“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” - Proverbs 17:14
Sometimes the best argument is the one that never happens. I don’t know if it is our competitiveness, selfishness, or the pressure from countless marriage books to resolve conflict, but it seems to be a trend to try to overanalyze even the most minute details in our marriages. I make this point to myself first of all. As a therapist, I spend a great deal of time helping people resolve conflict and I will admit to being hypervigilant to any unresolved conflict in my own marriage. There comes a point, though, when an issue just needs to be forgiven and dropped.
Some of this can be blamed on an understandable overreaction. The American church has had a history of encouraging superficiality and ignoring issues in the name of peace and “making Jesus look good.” In those cases, conflicts and resentments grew as well-meaning Christians bowed to pressure to appear like they have it all together. There is still a great deal of this in the church today. However, there has been a groundswell in the past several years, of which I have been a part, to emphasize transparency and healthy conflict resolution. This emphasis, though, can lead to an overreaction that puts our marriages under a microscope, analyzing it for any infinitesimal flaw. There is a time and place for overlooking a matter.
Proverbs 17:14 warns us of the danger of a conflict and I think the metaphor is apt. It portrays the beginning of a disagreement as being similar to water beginning to escape from a dam. What starts as a slight leak can break out into a torrent. Trying to hold back the water or effectively trickle it out is unwise. The thing to do is run! It is a wise thing in marriage to know when to just drop a conversation that is only going to lead to a damaging and destructive fight. So how do we know when we should and shouldn’t address something?
In my experience, there are two indicators that an issue needs to just be dropped or avoided. Both require insight and a searching into your own heart. First, if you will have forgotten about the issue and no longer be upset about it in the next day or two, it is probably not that important. Important issues linger and grow with silence, developing resentment. The small ones go away. Everybody has pet peeves that are triggered by their spouse. Most of them are trivial things and need to be overlooked or forgiven. Second, if you sense the conflict will inevitably lead to a disproportionate emotional response, it is probably best to step away. In that case, there is obviously another bigger issue looming behind the dam that needs to be addressed first. Step back, calm down and deal with the real problem. Otherwise, you are just going to make the problem worse and the issue you started with will likely not get resolved anyway.
There can be wisdom in knowing when to avoid something. It takes great restraint to choose not to complain or point out fault, but to forgive and choose to accept our spouse, faults and all. Choose to love. Choose to forgive. Choose to disengage and live to love another day.
Mike is the director of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling of Philadelphia and counsels at the Newark, Wilmington, Elsmere and Glenmoore locations. Mike counsels adolescents, adults, children, and couples.