]
If sin is involved, both parties are commanded to discuss.
Luke 17:3,4 – The one who believes the other has sinned, must rebuke him. This surely applies in the home as well as elsewhere. [Lev. 19:17,18; Matt. 18:15; Prov. 27:5,6]
Matthew 5:23,24 – One who has been accused of sin must be willing to talk to seek reconciliation. Again, this surely applies in the home.
Note that the person who believes he has been wronged and the person who is accused of doing wrong are both obligated to discuss the matter. If conflict in the home is to be resolved, it must begin by discussion. “Clamming up” is not an option.
Note, however, that proper timing of when to discuss is also important. Discussing in front of the kids or when one of you is extremely angry may not be good. If so, don’t just “clam up.” Instead, agree to discuss the matter later, and set a time when you will discuss it. Make an appointment and keep it!
[Matt. 18:15-17; Prov. 10:17; Gal. 6:1; Prov. 13:18; 15:31,32; 29:1; 25:12; 9:8; 12:1]
B. Speak to Resolve the Problem, Not to Hurt One Another.
Matthew 5:24 – The goal is to be reconciled, not to hurt people. Often we are willing to talk, but only for the purpose of getting our way. We seek to win a victory, prove the other person wrong, etc. The purpose ought to be to find a Scriptural resolution. [Lev. 19:18]
Romans 12:17,19-21 – Don’t repay evil for evil or seek vengeance, but return good for evil. Sometimes a couple starts out trying to resolve a problem, but one insults the other, then the other returns an insult. Soon the goal becomes to see who can hurt the other person worst.
Too many discussions end up being quarrels, because we let the problem become an occasion to attack one another. Instead, we should work together to attack the problem. Discuss the problem to solve the problem, not to hurt one another’s feelings.
When bringing up a problem, introduce it objectively then maintain focus on the specific problem. “Honey, there’s a problem we need to talk about…” Don’t enlarge the problem to attack the character of the other person. Avoid “You’re just selfish, that’s all,” or “Why can’t you be like so-and-so’s wife?”
C. Listen to Your Spouse’s Viewpoint.
A “discussion” requires both listening and talking. In practice, however, many spouses only want to express their own views.
James 1:19 – Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Don’t enter the discussion assuming the other person has no valid reasons for his view. We should be quickly willing to listen, and slow to present our views, especially when we are angry.
Suggestion: Begin the discussion by asking your spouse to explain his/her view. Do not begin by attacking the position you assume they hold and defending your own view. Begin by asking questions honestly designed to help you understand what they think. “Could you explain to me why you did it that way …?” “Have you considered doing it like this?” Maybe they have considered your idea and have some valid reasons for preferring another approach.
Do not dominate the discussion. Let the other person express his/her views. Do you appreciate it when others just attack your views but refuse to listen to what you have to say? “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and practice the golden rule (Matt. 7:12).
D. Honestly Examine the Evidence.
John 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Honestly seek to learn the facts of what happened – maybe the other person did not do what you thought they did. Ask for the reasons why the other person holds his/her view. Maybe they have reasons that you have not considered.
Then present evidence for your view. Don’t just make charges and accusations. Don’t jump to conclusions or assign motives. If you don’t have proof, then ask questions. But don’t make accusations unless you have proof. Recognize an obligation to prove what you say or else don’t say it!
Matthew 18:16 – By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. (Acts 24:13) Do not consider your spouse guilty of wrong doing until the evidence is clear. Do not condemn them on the basis of opinion and flimsy appearances, when you would not want them to condemn you on that basis.
John 12:48; 2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The Scriptures must guide us in matters of right and wrong. They will judge us in the last day. If there are Bible principles relating to the subject, study them together.
E. Honestly Examine Your Own Conduct, Motives, Etc.
Consider honestly the possibility that you may have been wrong, or that you may at least have contributed to the problem. Do not just find fault with your mate. Perhaps you can improve.
Genesis 3:12,13 – When the first married couple sinned, God confronted them. The man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. Both had been wrong, but neither was willing to admit their wrong. That is typical. Even when we are guilty, we want others to bear or share the blame – “Look what he/she did!”
Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. In a family has serious problems, almost invariably there is sin, but the guilty one(s) refuse to admit it, blames others, rationalizes, etc. [2 Cor. 13:5]
Pride keeps us from recognizing and admitting our guilt. Most people, when studying a topic like this one can think of lots of points that apply to their spouses, but what aboutyou?
