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Facing Conflict

with Jim Burns | January 16, 2019

Every couple will have conflict. But it's how they handle that conflict that makes all the difference. Author Jim Burns explains that fear is often hiding behind our defensiveness. He feared that his wife wouldn't like him, for example, and his wife, Kathy, often feared Jim would leave her. But once you realize your fears, you can face them and handle conflict better. In some cases, a couple might have to agree to disagree, and that's okay.

Every couple will have conflict. But it's how they handle that conflict that makes all the difference. Author Jim Burns explains that fear is often hiding behind our defensiveness. He feared that his wife wouldn't like him, for example, and his wife, Kathy, often feared Jim would leave her. But once you realize your fears, you can face them and handle conflict better. In some cases, a couple might have to agree to disagree, and that's okay.

Facing Conflict

With Jim Burns
|
January 16, 2019
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 16th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.

So, would you say you have a good theology of sexuality—

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—or is that an issue in your marriage? We’ll talk more about how we think rightly about marital intimacy, with our guest today, Jim Burns. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.

I think a lot of young couples, when they get married, there’s this thought that one of the reasons they’re going to be a great couple is because they never fight, you know, during their courtship, during their dating. They just never have had any conflict, and they think this is how it’s going to be for the rest of their marriage.

We’d just like to say to them, “Wake up,” right?

[Laughter]

 

Dennis:  I actually know a couple who had been married over four decades and who boasted they’d never had a fight. I actually had the thought, “I feel sorry for you.”

Bob:  You took their pulse to see if they’re still alive?

2:00

 

Dennis:  Well, it’s like, you know, in a relationship, you marry someone who has a different view of life, a different perspective, different personality, and if you’ve never rubbed one another the wrong way or disappointed each other, then where are the expectations in the relationship?

The guy across the table from me, who’s nodding his head, is the author of The First Few Years of Marriage, Jim Burns. You agree, Jim?

Jim:  I totally agree. In fact, I think you become intimate by, sometimes, fighting.

Dennis:  Arguing.

Jim:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  Spirited discussion.

Jim:  Sure.

Dennis:  That’s what we called it with our kids, when they would look up at us and go, “I think Mom and Dad are getting a little hot here with each other.”

“Okay, kids. It’s okay. We’re committed for a lifetime; we’re not going anywhere. We’re just having a little stimulating conversation.”

Jim:  And by the way, that’s a good thing to say in parenting. You need to be able to role model that, because if they never see you have those spirited conversations, then they’re thinking when they get married that that’s not going to happen. That happened in my life.

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My parents never argued, or at least they never argued in front of me. So when Kathy and I got married and we had arguments and we had spirited discussions, I thought, “Something’s really wrong with her,” because of course I thought I was okay.

Dennis:  And then if they ramp up, and scale up to a real intense heat, you need to reschedule the discussion to a private spot.

Bob:  Here’s the thing. A lot of people, when they have conflict in marriage, their first conclusion is, “I’ve selected the wrong person. If I had selected the right person, it would be a conflict-free marriage.”

In your book, The First Few Years of Marriage, that Dennis mentioned, that you wrote with Doug Fields, one of the eight ways to strengthen your “I do” that you talk about in your book is to learn how to have healthy conflict.

Jim:  And healthy conflict is not something that’s negative; it’s actually very positive. You are going to disagree. What we had to feel and look at in our own lives was, “What are some of those fears that cause us to get defensive?” I would say both Kathy and I, one of the biggest issues was that we were getting defensive.

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Bob:  Mm-hmm.

Jim:  And the defensiveness said, for me, the fear that I had was that “she won’t like me.” Why? I don’t know, but that’s what my issue was. With Kathy it was, “Is Jim going to leave me?” You know, we talked about the fact that, you know, if you talk about divorce, then there’s that fear factor. So Kathy had a fear that I would leave, so we would get defensive, go back and forth.

Well, we had to find out that those were our fears, so we had to face through those fears and work past that, and realize that there’s a positive way to do conflict and there’s a negative way to do conflict. The positive way says, “Let’s look at this conflict and let’s handle it together.” The negative way is to be defensive, and then we have a little conflict dance where it just continues to go from defensiveness to resentment, bitterness, and the next thing you know you don’t even like that person—

Dennis:  Right.

Jim:  —when you really started on a bad way by going negative, but you can have positive conflict. People don’t think those two words go together, but they do.

