January 25, 2015

Singles: Your Feelings Don’t Matter Half as Much as This

Gary Thomas — 

Your Feelings Dont Matter Half as Much as This finalIf you jump in water, you’re going to get wet. If you watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you’re going to hear someone say, “I just need to explore my feelings for him/her…”

No, you don’t.

Exploring your feelings is sort of like checking out the tide—it changes throughout the day, and what it is now, isn’t what it’ll be twelve hours from now and certainly isn’t what it’ll be twelve years from now.

The more I study marriage, talk to couples, and read about marriage, the more convinced I am that far more important than your feelings is your boyfriend or girlfriend’s ability to manage conflict. (This is relevant for married couples too; if you’re married, please keep reading.)

I’m not overstating this.

Your future partner’s ability to handle conflict will have far more impact on your satisfaction in marriage than your current level of feelings. I’m not suggesting that you should marry someone for whom you feel nothing; I am suggesting that it’s foolish to marry someone who is immature about handling conflict even if your feelings are “through the roof” positive. If you marry such a person, those feelings will turn negative faster than you can believe.

Conflict can be a wonderful thing or a destructive thing. It’s not the case that the best couples have no conflict. That’s foolish. No conflict probably means someone is burying who they really are. That’s not healthy and it eventually leads to feelings of resentment, bitterness, or feeling dominated and controlled.

No, the “best” couples are those who come out of conflict closer together rather than more estranged. It’s not whether they enter the fight, but how they come out of it that determines the strength of their relationship.

You can’t get to intimacy without going through conflict. If unhealthy patterns of conflict keep pushing you back, you’ll never arrive at a satisfying relationship. Your feelings could be 12 on a scale of one to ten, but if either one of you is immature with conflict, that “12” is quickly going to become “1/2”.  That’s within months of being married, by the way, not years.

Two major concerns related to conflict are stonewalling (the silent treatment) and violence. If someone can’t handle heated emotions without getting physical, they’re simply not ready for marriage, period. And if they don’t want to engage in conflict and respond with stonewalling, they’re not ready for marriage. They can date and have friends, but they shouldn’t get married. It’s not what they really want—being vulnerable and accepted, knowing and accepting in return. At least, not yet.

A third concern, however, is spiritual myopia—entering conflict to win and prove the other person wrong rather than exploring the sin in your own heart. A healthy Christian asks himself or herself, “Which one of my buttons are being pushed right now? What deep-seated insecurities is this conflict spot-lighting?” If a person won’t go there and explore this, conflict will tear you apart as a couple. If you will go there, it will build you up as a Christian and as a couple.

Two key biblical passages are essential for this approach:

Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

James 4:1-2 “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.”

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If I was single, rather than “exploring my feelings” for someone, I’d explore how they handle conflict. Will they go to Matthew 7 and James 4? Or do they want to just sit and fight it out? Arguing when passions are high is stupid and rarely productive. Your brain is in an entirely wrong mode for reflection and spiritual growth. Get away from each other, force yourself to personally and prayerfully go through Matthew 7 and James 4 and then come back together and talk it out.

If a person won’t do that, then I’d say, “Okay, I need to find someone else.” If I know conflict is inevitable, and this person doesn’t have a commitment to scriptural living in the face of conflict, that tells me they think Scripture is irrelevant, out of date, or of no concern to them. I’d prefer to base the future of my marriage on Scripture being true and helpful. I wouldn’t want to marry someone who disagrees with that.

Singles, there are only a few issues for which I’d be this rigid. I’ve seen couples overcome pasts of sexual promiscuity and still have intimate marriages and a very satisfying time in the bedroom. I’ve seen couples who seem like exact opposites still enjoy each other and have fun with each other. I’ve seen couples from two entirely different backgrounds mix two different pasts with great passion to create a great future. But I’ve never seen—and don’t think I ever will—a couple who can’t handle conflict have a decent marriage, much less an intimate, satisfying one.

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7 responses to Singles: Your Feelings Don’t Matter Half as Much as This

  1. I was just praying yesterday for God to send me a man who will be open to listening to Him when he hurts me; who will be open to allowing God to change him.
    I was married to a man who was so insecure that he defended immediately when faced with conflict and then wanted to be right so bad that he (and I) would fight until we were both bloodied emotionally. I fell into the trap of entering into the arguments until the last 2 years. Now I certainly know what to look for, but thank you Gary for pinpointing this so well!
    My sister is a counselor and has been teaching me that the only way to intimacy is through the door of conflict, but I would like to revise it a little after reading this article and say, “the only way to intimacy is through the door of healthy resolved conflict”.

  2. Well said. Communication and resolving conflict are very important as is how well you work together when something new arises, be it health concerns, changes in jobs, etc.

  3. More hard stuff no one wants to hear, but I’m sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity, and praying they WILL hear anyway… and make the wise choices that don’t feel good now, but do later.

  4. Finalizing divorce with spouse who turned every little disagreement into a death match. Even abject apologies would not suffice or mitigate her anger. It was like receiving a death sentence for a parking violation every time. Any attempt to discuss the issue was perceived by her as me being “manipulative”, so she just wouldn’t engage in a resolution talk. Handed me a death sentence, then shut me out. I still have love for her, but couldn’t bear the conflicts.

    • Read Love & Respect. Don’t get divorced – and spend time with Jesus. He can and will heal your marriage.

  5. So very true – great and wise words of wisdom!

  6. Great insight..wow.