FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Resolving Conflict, Part 3

with | July 27, 2011
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When conflict happens, forgiveness is a crucial step toward reconciliation in every marriage relationship. Dennis Rainey talks in practical terms about forgiveness and what it looks like.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • When conflict happens, forgiveness is a crucial step toward reconciliation in every marriage relationship. Dennis Rainey talks in practical terms about forgiveness and what it looks like.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

When conflict happens, forgiveness is a crucial step toward reconciliation in every marriage relationship.

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Resolving Conflict, Part 3

July 27, 2011
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Bob:  Forgiveness is a Christian virtue, a Christian grace.  That is the first step in what may be a long process of reconciliation and reestablishing trust.  Here’s Dennis Rainey.

Dennis:  Forgiveness that does not conclude with reconciliation is not true forgiveness at all.  In fact, if this isn’t a part of the process of forgiveness, forgiveness will be robbed of its significance and meaning.  As men, we think that our wives ought to be able to flip a switch like we do and forgive; but it doesn’t work that way.   

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for July 27th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’re going to look today at how we grant forgiveness to another person and how we begin the process of rebuilding trust in a marriage.  Stay tuned.

Welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  There is a lot of cheap, shallow forgiveness.  I don’t even know if you can call it forgiveness—imitation forgiveness that goes on in marriage, don’t you think?

Dennis:  There is.  Frankly, when it occurs, it makes our spouses angry if they sense a lack of sincerity or a true lack of sorrow that we really did hurt them.  I’ll tell you, sometimes, in the midst of life, you’ve just got to get off the merry-go-round, stop everything that’s going on, take your spouse’s face in your hands, and say, “I want you to listen to me for a second.  I really am sorry for….”  Then, spell it out. 

Don’t say, “If I hurt you.”  Don’t say, “If it was wrong.”  Just take responsibility for whatever was your responsibility—

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  —and ask for forgiveness.  Then, get busy rebuilding the bridge.

Bob:  I did not do this well in the early years of my marriage.  There was a lot of, “Well, I’m sorry if I hurt you.”  Well, it was obvious she was hurt.  I mean, the “I’m sorry if I hurt you” was my way of really saying, “Get over it, you over-sensitive person.”  That was really what was behind my statement.  I wasn’t really sorry if I hurt her; I was sorry that she was being so over-sensitive.  It took my wife gently, kindly, lovingly, but firmly saying, “That’s not an apology.”

Dennis:  Mary Ann is not alone in her experience.  I mean, it’s not just you.  I think we grow up developing bad habits, and not all the habits are corrected by our parents.  Not all those corrections are absorbed by us. 

In the process, what I think has to happen in marriage, you have to work through these things.  I think, “Come up with a common vocabulary of words of what it means to forgive—that forgiveness means you give up the right to punish the other person.”

 When you ask for forgiveness, you wait for the other person to absorb your request.  You give them space, perhaps, to not grant forgiveness immediately.  Then, when forgiveness is granted and you move forward, you don’t just run roughshod over the other person and flip a switch, acting like nothing ever happened. 

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  The greater the offense, the more time must elapse before trust can begin to be rebuilt and the relationship can be refreshed.

Bob:  Our listeners today are going to hear you talk about these biblical principles for how we are to resolve conflict.  This is from a recent FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, where you and I were both speaking. 

Our hope is that not only will today’s program help them understand how to resolve conflict in their marriage, but our hope is that they will come out and join us at one of the upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways when it comes to a city near where they live this fall. 

We’re going to be in more than four dozen cities all across the country.  This is a great getaway weekend for couples, where you’ll join with hundreds of other couples from all around your area.  Together, you’ll learn the biblical blueprints for building a stronger marriage.  It’s fun; it’s relaxing; it’s enjoyable.  It is a great tune-up for a marriage relationship.

Dennis:  You don’t have to do anything publicly.  You don’t have to stand up and confess something in front of the whole group.  Also, by the way, you are going to be in a ballroom filled with other couples who have never been to a weekend getaway like this in all their married lives. 

