Editor’s note: This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. Here, two couples share about how, over the course of their marriage, they have learned that their conflicts reveal deeper issues within themselves, and how God’s grace has helped them to confront their sin and learn to love one another.
Moderator: Pastor Yang Xu and his wife Ning Xumei have a lot of fun together and enjoy spending time with one another, regardless of what they are doing. We have seen the happy side of their relationship, but how do you usually end a conflict?
Pastor Yang Xu: For the past eleven years of our marriage, I am always the one who is at fault and needs to apologize. I’ve never figured out why. Am I a bad person? Is my wife really always right? If I’m being honest, I often apologize so I can control her emotions instead of admitting I am at fault. However, she knows me too well, so this hasn’t worked as much lately.
All joking aside, we’ve recently experienced the power of the gospel in our marriage. Over the last year or two, I have learned a great deal and been deeply blessed through gospel training. My wife notices that I have been revitalized. She says, “You seem different…you’ve been renewed by grace!” We aren’t perfect, and are learning to love and accept one another in spite of our brokenness. Even this morning, my wife and I had a small disagreement, and she used her X-ray vision to criticize me again. This made me uncomfortable, so I said, “Let’s have a fight—you pick the place.”
We have slowly realized there are deeper sin issues within ourselves whenever we have conflict. There are many moments when I live according to my flesh and give in to my self-centered desires. I am a people pleaser, and I want my wife to compliment me. It’s easier to earn praise from others than from my wife. The real problem is that I idolize my wife’s affirmation. My brokenness comes from this deep need for affirmation.
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Three months ago, we had a major argument. I mentioned earlier that I have noticed God’s grace at work in me. One of these changes is that I feel really terrible after arguing. I felt like a failure after this particular fight because the argument showed me how I fail to live up to my title of pastor. I felt distressed, and wanted to quickly reconcile. I don’t like facing the silent treatment, but after this argument, I tried something different. I quieted myself before the Lord. I waited and hoped in the Lord in the place of prayer, before trying to rush in and change the situation. Instead of begging God to change the situation, I first needed to let God change me.
The day after our fight, I noticed that my wife had gotten out of bed before 6 a.m. and was writing in her journal. I said to her, “Did our fight force you to become a writer?” She was reflecting on her actions and thoughts. She used to only use her X-ray vision on me, but now she was starting to examine herself. After that, we started to joke, and used humor to resolve the conflict. We have come to know and understand each other better. I believe this recurring cycle of arguing, reflecting on our thoughts and actions, and reconciling our differences helps our relationship grow and deepen.
Moderator: Ning Xumei, what have you learned about yourself through these types of conflict? What does “uncomfortable grace” mean when your spouse’s flaws are used by God to sanctify you?
Ning Xumei: My husband and I have different perspectives about the things he just shared. I don’t think that I am always in the right. Although we definitely experience uncomfortable grace, comforting grace abounds much more. I enjoy my role in marriage, since I’m the one who analyzes him. I do have a tendency to critique. It’s as if I hold a scalpel and dissect others. I do not become too attached to the situation while doing this, and it’s actually a little fun. In light of this, I don’t experience as much sadness after our fights as he does.
Moderator: Pastor Yang shared that he is usually the one who apologizes after a fight. What are some ways that you can help resolve the conflict? What other actions can help you both to confess and forgive each other?
Ning Xumei: I am very self-righteous. Yang Xu will always indirectly tell me, “Think about the situation again. Are you being critical?” I’ve learned to admit to myself that I am naturally very critical and harsh. When I think back on our conflicts with a humble attitude, it helps me understand his thoughts. He typically reminds me of my sinfulness in this gentle way, and that is the reason he experiences more hurt in our relationship than I do.
Moderator: Thank you!
I want the others to share as well. What does your relationship look like?
Pastor Zeng Shu: Our relationship went through two stages. I am very irritable, and this was especially true before I became a believer. My wife is usually the one who apologizes. If she doesn’t apologize, then I try to control her. I will have a heated argument, and then give her the silent treatment. My wife is very forgiving and patient, and I am very grateful. After I became a believer and completed seminary, I came to understand the work God was doing in my life.
A great turning point happened after my Biblical counseling class. I began to humble myself, to see the ugly side of myself. Even though I was able to see the ugliness within, it is still hard to walk away from my irritable tendencies. Throughout this process, my wife continued to be patient and forgiving. Later, I began to apologize to her about the ways that I have wronged her. This was our turning point, although we are still in the process of learning how to apologize and forgive each other. We need time to grow in this area.
Li Yujing: Zeng Shu makes it sound like he’s the only one who gets angry in our household, but this isn’t correct. The difference is he is very expressive in his anger, while I tend to hold it in and sulk. Even if he has done something obviously wrong, I apologize, because I want to relieve the tension which is causing us to fight. We are family and need to live in harmony with one another. If our family is happy, I don’t mind suffering a little.
All names are pseudonyms. Pastor Yang Xu and his wife Ning Xumei live in Beijing; Pastor Zeng Shu and his wife Li Yujing are in a large city in eastern China.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for believers in China to learn how to humbly apologize to and forgive their spouses as they seek to resolve marital conflict in a godly manner.