I read about fifteen couples in Tampa, Florida that were married on a roller coaster. The guys wore tuxedos, the girls wore wedding dresses. They were all mic’d up so on the midst of the coaster they could hear the vows through their headsets and they could legally respond to the vows through the mic. They were legally married on a roller coaster. While that may be an interesting way to get married, it is a pretty good description of what relationships can be like. Little did they know that when that roller coaster stopped, it really didn’t. In relationships, there are times of great peace and joy and there are times of conflict and tension. The important thing is that we begin to learn how to deal with those times of conflict and tension.
We’ve been looking at the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. It’s a book written three thousand years ago. It was written by Solomon as a love song to his wife, the Shulammite. We’ve seen them in some great highs in their relationships. We saw them attract, date, court, get married and have a honeymoon. Last week we looked at a great night in the bedroom. Then you turn the page going from chapter four in the Song of Solomon to chapter five and they go from a great night in the bedroom to a bad night the bedroom. Chapter five and six in the Song of Solomon are dedicated to a conflict that erupts in their relationship. We’ve seen the roller coaster be up and now we are about to see the roller coaster go down. We’re about to see some struggle and tension.
Let’s pick it up in the Song of Solomon 5:2. She’s speaking and says these words, “I slept but my heart was awake. Have you ever been in that situation where there’s tension in a relationship? You are lying in bed and the world is between you. You are sleeping but your heart is awake. “Listen! My lover is knocking” Here’s what Solomon says, “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one.” That just sounds like a guy who’s in trouble, doesn’t it? “My head is drenched with dew, my hair with dampness of the night.” It’s probably midnight or one in the morning. He’s coming to her room. It wasn’t uncommon in that culture for kings and queens to sleep in different chambers. He’s knocking on her door. Maybe he’s coming in from work. Maybe they got in a big argument before and he walked out. Maybe she shot him the look and he didn’t deal with that so well. They’ve obviously had some tension. He comes to the door, knocking at the door. Let me in, he wants some comfort. He wants love and affection from the love of his life. Here’s what she says. Remember we looked at 4:16 just a few verses back. She’s saying, “Awake North wind, awake South wind blow upon my garden. Come in and be intimate with me.” Now here we are a few verses later.
She says, “I have taken off my robe, must I put it on again? I have washed my feet, must I soil them again?” In other words, she’s not getting up and coming to the door. We’ve got tension and drama. We have a conflict in the relationship that has escalated. In all of our relationships conflict will happen. It’s a myth to think that a good relationship is one without conflict. All relationships have conflict. The issue is how we deal with that conflict.
- Learn To Attack The Problem Not The Person
So often when we get into an argument we want to go after each other rather than realizing that we are on the same team. We make them the problem and attack the person while avoiding really trying to find a solution to the problem. “Let’s fix the problem together rather than fixing blame.”
We get into conflict and people get hurt. Sometimes our tendency is to bury it. Sometimes our tendency is to pretend it never happened. But the faster way to healing is to acknowledge what has actually occurred in our lives. We see it in the Song of Solomon. Chapter 5:5, she’s laying there and won’t get out of bed. Then she has a change of heart. She says, “I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock. I opened for my lover but my lover had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.” She has a change of heart, goes to the door and now he has left. Most of you have had the experience or heard of the experience of a couple getting in such a rift that he leaves. He just leaves and she can’t find him. She goes out in the streets and looks for him. She doesn’t know where he’s gone. Maybe you get in an argument and you are somewhere else. You know the conflict and the tension that can occur in those moments. She said, “My heart sank at his departure.” It’s the same construction in the original language as a phrase used to describe how people’s hearts felt when Rachel died in Genesis thirty-eight. In other words, this is heartbreak. This is a devastated person that he has left now. He’s gone away and she doesn’t know where. That’s the problem.
It’s like the story that Tommy Nelson writes about in one of his books about couple who had been in a conflict but they had to go to a banquet that night. She had a special dress that had just been laundered but needed help with the zipper in the back. As he was doing it, he grabbed the zipper with too much force zipping up and down saying, “zip zip, zip zip, zip zip.” And he broke the zipper on her dress. She’s enraged now and has to wear something different. The next day, still simmering she goes shopping. As she gets home she sees her husband lying underneath the car. Half of his body is sticking out, he’s obviously working underneath it. She walks up and grabs his zipper on his pants and goes, “zip, zip, zip, zip.” Deal with that! Then she walks in the kitchen only to see her husband standing in the kitchen. She says, “What are you doing here?” He says, “This is my kitchen.” She said, “Yeah, but you were just under the car.” He said, “I haven’t been under the car all day!” She said, “Then who is under the car?” He says, “Oh, that’s our neighbor. He came over to help fix the muffler.” She explains what she’s done, her face obviously white in that moment. They go outside to apologize to the neighbor for this whole thing. He’s still lying just like he was, half his body sticking out from under the car. He hadn’t moved a muscle. He hadn’t moved because he had knocked himself out cold. When she grabbed his zipper, he did what any guy would do and sat up as fast as he could, hit his head on the muffler and knocked himself out. The moral of the story: any time we attack the person not the problem we make more problems!
- Listen To Each Other’s Feelings.
When conflict happens we have to acknowledge that we are hurt. We have to be willing to talk about it and put it on the table. Avoid burying it. Also, try and understand before trying to be understood. When we are in an argument or a conflict our tendency is to want to lash out at the other person. We want them to experience the pain, the anger or the hurt that we are experiencing. We want them to feel it a little bit so they know how upset we are. The wiser decision is to try to understand first. Then try to be understood.
One of the ways we can try to understand is use reflective listening. When Niki says something I’ll repeat back to her what I think I heard her say. Did you say this? And I’ll say it back to her. She’ll say, “No, not necessarily that but this.” It’s amazing what people hear. At meetings, someone will say something and three people hear it differently.