Bob:  Yes. This is something that you know we talk [about] at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, about conflict and healthy conflict, and the question is not, “How do we keep from having conflict in marriage?”—

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—but, “What do we do when conflict arises? How can we maintain our oneness in marriage when we’re at odds with one another on sometimes unimportant things, sometimes significant things?”

I want to remind our listeners about the special offer we’re making this week for listeners to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We have about 60 getaways happening this spring in cities all across the country. If you register for a getaway this week, you can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. You and your spouse can attend for half-price. Now again, there’s a limit on this; the offer is good this week and next week only, so we need for you to sign up.

Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, get the information you need about when a getaway is going to be in a city where you live or a city you’d like to visit, and then block out that weekend on your calendar and join us for a fun and relaxing, romantic, two-and-a-half day getaway for couples, where you can focus on one another and learn more about—

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—what the Bible has to say about things like resolving conflict, and intimacy in marriage, and a whole wide variety of subjects that make up a healthy, strong, vibrant marriage relationship.

Again, you can find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com, or if you have any questions about the getaway, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and we can answer any questions you have.

Dennis:  Jim, you’re working with hundreds of college students at Azusa Pacific University there in southern California.

Jim:  Yes.

Dennis:  Specifically conflict—what are you seeing in them around that?

Jim:  Yes. No, I think that a lot of these people think that when they get married they’re not going to conflict, and they weren’t taught how to have good conflict, and maybe they didn’t have healthy role models. Now again, most of these young people are people who are coming out of Christian homes. So again, I think it goes back to us teaching them how to have healthy conflict.

But I would say the millennial crowd, and Gen Z right behind them…it’s funny when you look at them, because we have all these fears about them, but one of the number one things that they always want—they do it later in life—

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—is they want a good marriage, and they want to be good parents. So I think they’re really teachable. So I find that they’re very open to learning about relationships.

Bob:  One of the things that we say as we teach on conflict at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways that we do is that conflict is common to all marriages. The issue is not, “How do you not have conflict,” the issue is, “How do you respond when you do have conflict?”

You know, the Bible teaches us what to do in resolving conflict. It says, “If possible as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” We’re supposed to work this out, but we have to kind of dig behind the emotions we’re feeling and get to, “What are the core issues that are going on that are feeding this conflict?”

And then, when we do disagree—and we will disagree about things—are we disagreeing about things that are really important, or are we disagreeing about things where we can think differently and that’s okay?

Jim:  We have to agree to disagree, many times. I find with Kathy—it’s funny. I mean, my background is education, her background is education, too.

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She and I looked at the kids’ education differently, and that caused conflict for us. Finally I went, “Wait. She’s doing a really good job. I wouldn’t do it that way, but she’s doing a really good job, kind of leading the way with some of this education.” So I kind of went, “You know what? I’m not going to play passive aggressive; I’m just going to let her lead, and I’m going to follow in this instance. I’m not going to pout or back up.”

Guess what? You know, our kids have gotten great degrees, they are wonderful people, and Kathy did a great job—still, today, not the way I would have done it.

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  One of the things that Barbara and I argue about or we have conflict about is, neither one of us likes to be wrong.

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  Now, the issue, who does like to be wrong?

[Laughter]

 

Bob:  Right!

Dennis:  Okay, so let’s get honest there. But, nonetheless, you have to remain teachable. If you want to do an interesting word study in the book of Proverbs, go all the way through and take the word “listen,” and listen to who the author of Proverbs challenges us to listen to. You listen to the voice of wisdom (which is God), you listen to your father—

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—who’s in authority over you as a child, you listen with a teachable spirit to those you go to church with—it doesn’t mention church in there, but it’s talking about having wise counsel around you.

But the issue of resolving conflict, I think—and this is one of the big issues Barbara and I talk about—it demands a teachable spirit. If you’re not teachable, that can be the death of a marriage.

Bob:  So, if you’re sitting down with a couple in the first year of marriage and they just say, “Jim, we got blind-sided by this, but we find ourselves in conflict regularly. We are separating, I’m sleeping on the couch, we can’t seem to fix this. We see things so differently. We never saw this coming. Do we sign up for marriage counseling? What do we do to try to fix this situation?”

Jim:  Learning how to communicate more effectively is a learned trait. So, go to marriage counseling if marriage counseling’s going to help. Be in a small group. Go through a book with videos, if that’s going to be the case. Definitely spend—I tell people every time I’m speaking on marriage, I say, you know—

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—“Go to one conference a year, read one book a year.” I mean, they do it for business, why wouldn’t they do it in this world? So, do everything you can to learn how to communicate more effectively, because part of learning how to communicate effectively is realizing that you are going to agree to disagree, and it just—you know, we have a phrase in the book The First Years of Marriage where we say, “Does it really matter?”

