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Setting the Stage for Conflict

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Learn some helpful problem-solving techniques that cool down the heat of marital conflict.

Family Counseling Ministries -

Actors in a play depend upon stagehands to place all the necessary props in the right places. Setting the stage in accordance with the Director’s instructions is vitally important to the success of the play. Likewise, we must prepare the setting when conflict arises between husbands and wives, in order to handle in it a biblical manner.

A wise approach to this process is for both marriage partners to commit before God and one another, to strive to keep all lines of communication between them open. Husbands and wives should draw up guidelines that will help them stay on course.


If, for example, their marital disagreements tend to grow steadily louder until they find themselves shouting instead of talking, one of them should ask, “Why are we yelling?” Such a reminder helps tone down the intensity without accusing the one who is yelling the loudest.


It is important to make a solid commitment to one another that no matter how heated the conflict may become, neither spouse will leave the room or clam up to begin the silent treatment. We must remember that our goal is to solve the problem and reestablish marital harmony. We never accomplish anything positive by storming out or refusing to talk.

Marriage partners should agree, if necessary, to disagree. Although we both want to reach a solution that is mutually satisfying and acceptable, situations will occur wherein we perceive an issue from two very differing points of view. There is wisdom in the adage, “When two people in a marriage agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.” Both opinions are valid. God’s Word teaches us that love has good manners. We ought to hear each other out courteously, with an open mind and an open heart.

Husbands and wives should never argue in front of other people. Family members and friends feel awkward and uncomfortable when they are drawn into our bickering and disagreements. Young children do not have the emotional maturity to handle hearing their parents air their conflicts. They feel insecure and fearful when they are forced to be unwilling witnesses to their parents’ disagreements.


When the need arises to discuss marital problems, marriage partners should find a private place that is as free as possible from distractions. Then they should give one another the gift of their undivided and focused attention. A blaring TV or a persistently ringing phone significantly diminishes our ability to get to the bottom of the problem and find a workable solution.


Finally, God commands us to deal with conflicts on the same day that they occur. Both spouses should agree upon the meeting, and the time should be as soon as possible. The writer of Ephesians 4:26 instructs us,

In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.

Sometimes it feels great to pout and wallow in the mire of self-pity. We tell ourselves,

I need a little time to nurse my wounds. Then I’ll make it right.

When we ignore God’s command to reconcile quickly, bitterness and resentment creep into the marriage relationship. We, thereby, give the Enemy of our faith undue opportunity to steal and destroy.

God reminds us in Psalm 103:14 that He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust. We must be determined, by His grace, not to let the dust settle before we set the stage for working out a biblical solution to our marital disharmony.


Dr. Don Dunlap, a pioneer in the placement of Pastoral Counselors in the offices of Christian physicians, has conducted over twenty thousand appointments during his ministerial career. His counseling practice includes adults, children and families in crisis. Dr. Dunlap is committed to facilitating a network of telephone counselors. His goal is to provide help for the many people unable to meet face to face with a competent Bible-based counselor. For a complete library of Dr. Dunlap’s articles, indexed by topic, go to Family Counseling Ministries. You may also make an appointment for personal telephone counseling by clicking on Family Counseling Ministries. Family Counseling Ministries is a ministry Partner.

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