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Don’t Let the Conflict Reach 212 Degrees!!

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The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry, and yet do not sin." This means we can be angry but there is a line we must not cross. Anger is okay up to a point, but we must then stop. And this scripture tells us that we can stop.

By way of analogy, water boils at 212 degrees. We can turn off the flame at 211 degrees and the water will not boil. Proverbs 17:14 gets at this general idea: "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out."

A conflict between a husband and wife can increase to a point where it escalates beyond simply discussing the pros and cons of the issue. We cross a line and display an unloving and disrespectful attitude and say something personal against our spouse. It might be okay to humbly say, "Your idea lacks merit for these reasons in my opinion." It is another thing to say, "You are an idiot for having this idea." This is the boiling point. It is before a comment like this that the person should "abandon the quarrel before it breaks out." Turn off the flame. Now!

When the issue is no longer the issue and we have moved to attacking our spouse as the issue, we have entered forbidden territory, which I call the Crazy Cycle. Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love. Ad nauseam.

At the boiling point, the healthy debate turns into an unhealthy degrading. What began as a reasonable discussion becomes unreasonable disdain. Neither can remember what got them into this ugly and dangerous state, or they don't care. Physiologically, when the heartbeats per minute exceed 100, both will feel flooded emotionally. Literally, they can't really hear and empathize with what the other mouths. They have crossed the line and are more interested in put-downs than solutions. It is at this moment that both need to calm down and do whatever is necessary to lower their heart rate. Here are two suggestions that I have found to work well no matter the conflict:

  1. See escalation as the true enemy, not your spouse or even the topic on hand. Couples need to get miffed at escalation itself—that’s what is causing them to get on the Crazy Cycle. When they move into contemptuous and hateful speech and emotions, the initial issue is no longer the issue! Instead, the escalation has taken over the situation and there’s no telling where it will take them—but it won’t be good!
  2. Take a time-out. For some couples a “time-out to cool off” is absolutely necessary. This strategy even needs to be made into a Rule of Engagement for some couples. Calling a time-out should trump the discussion. In these moments, one or both need to cool off. I’ve known some couples who have even posted this Rule of Engagement around their house and referred to it when they needed to break the bad habit of escalation. Posting the time-out rule is not juvenile. What is juvenile is allowing an habitual escalation to the boiling point become a regular part of conflict with your spouse.

One husband wrote, “My wife and I recognized early on in our marriage that we both had to adjust our argument style. While part of it was natural because of our genders, our family backgrounds exacerbated the problem. My wife came from a family that yelled at each other at the top of their lungs until they had everything out, while my family takes conflict avoidance to new levels. We realized that, in order to effectively resolve conflict in our marriage, my wife had to speak in a normal tone of voice and calmly explain the problem, and I had to agree to not get offended easily and withdraw. We didn't know about the love and respect concepts at the time, but once we sorted that out, our discussions improved significantly.”

Previously when this couple reached their boiling point, she grew loud and he withdrew. But thankfully they learned to recognize when they were nearing their boiling points and took intentional steps to simmer down. And their “discussions improved significantly.”

Isn’t that what we all want in these times of conflict and disagreement with our spouse—improved discussions? You will get angry in your marriage, and scripture even says that’s okay. But don’t attack your spouse; attack the escalation, together, and avoid your boiling point!

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. When was a time in your marriage where one or both of you became angry yet did not sin? What would’ve been the boiling point in that conflict, and how did you stay below it?
  2. When was a time in your marriage when you became angry and unfortunately allowed it to become sin? What was the boiling point in that conflict? How did the issue become no longer the original issue?
  3. Explain what you believe Proverbs 17:14 means: “"The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out."
  4. Have you and your spouse ever agreed to take a time-out while in a conflict? If so, did it help? In what ways? If not, what’s stopping you from implementing this strategy the next time you feel yourself approaching your boiling point?