Bob:  Right.

Jim:  Well, most stuff doesn’t matter.

Bob:  Yes.

Jim:  I know in my own life there are times when I’ve walked out of the room or I was going to work or whatever, and I’m like, “Does it really matter? Well, I guess it really doesn’t matter.” Now, if it matters, you’re going to have to have the fight. Nobody wants to have this “spirited discussion” that Dennis used; nobody wants to have that, but sometimes you must have it to get through it.

So, many times I think you just have to say, you know, “Does it really matter?”

Dennis:  Jim, all this week as you’ve talked about and coached couples who are starting out their marriage together, you have repeatedly mentioned small groups.

Jim:  Yes.

Dennis:  I just want you to underscore the importance for a young couple starting out—

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—the importance of being in a group of peers, but also being in a group that perhaps has a mentor that can coach you and call you up and maybe confront bad habits as they start, and prevent them from becoming a cancer in the relationship.

Jim:  Right. You know, if somebody said to me, “I’m getting married; what do you suggest?” I probably wouldn’t say to them, “Here, go read this book or read that book.” I’d say, “Do you have mentors, and do you have a small group?”

You know, the Bible says, “Where there is no counsel the people fall, but in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” I think that in a small group setting, where we kind of share life together, that’s where it works. I find that this generation of younger people who are getting married, they get, again, so busy that they don’t put the time in with the small group.

Kathy and I were in a group for about seven years, a couples group. We leaned on each other, our kids were about the same age, and we would talk about kid stuff, we would talk about marriage stuff—

Dennis:  And you would talk about conflict.

Jim:  Exactly! And you know what?

12:00

 

Instead of people sometimes saying, “Oh, I have an answer for you,” they’d laugh and go, “That’s our problem, too,” and I’d walk out going, “Hallelujah! Somebody else has the same problem.”

Dennis:  It takes the pressure off of it, to know that other people struggle in the same area, because I think sometimes we’ll get isolated, and we think we’re the only people on the planet that struggle in this way. We look at church and we think, “I’ll bet Jim Burns and Kathy, I bet they don’t struggle there.”

Jim:  Exactly. Our pastor, not too long ago, I was sitting next to his wife, and my wife was on the other side, and I was going to speak that day. He got up and said something, “We have Jim coming, he’s going to be talking on marriage.” He said, “We got in the biggest fight…” I leaned over to his wife, as she was saying, “I’m so mad that he just said that in church,” you know, kind of messing around, and I said, “The rise of marriage counseling this week is going to go crazy for him.”

Later on, it did. Why? Because he was transparent. He was open and honest and vulnerable about it.

But, going back to the idea of accepting conflict, once a couple can accept that there’s going to be conflict, then they can work through it, but oftentimes it’s better in a small group. I’ve been in a group for 16 years with five men.

13:00

 

Well, you know, at first we talked about sports and politics, because that’s what guys do. Then one day one of the guys said, “You know, I’m struggling in my marriage.” He opened up his life to us, and we all jumped in. So today I’m a better husband and a better father because of those guys.

Dennis:  Right.

Jim:  Honestly, if I was in trouble or if they were in trouble we would stop what we’re doing, if—you know, I’m here in Little Rock today, but if I was in trouble, those guys would fly and come and get me, whatever it is, because of the depth of relationship.

I don’t find that people in their younger marriage put that kind of energy into it. And Kathy did a little bit, but that’s what I think couples need today and couples really want, but again, that takes time and intentionality.

Bob:  Can we talk about something that I think most newly married couples think is going to be the easiest part of their marriage, and probably most couples getting married today it’s something they’ve already experienced, sexual intimacy. They get into the first few years of marriage, and they go, “Why is this not the easiest thing?

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“Why are we having issues here?” They’re not going to go tell their friends, “Hey, we’re struggling in this area of our marriage,” because that just feels too embarrassing.

Jim:  I hope that they would get the kind of help, because there is help in that.

Bob:  Sure.

Jim:  But you’re right, most don’t. Well, you know, the fact is that so many couples—you mentioned this—so many couples start out probably on the wrong spot, but there is redemption, and people can make changes. But one of the things about sexual intimacy is that sometimes we don’t really understand that word. Intimacy, again, means connection. So, what I have to tell young couples all the time is, before sexual intimacy there has to be emotional intimacy. Sometimes men don’t understand that, especially.

