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"Fight Fair"

Mar.8, 2015 SoS 5:2-8 (Jas 4:1-3; Eph 5:21-28)

(adapted from The Song movie event kit by Kyle Idleman; used with permission)


We've been studying the Song of Solomon, and we've been talking about some of the characteristics of a marriage that sings. Those who are married would want their marriage to be the kind that inspires a song, and we can look to this unique book in Scripture to get a glimpse into the world of a couple who fell in love. Along the way, we've seen a lot of beautiful, poetic language; a lot of stunning descriptions of the emotion and passion of their love; and a little bit of honest, real life.

Song of Solomon doesn't pull any punches about the nature of romance and marriage, nor does it pull any punches about an area all our relationships experience, whether we're married or single: that is, conflict. It may not seem very "shalom-oriented" but, sure enough, we find conflict even in the Song of Solomon. In chapter 5, just shortly after the wedding ceremony and honeymoon, this couple is already experiencing some conflict. 5:2-8 "I slept but my heart was awake.Listen! My lover is knocking: "Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one.My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night." I have taken off my robe-- must I put it on again? I have washed my feet-- must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock.I opened for my lover, but my lover had left; he was gone.My heart sank at his departure.I looked for him but did not find him.I called him but he did not answer.The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.They beat me, they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls! O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you-- if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love."

We're not sure what produced this conflict. He was knocking at the door, she was late opening it, and when she did, he was gone--and she couldn't find him. We don't know what caused this, but she was obviously distressed about it. But, without trying to read too much into the text, let's just make a few observations about conflict in marriage:

a) It's often over something silly. We don't know what happened in these verses to make him leave and to make her so worried. It doesn't seem like much; it rarely does. Here's something else that's true about conflict in marriage:

b) It hurts more. Sometimes the little things that are said or done (or not said and not done) in marriage hurt more than you might expect because this is your best friend, your closest confidant. Even little things seem to hurt more because you love the person so much.

c) Sometimes we overreact. ...OK, maybe all the time. But isn't that so often the case? Overreaction in marital conflict leads to many more problems. Maybe it's because we feel safe in a committed marriage, so we let unfiltered anger or sarcasm take over. Maybe it's because we know the other person so well that we have a lot of ammunition. But we all overreact, and you can't take it back.

Take a look at this clip about one of the reasons we have conflict in marriage: [Play video clip, Fighting Fair]

So what we get from Song of Solomon chapter 5 is this: Every marriage has conflict. Even this one! That's just a reality when you're talking about two human beings living with each other over the span of so much time. There will inevitably be conflict. Fighting in marriage doesn't mean you're failing or that your marriage is falling apart. It means you're in a marriage with someone who isn't 100% exactly like you (how boring would THAT be?!). Conflict is to be expected; but there are a couple of key differences between good fighting and bad fighting.

Every marriage is going to have conflict, so we can't say you should never, ever fight. What we do need to talk about is how to fight. Because conflict can kill your marriage, or it can strengthen your marriage - and the difference often hinges on how you handle the conflict that inevitably arises.

These principles are true of any close relationship. So, singles, you can learn something here, too! Marriage is the easy relationship to talk about because it's more intimate and often more stressful. But the truth is that it's just a really close friendship --one in which you live together. So in your marriage and in your closest friendships, here are a few key ways to handle conflict so that it strengthens the relationship and doesn't kill it.


The first key in handling conflict well in your marriage seems pretty common sense, but it's to commit to the relationship. You're probably thinking, I'm already married...that's why I'm fighting! But having conflict in marriage is OK--as long as it's clear that you're committed to the good of the marriage, not just the good of yourself. If your spouse knows you care more about the marriage than being right, it changes the tone of the conflict. And if you care more about the marriage than being right, it not only helps the conflict come to a better end, it's actually going to reduce the amount of conflict in your marriage.

Commitment is bedrock for a marriage. I'm always reminding couples in premarital counselling of what David & Vera Mace, founders of Marriage Enrichment movement, said: There are 3 C's for a successful marriage - communication, commitment, & conflict resolution. So Commitment is a key ingredient - cement to bond things together.

In Ephesians 5, Paul's famous passage on marriage, he says in v25, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her;" and in v22, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." That does not mean that wives robotically obey or give in to everything the husband does; it means that the two responsibilities have to work hand-in-hand. The wife submits to the husband as he leads and loves her in a Christlike way, and the husband loves the wife selflessly because he knows she's willing to submit her desires to what will make the marriage succeed. The two work in tandem. And just before that, Paul said to all the Christians in Ephesus, v21"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." The same principle that guides all Christians in interacting with each another--submitting to one another because that's what Jesus wants, serving the other person in order to glorify Christ-- that same principle applies to husbands and wives interacting with each other: submit to each other out of a desire to make the marriage succeed.

What would change in the way you handle conflict with your spouse if you truly cared more about the health and thriving of your marriage than about proving yourself right or getting your way? Answer that question honestly. And don't point fingers in your head right now...It's not about what he or she (your mate) needs to do differently; it's about what you need to do differently.

Conflict in marriage can help a marriage thrive if it's more about the marriage than about either spouse. If you can agree on those terms of engagement - that you're going to take captive even this difference of perception in order to ultimately strengthen your relationship and enrich your understanding of the other person - it changes everything in the way conflict is handled. And it also reduces the times that a fight erupts over something silly. If it's about you and not the good of the marriage, it's not worth fighting about.

Let's sum this part up in 4 simple words: "I SUBMIT TO YOU." Can we say that together? "I SUBMIT TO YOU." We SUBmit because we COMmit to the relationship.

