You know what it says because you’ve read it before. It deserves to be parsed in conjunction with the topics spawned by Elspeth’s claim that men should just ignore the wife’s expressions of discontentment because she’ll get over it. That led to some back and forth about conversational dynamics in marriage, especially focused on what has aptly been termed, emotional terrorism.
Greg Smalley of FotF has something to say about turning that maelstrom of emotion into a calm spring day in a daisy field. He explains how fighting can save your marriage.
Healthy conflict can be a doorway to deeper intimacy. It can facilitate communication, understanding, trust and respect if we choose to manage our differences and disagreements in nourishing ways. I hope you’ll realize that healthy conflict is a way to discover your spouse’s most important feelings and needs. [emphasis mine]
This puts FotF at odds with Elspeth. She says ignore them [feelings], they say mine them for treasure. It wouldn’t be a Christian argument advice piece if it didn’t also include:
do what Jesus himself recommended: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). The key to moving from unhealthy conflict to healthy conflict is to first get the log out of your own eye so that instead of simply reacting, you can thoughtfully respond to your spouse in a productive, Christ-like way.
These pat formulaic solutions work perfectly in a fictionalized account where the argument is about a binary decision, where its go vs no-go, yes vs no, up vs down, spend vs don’t spend. These fictional dialogs omit the real problem though. Whether it is a binary argument, or , the more likely stealth emotional attack out of nowhere, fictional dialogs are too simplistic which is sadly congruent with most forms of Christian fiction. Remember the faux situations one ministry leader said he placed before his children to teach them how to react? Same flavor.
While still pat, the four steps he lists for having productive conflict are not terrible. In the last two he recommends that each person, while alone, name their feelings then ask for divine guidance as to their validity.
Name what you are feeling (I feel . . . unloved, disrespected, worthless, controlled, unimportant, etc.) and notice how it calms you. Do this during your timeout.
Pray. Ask God to reveal what is true about your feelings and what is true about your spouse.
I’ve never seen it suggested that anyone really self examine. Rather, advice normally runs along the lines of validating every feeling. This is so out of phase that I cannot help but think he doesn’t really mean it as stated. The emphasized part of the first quote, above, suggests Smalley doesn’t really mean filter feelings. That, or, with deeper examination or under fire from a woman questioning him, he would help her rationalize her way around having to self examine and identify the absurdity of some of her feelings. More importantly, what do you do when the argument is 100% about her feelings and not in any way clearly reconcilable ? The arguments I’ve been describing have nothing to do with any actual decision. They are about women’s innate insecurity and fear coupled with her feelings of moral superiority and the drive she has to manage and change her husband. Like my acquaintance the Dr. of Theology and Psychology said, her wedding day was when her project, fixing her man, was made legit.
Feelings aside, what about some ground rules that focus the discourse? Maybe limiting the talk to the topic, directly, and afford them the right to claim the irrelevance of remarks born of emotion rather than just scoring emotional direct hits would be good advice. Don’t forget that for the past half century when women are asked to pray for guidance, they hear from The Personal Jesus, who is largely a product of their feelings.
The majority of conflicts in marriage are not about binary things. When they are, they can be reconciled by one of three ways…his preference, her preference, or compromise. Discussing those in the context of primacy of feelings is a waste of time. Framing those issues using Matthew 7:5 is fallacious. It doesn’t apply. All that does it allow her to find a way to fault a man in a disagreement about what color to paint a room or something. There is no fault in play. Until this advice creates one.
I’ve shared how during counseling (with a man) a decade ago I refused to participate in the predictable “get you two to communicate” prattle until two binary issues were settled. I didn’t want to go down the prattle path regardless, but I would if I could, for my own sanity, have a reasoned discussion of these handful of binary issues and agreed to accept the counselors rendered solution.
At that point in my marriage we were at max escalation and those couple of things were a daily source of major conflict. So we did it. Very simply and clearly he took my side, meaning he endorsed my opinion of what should happen. He listened to my concise description of the facts. Then he listened to hers. When she finished, not only did he say that my position was the most reasonable, but that buried within her diatribe was a sense of blame, toward me, for every flawed aspect of our relation ship. He asked her, “Mrs. Empath, are you even aware that you circled every issue through all sorts of winding dialog that subtly but clearly laid the problems you two have at your husbands feet.?”
Though we did end up continuing with the guy for quite some time, at that evenings conclusion she fired off, “we will not be headed back to that guy”. Thankfully he was a man who had no tolerance for emotional terrorism. He saw it for what it is. He rebuked it.
Neither that counselor guy nor the psychologist mentioned have a platform from which to share their wisdom. Smalley, FotF, Family Life, etc. they have the platform. And it buttresses the fact that the process of working through problems is more important than the solution, more important than the issue regardless what it is, even more important than the truth. Because the process is where she gets to bring out her toys (feelings) and play.