Honesty and humility leads us to seek the truth and admit whatever errors we have made. And remember, even if we are not convinced we caused a problem, love leads us to be willing to get involved and help solve it. [1 Thess. 5:21; Psa. 32:3,5; Gal. 6:1]
F. Be Patient and Control Your Temper.
1 Corinthians 13:4 – Love is patient. We are easily upset when a matter is not quickly resolved. Resolving some problems may take a long time, with gradual improvement. Don’t give up. Don’t expect that you or your spouse will change overnight. Give it time. [Rom. 2:7; Gal. 6:7-9; 2 Thess. 3:5].
Proverbs 18:13 – To answer a matter before we have heard it out is foolish. Sometimes we are ready to judge a matter before we have thought it through. Don’t make snap decisions.
Don’t think that you must reach a final decision the first time a matter is brought up. Take time for you and your spouse to think about what has been discussed. If your initial discussion doesn’t lead to a solution, ask for time to think about it. Promise to discuss it again later. You are more likely to reach a rational conclusion, and your spouse will know you have taken the matter seriously.
Prov. 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Don’t allow your temper to make you lose your objectivity and resort to hurting the other person. Anger is not necessarily sinful, but it must be controlled so it doesn’t lead us into sin [Eph. 4:26; Jas. 1:19,20].
IX. BE RECONCILED
The goal is, not to talk endlessly nor simply to vent frustrations, but to resolve the problem. You should seek to determine a plan of action whereby the problem ceases to alienate you.
A. Compromise and Overlook Differences of Viewpoint, Where Possible.
1 Corinthians 13:4f – Love suffers long and is kind. Love is not selfish.
Every couple will find in one another characteristics that we would like to change but cannot. Sin must not be overlooked, but if there is no sin and the person just does thingswe don’t like, then love will not push personal desires to the point of alienation. Learn to overlook these matters without bitterness.
Romans 14 – Even some spiritual decisions are matters of personal opinion, not matters of sin. If you cannot prove your spouse has committed sin, do not imply he/she has been guilty.
James 3:14-18; Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:11 – Sincerely seek a peaceable resolution to the problem. We should want the conflict to end, even if we have to give up our own desires to achieve it.
In some matters, there may be give and take – compromise. As long as no Bible conviction is violated, seek a middle-ground solution. “I’ll give in here, if you’ll give in there.” Or, “Let’s do it your way this time, and then next time we’ll do it my way.”
Remember to consider ways you can become involved and help your spouse do a job better, instead of just sitting back and criticizing. Perhaps, in some matter, you will end up each going separate ways and doing separate things. [Acts 15:36-40]
However, if one has been guilty of sin, then another approach must be taken.
B. Repent of Sin.
2 Corinthians 7:10; Acts 8:22 – If one or both have sinned, the Bible says to repent and pray for forgiveness. Why should sins in the family be any different?
Repentance is a decision and commitment to change. We must recognize we have been wrong and agree to do right. If sin is the cause of our problems, we will never correct our marriage until we repent. [Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9]
C. Apologize for Sin (Confess It).
Luke 17:3,4 – If we have sinned, we must say, “I repent.” Sometimes we realize we were wrong, but we don’t want to admit it. Until we do so, those whom we have wronged cannot know we have repented.
Matthew 5:23,24 – When we have wronged someone, we must go to them and make it right, or God will not accept our worship. Have you made right the wrongs you have done to your family?
James 5:16 – We must confess our sins one to another. Sometimes the most difficult people to apologize to are the ones closest to us. We think if we admit error, they will lose respect for us. This is simply pride. But love is not puffed up (1 Cor. 13:4).
Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
Be specific. Don’t minimize, make excuses, blame shift, or recriminate. Don’t say, “I made a mistake, but look what you did!” Even if you are convinced your spouse is wrong too, honestly admit your own error and correct it first. Don’t try to save face. Don’t demand that others forgive you and instruct them on how they ought to treat you. Just humbly apologize. Then later, perhaps at some other time, discuss the errors you believe they need to correct.
D. Pray for Forgiveness.
Acts 8:22 – Peter told Simon to repent and pray for forgiveness. If we have sinned, we must confess, not just to our companion, but also to God.
1 John 1:9 – He is faithful to forgive us if we confess our sins.
When you have sinned, do you humbly confess it to God and to your spouse? [Matt. 6:12; Psa. 32:5]
E. Forgive One Another.
Luke 17:3,4 – When one has sinned against us and confesses, we must forgive, even seven times a day if necessary. Forgiveness is often needed in families. Love forgives as often as is needed.