You’ll be with couples who are married, everything from a few hours to 50 or 60 years.  You’ve got people of all ages and all walks of life, facing all kinds of issues.  They’re there to make a good marriage better or to turn a struggling marriage into a hope-filled marriage.

Bob:  You’re not kidding about a few hours, either.  I remember being at a conference where the couple had gotten married at 4:00 that afternoon, and they came straight to the conference.  She was in her wedding dress, and he was in his suit.  I looked at them; and I said, “You know, we’re going until 9:00 or 9:30 tonight.”  I think they left early.  (laughter)

We want to encourage you as a FamilyLife Today listener to join us and to try to do that.  Here’s what we’re doing:  If you will register and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you will save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.  All you have to do is let us know that you listen to FamilyLife Today.  If you register online at, you let us know you listen to FamilyLife Today by typing my name.  Type “BOB” in the online key code box. 

If you register by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY, just say, “I listen to FamilyLife Today, and I want to register as a part of the FamilyLife Today group.”  You’ll save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee. 

If we hear from you before the end of this month, in addition to the savings, we’re going to send you a game for couples called Spouse-ology®.  It’s a fun game that couples can play together to learn more about one another. 

All you have to do is register online at  Type my name, “BOB”, in the key code box.  Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  Register over the phone and mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today.  You’ll save $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.  Again, if we hear from you before the end of the month, we’ll send you the Spouse-ology® game.

At the Weekend to Remember, you’ll hear about improving communication in your marriage.  You’ll learn about God’s purpose and plan for marriage.  You’ll learn about sexual intimacy, the role of a husband, the role of a wife.  You’ll learn about resolving conflict. 

That’s what we’re going to hear today.  We’re going to hear Part Three of a message from the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway on resolving conflict in your marriage.  Here is Dennis Rainey with Part Three of that message.

Dennis:  (recorded message)  Don’t ever accuse your spouse.  Don’t ever do it in public;  but approach confrontation carefully.  Resist the urge, if you are confronted, by the way, to defend, manipulate, or accuse back.  Some of us are attorneys, not by virtue of our career, but in terms of how we approach conflict.  Basically, we think, “If you are going to take me down with evidence, I’m going to pull out the fingerprints and take you down with me.”  That doesn’t build a marriage.  That tears it down.

Agree on the timing of when you will talk about your conflict.  Sometimes, Barbara and I have had to realize we are both too tired, too emotionally-spent to talk about something.  I know what the Bible says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  I believe the Bible is very practical at this point to point us to a time when we can have a discussion so that we don’t fuel additional anger. 

Number One:  “Pray Together.”  Number Two:  “Understand the Anatomy of Anger.”  Number Three:  “Approach It with Loving Confrontation.”  Number Four:  “Forgiveness,” forgiveness.  Ephesians 4:32 follows the verse I read earlier.  “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

The Bible teaches that Christians are responsible to seek and to grant forgiveness.  It is not an option in the Christian faith.  In fact, the Bible is all about forgiveness—God forgiving us so that we can forgive others. 

Now, let me ask you a question, “What does it mean to ask forgiveness of someone?  What does it mean to forgive someone?”  This is very important.  Forgiveness, literally, means we give up the right to punish the other person.  Some of us may say we’ve forgiven, but we’re still holding on and still having the other person in prison.  We have not released them and said to them, “I forgive you.”

Now, in order to grant that, the other person has to come and talk about how they’ve offended.  They have to be specific.  They have to ask for forgiveness and then wait for the other person to process.

I will never forget speaking at one of our conferences, and I was met up-front by a man who came up to me.  He had—he was engineer.  He had a bunch of pens and pencils in his pocket.  He came up boasting.  He goes, “In 31 years of marriage, I have never once apologized or asked my wife to forgive me.” 