Three simple words that can go a long way in a relationship: “I am sorry.” Guys see the words, I am sorry, as an admission of guilt. Women see the words, “I’m sorry.” entirely differently. To them, the words, I am sorry, it’s a statement of sympathy. It’s a statement of concern, of understanding their feelings. Guys we can use those words a lot more and realize you are not acknowledging guilt, we are showing that we care. Even if we are only 10% wrong, we can say sorry for that. When we were laying in bed that night on opposite sides, that was one of the first phrases that opened the door for conversation. “Okay, I’m sorry!” “ I’m sorry too.” Then here we go for an hour. It opens the door to bring resolution.
Ladies, one of the things you can do for us guys when it comes to validating feelings is help us understand your feelings by sharing your feelings in the most black and white language that you can. Guys hear literally. Ladies tend to talk in symbols or extremes. “We never, we always and you never.” Do you know what a guy is thinking? He’s thinking, “Never? But we did then and we did then.” That puzzled look on his face is him recounting back. “But we did this.” He hears you literally. We’re not the smartest chip off the block anyway. When she’s talking in extremes, she doesn’t mean it literally. What she’s saying is she doesn’t feel like she is being valued in a relationship. “We never go out.” “We went out three weeks ago!” I took you to McDonald’s.” What she means is, “I’m not feeling connected in our relationship right now. I’m not feeling like we are spending enough time together.” Then we can play by the rules.
When an argument is beginning to ratchet up, here are some real simple principles to keep in mind that can help it not escalate a conflict.
Avoid degrading each other. Firing those verbal missiles of name calling back and forth won’t help solve the argument, they just escalate things. It’s very painful. Watch the tone and voice level. A high percentage of communication is how we say something not what we say. We get into arguments and inevitably we push these little comparison buttons that take it to a whole new level. “You are just like your mother.” BOOM! You just pushed the “I want a war” button. It goes to a whole new level.
Avoid leveraging divorce, finances or sex. You are not dealing with the problem in that moment, just trying to win the battle. You may win that skirmish but long term, if you fight that way, you will lose the war.
Avoid running to parents or in-laws. She runs and picks the phone up. She calls Mom. She tells Mom what happens and gives the whole blow by blow. When you do that again and again and again over a period of years, what does Mom think about your husband? Not very highly probably because all she hears is the negative stuff. Maybe that’s all good because Mom lives a thousand miles away but maybe they are flying in for Thanksgiving next week. Now you are all going to sit around the table. Is it any wonder that there are all these new levels now? Mom is being short because Mom has issues. Dad has issues on this side. We’ve brought all this drama into the family. Find a trusted friend. Someone you can go to and talk to those issues about.
Seek sideline input. That’s exactly what the Shulammite does in the Song of Solomon. She goes and looks for Solomon and doesn’t know where he is. She sits down with her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem, and she shares with them her predicament. Her friends give her great counsel. Let’s pick it up in chapter 5:9. They say to her, “How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women? How is your beloved better than others, that you charge us so?” Here’s what’s great about this. They are asking her a question. They are getting her to reflect. That’s good counsel. Too often we will at some point be on the side of the table where we are giving counsel to someone. When we are, make sure you are giving good counsel. Ask them questions to reflect on what their struggle is and what they need. Too often we give bad counsel. Someone comes in and she’s talking with her girlfriends, “He did this to me.” “I can’t believe he did that to you! Now she’s getting more and more wound up. “Yeah, that’s right. That really was bad wasn’t it?” That was horrible sister! Now we are just winding things up. Sometimes that’s the counsel we give.
He goes to his buddies…“She did that to you? I can’t believe she did that to you.” Good sidelined input are people in our lives who will ask us questions. How do you feel about this? What do you think about that?” They’re getting her to reflect and she comes to this conclusion in verse ten, “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels… this is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” She comes to her own realization that she loves this guy. He is one in a million for me. That’s great counsel.
For some of us we may need to seek counsel in an older couple, or a more seasoned person. Maybe in your Connect group or people that we respect at church that we can go to once a month, once a quarter, whatever, and sit down. Buy them breakfast or lunch and ask them how they get through things. How do they navigate things?
There are also times in a relationship where we need to seek professional help. The roller coaster in your relationship may be on a big down turn. You may need to call a Christian counselor and get plugged in with somebody to really give you guidance. People say, “Well it costs too much and I can’t afford it.” We can’t afford to lose this person that we love so much. We can’t afford to see our family devastated by a break up. We have no problem buying this or that on a credit card or buying a plane ticket and going on a vacation but then we balk when we spend money on the most important relationship in our life. Don’t be afraid to pay for good counsel to help you salvage a relationship. Help it grow. Say three simple words. “I need help.” It’s all you have to do. You can call our church number on the back of the bulletin and say, “We’re struggling. We need some help.” We’ll refer you to some counselors and some people who can walk with you and help you.
- Let Go Of Grudges
We tend to hold onto grudges. It’s like the classified ad that read this…”For sale: Wedding dress never worn. Will trade for a .38 special.” We tend to hold onto stuff in our relationships. The Shulammite eventually finds Solomon and goes back to him. How is Solomon going to respond? Is he going to rub it in her face? Is he going to say, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t open the door for me!”? Is he going to really bring it out and throw punches or is he going to be quick to release the grudge? Here’s what he says in Chapter 6:4, “You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners. Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead.” He goes through the exact same rundown that he told his wife in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. “Your eyes are like doves, your neck like the tower of David.” He goes on down her body. He’s reaffirming his love. He’s quick to let go of the grudge. Let’s move forward in the relationship.
Conflict is going to happen. The question is how are we going to deal with it?
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