Colossians 3:13 – We must forgive the way God forgives. How do we want God to forgive us? Do we want Him to say, “I’ve forgiven you enough already. I don’t care how sorry you are or how hard you try, I won’t forgive”? Do we want Him to say He forgives, but then keep bringing it up again and using it as a weapon against us?
Illustration: When Indian tribes made peace, they would symbolize it by burying a hatchet (tomahawk). The point was that everybody knew where it was, but nobody would go dig it up and use it to hurt the others. So forgiveness does not mean we are no longer aware the thing happened. It means we will not bring it up again to hurt the other person with it.
Proverbs 10:12 – Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. How is your family? Do you love one another enough to admit you errors and then to really forgive like you want God to forgive you?
[Matt. 18:21-25; 6:12,14,15; 5:7]
F. Develop & Carry Out a Plan to Correct the Problem.
Many problems are deep-rooted, have continued for a long time, or have caused serious harm. Some spouses confess the same old sin over and over, but they never make specific provision to change their conduct. They seem to think that all they need to do is to admit the wrong from time to time!
Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. No matter how often we confess a problem, it is not truly resolved until we change our conduct!
Matthew 21:28-31 – Jesus described a son who did not do what his father said. When he repented, he had to do what he failed to do. When we repent of wrongs, we must work to make sure they are not repeated. For long-standing habits, planning and effort will be needed to change our conduct. [Cf. Eph. 4:25-32; Matt. 12:43-45]
Acts 26:20 – One who repents must bring forth “fruits of repentance” or do “works worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8-14; Matt. 3:8). This includes making sure that we do not repeat the wrong in the future. But it also includes doing what we can to overcome the harm caused by our wrong deeds of the past. [Cf. Ezek. 33:14,15; 1 Sam. 12:3; Philemon. 10-14,18,19; Luke 19:8]
When a couple has long-standing and deep-seated problems, a resolution must include a mutual agreement about what they specifically intend to do differently in the future to change the conduct. They need a specific program or plan of action, perhaps even one that is written down.
Alternative courses of action should be discussed. Ways each spouse can help the other should be agreed upon. Agreements should include exactly what will each partner do differently in the future. Preferably these should be stated in away that allows for progress to be obvious or measurable – it should be evident when the changes are (or are not) being carried out. Then the couple should made specific commitments or promises to one another to carry out these actions.
James 5:12 – But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” When we make commitments to one another, we must mean what we say and then must carry out our commitments. We must make the changes we promised to make and fulfill the plan of action we agreed upon. [Rom. 1:31,32; 2 Cor. 8:11]
X. SEEK HELP (IF NECESSARY)
The procedure we have described will resolve most serious family problems, if we really love one another and are willing to obey God. But what if there clearly is sin in a family and the above procedure has been tried, but the problem remains? The Bible tells us to get help from other Christians.
A. Talk to One or Two Faithful Christians.
Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens. The first source of help should be other Christians. Some are too embarrassed to have others find out about their problems, but one of the first steps to overcoming a problem is to admit we have it.
James 5:16 – Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another. Sometimes other Christians have had experience dealing with a problem and can give the Scripture or application that we need. Surely they can pray for us. Why should Christians with spiritual problems seek help first from counselors who are not even Christians?
Matthew 18:15,16 – If your brother sins against you, first discuss it privately with him. But if this does not resolve it, get help. Take one or two other Christians with you.
Many think this passage does not apply to family problems, but why not? It discusses cases where one Christian sins against another. Where does this, or similar passages, exclude family members from the application? Most of the Scriptures we have cited in this study have been general in application, not specifically regarding the family, yet we can all see they would apply to the family. Why is this verse not the same? [Cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-11]
B. Take It Before the Church, Then Withdraw.
Matthew 18:16,17 – We would hope that the mediation of one or two other Christians would solve the problem, but if it does not, then the Bible says to take the matter before the congregation. Perhaps the involvement of the whole church will bring the guilty party to his senses.
If even this does not solve the problem, then the one who is clearly in sin must be withdrawn from. [2 Thess. 3:15; 1 Cor. 5; etc.]
This is not to say we should run to the church with every personal problem. But if sin is clearly involved and private efforts do not lead to repentance, God gives a pattern for proceeding. In far too many cases, sin continues in our homes because we are too proud or too foolish to pursue the Scriptural course for seeking help.
The Scriptures do provide us to all good works, including how to solve problems in our homes. There is hope for troubled marriages. We can solve our problems God’s way. If we do not do so, we have no one to blame but ourselves.