This morning, down in the privacy of the shed, David and I had a terrific fight. “Terrific” as in fiery, with vocal onslaughts from both sides — pointing, blaming, raging and storming away. We didn’t resort to expletives, but I knew I had them rolling around on my tongue but couldn’t find the courage to spit them out.

There was no physical violence. I really wanted to break something, but I was holding our digital SLR camera (that cost as much as a small car) and a precious coffee mug that a friend had sent me from America.

Aargh, my anger boiled and I (pragmatically) decided to sacrifice my mug in an attempt to appropriately express my displeasure. Miraculously, it survived my hissy fit, landing safely on the grass on the side of the driveway instead of smashing on the concrete.

I didn’t know that at the time. I stomped back up to the house — already mourning my coffee mug — without really thinking about the damage I was doing to my relationship with David.

When you’ve been married to someone for almost thirteen years, you can start to take them for granted. And sometimes you give up on the common courtesies that you would extend to any work colleague, friend or even acquaintance. Insult me, and I’ll probably laugh it off. But if I’m married to you and love you more than any other, I find it harder to let things slide.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Honestly, I have a really difficult time working with David. We have a home-based business, selling floorcoverings, and I’ve always managed the website, marketing and paperwork. However, all my efforts have been driven by David.

I’ve seen families where the husband and wife work terrifically as a team. They love spending time together; they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses; they are enthusiastic and united.

But not us. When it comes to DFF, I experience a real inertia, finding it hard to drum up enthusiasm for the very thing that supports our lifestyle, our adventures with our children. (Seriously, I would rather deal with a two-year-old’s misplaced poo than respond to a request from David to simply put something online!)

Those who know me well (or who taught me or parented me) can probably point out the key character faults that make me a difficult employee. And my immediate supervisors back in the good, ol’ days of paid employment could probably write reams on the subject. (But I’m working on improving, truly.)

And so it’s almost inevitable that when David’s pleas finally break through my selfish barriers, and I go down to the shed to reluctantly fulfill my duty, we have words. Unkind words. Selfish words. Angry words. And even if we’re not fighting, per se, you can tell that I’m fuming. My jaw clenches, I answer questions with as few words as possible. A child tries to climb into my lap, and I bark, “Go away!”

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

A couple of years ago, I was studying through a series of emotions with some women. When we reached the emotion “Anger”, I honestly could not think of anything that made me feel angry. As the others revealed that they raged or retreated behind the barrier of the “silent treatment”, my chest swelled with pride. My conclusion was that I didn’t have a problem with anger.

And then the following week — whammo! I was hit with a series of circumstances that left me boiling. Aargh, the kids! That husband of mine! Oh, and that bureaucracy! It all drove me crazy and made me fume.

When I stopped to think about it, I discovered that the reason I believed I didn’t have a problem with anger is that I deal with it so that it passes quickly, and I’m back to where I started: enthusiastic, a little lazy, pragmatic and serene.

What I don’t see clearly is that although the anger passes through me quickly, it often exits via my mouth, and I leave verbal wounds that heal more slowly. Almost as bad is my other favourite strategy — one of avoidance (“don’t talk to me about it right now”) that means the original problem is never dealt with.

This morning, after our argument, in the space of two of the baby’s feeds (my day is marked by breastfeeds instead of by hours), I had healed and moved on past my anger. I approached David with a peace offering (lunch) and asked for his forgiveness.

But it took him longer to feel like we were friends again. I was happy to kiss and make up over the tuna and tabbouleh sandwich, but his wounds were still smarting. My mind had already moved on to the other items on today’s mental agenda, but David walked gingerly around me, subdued and withdrawn.

Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker (which is not as Grishamy as it sounds) provides a helpful overview of conflicts that allow us to analyse ourselves (and our conflicts) within a Biblical framework. Dealing with the heart of a conflict is the first step in resolution.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Conflicts arise from unmet desires in our hearts. When we feel we cannot be satisfied unless we have something we want or think we need, the desire turns into a demand. If someone fails to meet that desire, we condemn him in our heart and quarrel and fight to get our way. In short, conflict arises when desires grow into demands and we judge and punish those who get in our way. Sande’s book looks more closely at the progression towards conflict.

In dealing with conflicts and anger, here are some plagiarised tips that will help you move towards a Biblical resolution:

  • Define the problem and stick to the issue. Clearly define the issue and stay on topic during the discussion. Conflict deteriorates when the issue that started the conflict gets lost in angry words, past issues, or hurts tossed into the mix.
  • Pursue purity of heart. First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Before approaching others regarding their faults and shortcomings, prayerfully face up to your own. Confess any way you might have contributed to the problem.
  • Plan a time for the discussion. Plan a time to meet with the other person when you are both rested and likely to respond in love to the other person’s concerns. When you are tired, stressed, and distracted with other responsibilities, things rarely will go well. (This does not mean you should use this point as justification for avoiding the discussion.)
  • Affirm the relationship. Do this first before clearly defining the problem. For example, “Our relationship is important to me. But when you don’t return my calls, I feel rejected and unimportant.” Avoid blaming the other person and saying, “You make me feel…” Instead, say, “When you do ‘A’, I feel ‘B’.”
  • Listen carefully. Once you share your feelings, listen to the other person’s perspective. Lean in; be present. “One of the most powerful communication techniques I know is to listen well,” points out Sande. Make sure your body language conveys that you are open to the other’s perspective. Reflect back to the individual what you believe you have heard. For example, “I heard you say that you feel expectations from me. Is that correct?”
  • Forgive. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. “Forgiveness is both an event and a process,” Sande says.
  • Propose a solution. Remember the relationship is more important than the issue. When working toward a solution, consider this: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Seek solutions that keep everyone’s best interests in mind.

Over the years, I’ve been able to work through these principles to pursue reconciliation with David especially. Even if your conflict isn’t a big deal and you know that your argument will pass quickly, learn and practice these principles as a matter of devotion.

I’ve always believed that deliberate forgiveness is the hardest step in reconcilation. I am still working on forgiving people who hurt me many years ago, and one day I hope to say that I have fully done so by giving up the right to hurt someone as I have been hurt. In a similar vein, Sande describes forgiveness as a decision to make four promises:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

Yeah. So that was my day. And that’s my heart at the moment. How are you doing?