He was proud of it.  He had a smirk on his face.  He said, “For all the years I’ve been telling her, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.’”  He was like a weasel, like a little 13-year-old who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  For 31 years, the guy had never admitted a mistake.

I want to show you a great picture of kind of the rest of the story of Caleb, in Fireproof, and his wife Catherine.  They were separated for a period of time.  She almost has an affair.  In fact, she does have an emotional affair; but what happens with Caleb is Caleb’s father brings him a book, a hand-written book that he created called The Love Dare—40 days of looking at what the Bible says about love, about conflict, and about forgiveness.  It just walks Caleb through how he can win his wife’s heart back.

So, Caleb goes through this book in spite of the rejection from his wife, who is dead emotionally.  She doesn’t want the relationship to work.  This is the scene where Caleb, actually, closes the deal; and ultimately, begins to see her heart respond.  Let’s watch.

(movie begins playing)

Catherine:  Caleb, I want to believe that this is real, but I’m not ready to say that I trust you again. 

Caleb:  I understand that; but whether you ever reach that point or not, I need you to understand something, “I am sorry.  I’ve been so selfish.  For the past seven years, I have trampled on you with my words and with my actions.  I’ve loved other things when I should’ve loved you. 

In the last few weeks, God has given me a love for you that I’d never had before.  I’ve asked Him to forgive me; and I am hoping and praying that somehow you would be able to forgive me, too.  Catherine, I do not want to live the rest of my life without you.” 

Catherine:  Caleb, I’m supposed to give those divorce papers to my lawyer next week.  I just need some time to think.

Caleb:  You can have all the time you need. 

Dennis:  (recorded message)  Hollywood is known for producing fantasy.  That is about as close to reality as you can get because the story is all about a big God who reached down and forgave him so he could seek forgiveness of his wife. 

Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, made a profound statement.  It’s very simple.  She said, “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.”  If there is anything I fear in our marriage for the long haul, it would be somehow losing the ability to either fail to ask for forgiveness when I’ve hurt Barbara or hold on and not grant forgiveness when she needs it. 

“Pray Together Every Day as a Couple,” “Understand the Anatomy of Anger,” “Loving Confrontation,” “Seek and Grant Forgiveness when Hurt”.  As the rest of the story goes on (and I’ll not tell you the rest of the story in Fireproof), there’s a fifth thing that Caleb illustrates.  Point Number Five:  that is, “Reconciliation.” 

Forgiveness that does not conclude with reconciliation is not true forgiveness at all.  In fact, if this isn’t a part of the process of forgiveness, forgiveness will be robbed of its significance and meaning. 

Reconciliation rebuilds trust.  It takes responsibility, solely and wholly, for rebuilding trust with the other person.  The offending partner, the one who has hurt the other person, takes that initiative and, also, realizes that it takes time to rebuild trust. 

As men, we think that our wives ought to be able to flip a switch, like we do, and forgive; but it doesn’t work that way.  The offended party must resist the natural tendency to rehearse the hurt. 

For a number of years, we did some arena events.  We had about 425,000 people at arena events all over the United States—18,000 people at the MCI Arena in Washington, D.C.—for arena events that were called I Still Do; some others were called Rekindling the Romance

When I was in Cincinnati, sitting on the front row, listening to the speaker give a message that I’d heard about six or seven times, my mind was wandering.  As he was speaking, my eyes went down to the base of the podium.  Right at the base of the podium was a vase with about three dozen roses in the vase.  As my mind was wandering, it went through this logic, just about this fast.  I thought, “I wonder if there is a way I can get those on the airplane and take those back to Barbara.” 

Then, I thought, “That is pretty selfish.  The ministry paid for those.  So, we really ought to give them to volunteers who helped here.”  I thought, “Yes, but that’d be really good because it takes 300 volunteers to put these things on with 12,000 people here.”  Then, I thought, “No, there may be some people in attendance who need to come get one of these roses.” 

