Mistakes that Hold You Back Part 3

We started this blog series Monday, talking about the mistakes that we allow to creep into our marriage. These are the mistakes that probably won’t cause divorce, but they will keep us from experiencing the marriage we long for and the marriage God has in mind for us. First, we talked about scorekeeping. Yesterday, we talked about sweating the small stuff. Today is part three.

The number one goal I had when Trisha and I got married almost 17 years ago, was to avoid conflict. Well, “have sex as often as possible” was actually number one; avoiding conflict by default was number two. In all seriousness, I didn’t see conflict as a good thing at all. When Trisha and I would get into arguments, I wouldn’t fight back, I would tell her that she was right and I was sorry.

Over the course of the first few years of our marriage, this desire to avoid conflict developed a pattern in our marriage relationship. I would think everything was okay in our marriage as long as we weren’t arguing, so I tried to keep the peace as much as possible. Trisha began to realize that the only way to truly get my attention was through an argument. So she would get angry and start a fight. I would respond by wanting it to end as quickly as possible and she would stay mad until I apologized. “I’m sorry” were the magic words in my mind. I said them a lot.

During one argument about nine years into our marriage we were pretty intense as I had learned to fight back at this point. I could tell that I was gaining no ground and I wanted to move on with my day. I simply said, “Why don’t we save a lot of time and energy here, and you just tell me what I need to apologize for, I’ll say, ‘I’m sorry’ and we can both move on.” It was a statement of deep intimacy and love…or not.

This was a mistake that was holding us back, because here is the deal: Saying you’re sorry and being sorry are two different things.

When you say you’re sorry, you do the minimum requirement to restore peace and make the conflict go away. When you say you’re sorry your behavior rarely changes for the long haul. When you simply say you’re sorry your intention is to end the argument, not resolve it.

Being sorry is completely different. Being sorry often doesn’t require an apology, because your actions demonstrate it. Being sorry brings heart change not behavior modification. Being sorry doesn’t just seek to end the argument, it tries to leverage the conflict to build intimacy.

Avoiding conflict will never improve your marriage. It is fools gold. Avoiding conflict allows you to believe everything is okay, when everything isn’t okay. It allows you to believe that saying, “I’m sorry” will fix everything, when sometimes, “I’m sorry” is the mistake that is holding you back.

Do you embrace or avoid conflict in relationships?

11 Responses to Mistakes that Hold You Back Part 3

  1. Angie

    Don’t like it but avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. When conflict leads to resolution, it’s amazing!

  2.  “Being sorry brings heart change not behavior modification.”  Very true.  If we want true and lasting transformation it needs to happen in the heart.  Thanks.

  3. Sis

    We learned our lesson the hard way about avoiding conflict as well.  Now we gently face our conflicts regularly.  

  4. Erica Guthaus

    Such good words here. Actions really do speak so much louder than words ever can!

  5. Ryan

    Great post as always … and so stinkin true in our (old) marriage! “Avoiding conflict” has been my greatest skill for years. Been trying hard to hold back the “I’m sorry” and actually listen and address the real issue.

    • It is a skill that can be perfected. 🙂 The real issue is usually right after the decision to hold back “I’m Sorry.” 

  6. My spouse and I approach conflict in two very different ways- I want to tackle it head on and move past it, my spouse wants to avoid it. Slowly we are learning to meet in the middle. To give each other space and time, but also to communicate and actively listen to what the other is say and to what the other is NOT saying. Much can be gleaned from silence.