You develop a physical intimacy. I know in Kathy’s and my 44 years, some of the sparks from the beginning aren’t always there, but it’s better, because we’ve developed this incredible relationship of communication, and there’s a beauty to it. But we also had to get some of the things even out of our heads.

15:00

 

Now, remember, both of us weren’t raised in Christian homes. But there are people who I know who are raised in Christian homes also… We even had this in our head—we had to get some of those tapes out of our head. You know, “Sex is dirty, rotten, horrible, so save it for the one you love.” What is it all about? But, you know, I’d talked to somebody who’d been married 40 years, still had struggles with this.

I think we need a theology of healthy sexuality.

Bob:  Yes.

Jim:  So, the word “theology”; what does it mean? The study of God. A theology of healthy sexuality means that, you know, God created sex. He sees it as good in the context of marriage. Our sexuality is a gift from God.

So when we begin to understand that and explore the part of the beauty of intimacy and not just the technique—because many people have been raised with this. A lot of these younger folks, too, have been raised with pornography. So, because pornography is now so prevalent in the culture, the first act of sexuality isn’t something kind of goofy that happens on your honeymoon; it’s imitating the “art” of what they saw with pornography. There’s a lot of disappointment.

16:00

 

So we have to help them really understand what it means to have a purity of heart and accept the beauty of God’s creation; a man will leave his father and mother, be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. That’s Matthew 19:4-6. Jesus is talking about sexuality there.

Bob:  Yes. Help a couple who may not have ever addressed sexual sins of the past, prior to marriage, whether it was pornography or other partners of them being sexually active outside of marriage. If those things go unaddressed, if couples don’t deal with the fact that “we made some bad decisions here and we need to confess this before God and need to seek forgiveness from one another,” that can sow seeds in a marriage that undermine their sexual relationship.

Jim:  Yes, it really does. I agree with you, Bob. I think that partly, when you’re looking at even pre-marriage counseling and pre-marriage education, we have to be able to help them kind of unload that.

17:00

 

What I heard you say is that they’re bringing a lot of baggage into a relationship.

Bob:  Yes.

Jim:  You want every person—I wrote a book years ago called The Purity Code. It says, “In honor of God, my family, my future spouse, I commit to sexual purity.” How great is that? But everybody’s not going to do that. But, for those who do that, they have a lot less baggage coming in. For those who you mentioned, I think you get help before you get married, and then if it’s the issue while you’re in those first few years, work through those issues.

Is it easy? No! Is it sometimes complicated? Is it sometimes embarrassing? Yes, but there are people who can help them work through the issues with a whole lot of grace and redemption. I just imagine that there’s a healing process that can take place, and I see it all the time.

Bob:  Talk about those couples who were raised in a Christian home, heard the purity challenge, wore the ring, and saved themselves for marriage, and thought, “Because I did this, now I’m going to have a magnificent sex life in marriage,” and they go, “That didn’t happen the way I thought it was going to.”

Jim:  Right. I hear that a lot, too.

18:00

 

But again, at the same time, I think it’s partly our job as people who are going to speak to this subject to say it may not work exactly like you thought it was going to work, so let’s have the conversation of, “How do we go through the process, a lifelong process, of developing the physical intimacy?” Sometimes we have to go back to whatever we heard, because maybe we heard a message, but it was the wrong message, or it was very guilt-producing, or whatever.

So we have to help them unpack that message that they thought they heard. Because the message, the God-honoring message, is a beautiful message.

Dennis:  Sex thrives in the midst of a relationship that’s safe, where two people trust one another. Bob mentioned one way of dealing with things that we bring into the marriage, dealing with the past issues; but there’s another way we build trust, and that’s by building guardrails at the top of the cliff.

Jim:  Yes. Yes.

Dennis:  I want to know, what guardrails have you established to keep you from the bottom of the cliff, from running off the road—

19:00

 

—and into the arms of another woman and destroying your trust with Kathy? I’m talking about practically.

Bob:  You’re talking about the Billy Graham/Pence rule kind of stuff? Is that what you’re asking about?

Dennis:  Exactly. I want to know what you’ve worked out with Kathy so that she really trusts you implicitly.

Jim:  There’s a number of things, and actually the Billy Graham/Pence rule, which I knew as the Billy Graham rule before I knew it as the Mike Pence rule, I think that’s a great rule. I’m shocked—

Dennis:  And that is…? Just in case somebody doesn’t know?

Jim:  And basically that is, for me personally—you asked me personally—so, I never travel with a woman on the other side; we’re not even in the same plane. I’m not in a car; when I come to get picked up, I don’t have a woman pick me up. That’s not because I can’t have a nice relationship with the opposite sex, just simply more the appearance.