To be clear, this is not to say that abuse in any form ought to go unnoticed or unmentioned, get glossed over. That absolutely is an issue that is for the good of the marriage. If you are in an abusive situation, don't keep quiet because you're trying to pursue the good of the marriage and not your own personal issues. The abuser needs to change in order to grow and mature in faith: that likely won't happen as long as you just knuckle under and perpetuate the cycle. A marriage can't thrive in those conditions, and abuse does need to be brought to light and handled appropriately.


The second key in fighting fair in your marriage is to apologize. Sometimes the apology is over big things, and sometimes it's little things. We already said that overreaction tends to be an issue in marriage: one of the biggest reasons for that is we bottle up a lot of little things and then explode over the last straw. In counselling it can be known as "gunnysacking": storing up one thing after another into the burlap bag or gunny sack then suddenly there's that one last thing and - DUMP! Out comes the whole sack of pent-up frustrations on the surprised recipient.

There are tons of little things your wife or husband does, says, or doesn't do that can bother you from time to time--and same with her or him! Probably many more things. That's just life with another human being. But over time we come to realize what WE do that she or he doesn't appreciate. You get to know what their peculiar "buttons" are. And an important factor in handling conflict in a Christlike way is to apologize first. Don't tell him or her they just have to deal with it! Don't just hope they don't notice. We can apologize for not submitting ourselves to our mate.

Sometimes it's little things, and sometimes it's bigger things. And it's so hard to be the first one to apologize--but it's one of the most important things you can do for a thriving marriage. Pursing the good of the marriage means you are so concerned with the health of the marriage and with the good of your spouse that you humble yourself to make an apology. Don't wait to get caught; don't try to win an argument; don't bring up the past or try to excuse your behavior because of theirs; and don't use the silent treatment. Apologize. Those two words, I'm sorry, can save so much heartache, so much loneliness, so much stress, and so many angry words that can't be taken back.

Look at Song of Solomon 5:8b: "Tell him I am faint with love." She was looking for her husband, couldn't find him to make things right, and then said she was "faint with love." Isn't that what happens when things aren't right in your marriage? Don't you grow faint? It wears on you, it saps energy; isn't it exhausting? And when we choose to live with bitterness, to try to win arguments, to pursue our own desires, we create an environment in our marriages that produces stress, anxiety, unrest, anger, bitterness. "Faint" with love. Yes, it takes a lot of courage and humility to apologize first: but it exacts a bigger toll on your heart to live with unresolved conflict in your marriage because of pride and selfishness.

So this section's summed up in just two little words: "I'M SORRY." Can we say that together? "I'M SORRY." (There now, that wasn't too difficult, now was it?!)

Our third and final point is a real earthquake of a revelation... :)


Yes, it may sound ridiculous or trifling, but hear this: be nice to each other. Think about it: when you fight with your best friend, what's your tone like? Not theirs, yours? How do you talk to them? What kinds of words do you use? This is your best friend we're talking about...do you ever belittle them, either explicitly or subtly? How much sarcasm do you use? Do you raise your voice?

It's not as simple as it sounds at first. A lot of the big problems in our fights in marriage stem from small, easily handled discussions that blow up because we're just not nice to each other, not even what you might call "civil" - not even simply as nice as we'd behave with our best friend. It makes all the difference. Who says you have to have a disagreement with raised voices? Who says you have to try to make the other person feel bad? That you have to come out on top? That it's OK to hurt their feelings? It doesn't have to be that way! Be at least "civil" in how you treat your companion.

What character attributes OUGHT to characterize Holy-Spirit-filled Christians even when they're having a disagreement? What was it Paul wrote in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit? Gal 5:22-23 "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Fruit#4 can also be translated "forbearance" - forbear / bear with other's faults and imperfections. Use these "fruit of the Spirit" as a filter when you're in a disagreement with your spouse. Stop and ask yourself: Does what I'm about to say reflect a fruit of the Spirit? We'd all be amazed at how much less tense our disagreements would be if we applied that filter. To sum up this part, 5 words: "I'LL BE CIVIL TO YOU". Can we say that together, promise at least that much to each other? "I'LL BE CIVIL TO YOU."

So, in review: if you can agree to pursue the good of the relationship and not your own selfish desires ("I SUBMIT TO YOU"); if you can humble yourself to be the first to apologize ("I'M SORRY"); and if you are truly nice, kind, gentle, and self-controlled when you speak ("I'LL BE CIVIL TO YOU") - the conflict in your closest relationships will change drastically. This matters so much! This isn't just about self-help, not "three steps to a happier life", or about finding personal fulfillment. In fact, which of those three keys to fighting fair sounds like personal fulfillment? Which of those sounds "happy", or like they help you? The truth is, they don't. They're other-focused, other-supporting.

Marriage is not about you. It's not about happiness, or about self-fulfillment. It's about learning to sacrifice, learning to be selfless, to give up your desires, to serve someone else, to be humble. That's why that passage we mentioned earlier from Ephesians 5 is such a key passage about marriage--it's not about making you happy. Let's hear v25 again in a generalized way: "Love [the other person] as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her..." It's about reflecting the kind of love Jesus has for us. Modeling HIM in our homes, our most private space. It's about giving yourself up for the good of someone else. It's about letting the Holy Spirit change you so that you speak kind words instead of angry, cutting words.

When we do those things, we're letting Jesus live out His love through us, letting Him be reflected more and more in us. When we learn sacrifice, humility, and kindness in the way we interact with each other, we learn to be like Jesus. It's only His grace and goodness and love for us that can empower that within us, especially when we're disposed to get mad! And when we act like Jesus in our marriages, people begin to notice that it sounds a whole lot less like yelling - and a whole lot more like a beautiful song. Let's pray.