In my message, as I concluded the day, I reached down at the end of my message, tugged and pulled one of those roses out and held it up.  I said, “This is a rose of reconciliation.”  I said, “Earlier today, I was sitting here thinking about it—that maybe, there is one person that needs to come forward and get this rose from me—in this vast arena, who needs to get the rose and go back to their spouse and say, ‘Our marriage was over when we came here.  I need to ask your forgiveness.  I need you to forgive me.  I want to make things right.  I want to be reconciled.  I want to build our marriage on the rock of Jesus Christ.’” 

I said, “If there is only one of you who needs to get it, I just want you to come up.”  No sooner had those words left my lips, out of the corner of my eye I could see up in the arena, big basketball arena, a guy who was hitting about every third step.  He walked out on the floor; and as he did, the audience begin to applaud.  He started tugging.  He pulled it out, started his way up there.  He went all the way back up near the top; and she met him mid-row in mid air.  Like this. 

By that point, others had come.  In a matter of 45 seconds, the roses were gone.  So, the next time we did it; we had 300 roses.  They were gone in 90 seconds.  So, the next time in Portland, which is the City of Roses, we had 1,000 roses.  With 10,000 people there, 1,000 roses.  There were couples down and kneeling down front, wrapping arms together and exchanging roses with each other.  There are some great stories. 

We, finally, were able to buy enough roses for these things so that we had some left over.  It was astounding.  You know what it convinced me of?  Even within the community of faith that professes to follow Jesus Christ, we have a fresh need to revisit the Gospel.  We can forgive because He first forgave us.  You know what?  You need to be practicing that in your marriages.

Bob:  Well, we’ve been listening together to Part Three of a message on resolving conflict from a recent FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  You know, some of these tools that we provide for couples at the Weekend to

Remember®--tools about how to resolve conflict—these help set new patterns in couples’ marriages that can adjust the trajectory of the marriage. 

Dennis:  They can.  What happens is we get in ruts, like the one I heard the other day on the Alaskan highway—you know, the one that goes all the way up through British Columbia and the territories up in northern Canada.  It says, “Choose your rut carefully.  You’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.” 

I think what happens in a lot of marriages is that we get in a rut.  We stay in them for two to three years or two or three decades.  We develop patterns in how we handle conflict, anger, or when we disappoint one another.  We don’t really resolve the issue.  We just kind of sweep it under the rug. 

I kind of envision the rug in some peoples’ homes.  Maybe, it has a mountain because they’ve been sweeping a lot of stuff, for a lot of years.  They need to get out of the rut and get some tools to resolve those issues and move forward with hope.

Bob:  That is one of the things you’ll get at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  You get some time alone together, the two of you, to work through some projects.  You get some biblical coaching on how your marriage can be all God wants it to be.  You wind up with a weekend that really is a weekend you’ll never forget, a great weekend getaway for couples. 

As we mentioned earlier, if you sign up and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, we have a special group rate that we are making available.  You and your spouse will save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.  All you have to do is identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.

So, what you need to do is go online at  Find out when the conference is going to be either in a city near where you live or a weekend that works out for you and you can travel to a particular city.  You sign up online.  When you get to the key code box, on the online registration form, type in my name.  Type in “BOB”, and you will automatically save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee. 

Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  Say, “I want to go to a Weekend to Remember.”  We can talk over dates and locations with you.  Get you all signed up over the phone.  Just mention that you are a regular FamilyLife Today listener, and you want to take advantage of the group rate.  Again, you’ll save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee when you do that.

If you sign up before the end of the month, we’ll send you as a thank-you gift for signing up early, a copy of the game, Spouse-ology®--a fun game for couples to play with other couples so you can get to know one another better.  It really is a lot of fun.  It is our way saying, “Thanks,” for signing up early for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  Again, online at or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and come join us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.

Now, tomorrow, we want to spend a little time looking at how we can more effectively communicate in a marriage relationship, how we can do a better job of expressing ourselves, and how we can do a better job of listening to one another.  We’ll talk about improving our marital communication tomorrow.  Hope you can join us for that.

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. 

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