Dennis:  How about lunch? Having lunch?

Jim:  Lunch? No lunch, no coffees.

Dennis:  Dinner?

Jim:  No dinners. What we do at home, if I’m going to meet with the opposite sex, a woman, we have—my office has a big window, so the whole thing is a window, glass door, and somebody else has to be there.

20:00

 

So I wouldn’t take a late appointment with a woman, because I’m not going to be there by myself.

Now, the other part of it is I have to start thinking in my own mind as well and saying this to Kathy; but, you know, if I start dressing not for Kathy, but for somebody else—

Dennis:  Ah! Good, I like that.

Jim:  —or if I hear myself sharing something that’s really kind of secretive or intimate to somebody else and not to Kathy, then I know I’m stepping over.

But I find that when I build those guardrails, if you would, when I build the guardrails, if I step over guardrails that are actually quite conservative, but if I step over those guardrails, that doesn’t mean I’m on my way to have an affair that day; what it says is that if I step over those guardrails and I’ve already said to Kathy, “I don’t do that,” I need to have a conversation with her.

Again, I say this, and just recently a woman picked me up instead of—the husband couldn’t come. She by no means—I mean, we say this, we’re so clear. So I just picked up the phone and called Kathy and said, “Hi, I got picked up. So-and-so—” and I explained what was going on, without her really understanding it. I didn’t want to throw her under the bus.

21:00

 

I just simply was polite and said, “Hey, the next time I’d like to have somebody else take me back.” And again, no offense to that woman. So I think we have to be careful; I mean, I wasn’t going to say, “I’m not getting in the car with you.” There are people who would do that, and I respect that. But I think we have to have those guardrails, and my guardrails are very tight.

Now, at the same time, I have to be in a small group where I’m asking tough questions. I’m in a situation with a group of men where we say, “Have you done anything inappropriate, even in your mind?” We didn’t start with that, and then we kind of moved to the mind. So that makes for a very interesting conversation. But I feel loved and cared for by those guys, and I think I’m making decisions not just for my love for Kathy and my love for God, but sometimes it’s because I don’t want those guys hassling me.

Now, can you lie? Sure. I’ve been in relationships with people who lied through it. They were doing the same kind of thing I’m doing (I thought), and then they lied through it. We’ve had another big fall here in the states recently with someone who I adore and admire and respect and have spent a lot of time with. I went, “What? What happened there?” So, can you fake it? Sure.

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But I think the more you talk about it, the more you build those beautiful guardrails, it does two things. One, it keeps you from making a poor choice, but it also gives your spouse a lot of confidence.

Dennis:  Yes.

Jim:  I mean, Kathy Burns has confidence in me. Early on, I think she had more jealousy. We were young, and she wondered. But I don’t think she has that as much now, because she’s seen that we’ve built really healthy guardrails.

Dennis:  Thanks for remaining faithful and being God’s man, both in public and in private.

Bob:  Yes.

Jim:  Thank you.

Dennis:  We appreciate you.

Jim:  Thank you for what you guys do. I love and adore what you do, and I’m sending people all the time to Weekend to Remember, because it’s a great program. Thanks.

Bob:  Well, and you heard me say earlier that if you want to attend one of our spring getaways, or if you just want to let your friends know about the upcoming spring getaways, this week and next week they can register and save 50 percent off the regular rate. This is an offer we’re making for our FamilyLife Today listeners, and it’s available, again, this week and next week. You can sign up for any of the upcoming getaways. We have about 60 of them happening this spring.

23:00

 

Out where you live, in southern California, there are three or four getaways happening there.

So, again, if you want to know where the getaway is coming to a city near where you live or a city you’d like to visit this spring, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to get more information about the Weekend to Remember. Of course, if you register this week or next week you save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.

We also have, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, information about the book we’ve been talking about, The First Few Years of Marriage by Jim Burns and Doug Fields. You can order the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order. 1-800-FLTODAY is the number. Again, the book is called The First Few Years of Marriage: Eight Ways to Strengthen Your “I Do”. This would be a great anniversary gift to a couple you know who are in the first few years of marriage. Get more information at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-FLTODAY.

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Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about the reality of spiritual warfare when it comes to marriage. Is it possible your marriage is under spiritual attack? The answer is yes, it is under spiritual attack, and we’re going to talk more about how we recognize that, and how we do battle on behalf of our marriage, with our guest, Tim Muelhoff, who will join us tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

 

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