I have been leading a six-week marriage group at the Shelby County Campus over the past few weeks. It has been a lot of fun. We have been talking about how to engage in conflict in your marriage in order to actually grow the marriage.

I know for some people, this sounds like an oxymoron. But it has been a real eye opener for me as well as several of the participants.

By nature, I avoid conflict. I would much rather everyone get along and there be smooth sailing. Unfortunately, that is not reality.

The ugly truth is we live in a fallen world. It is a world that Jesus said we would have trouble in. It is also a world where we wage war against the evil principalities in the unseen realm, not to mention our sinful nature.

This means from time to time we will need to engage in conflict with those we care about the most, in particular, our spouses. However, what I have come to learn is that conflict doesn’t have to be a detrimental thing to a marriage. It can ultimately serve to improve the wellbeing of the marriage. It all depends on how we engage in the conflict.

There are three main elements I’ve learned that are essentials in effectively dealing with the necessary moments when conflict is inevitable.

The first one deals with disconnecting. We should slow down when we get upset with our spouse. James 1:19 instruct us to be “slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This is why the first goal in conflict management is to slow down. It is beneficial for both spouses to take 15 or 20 minutes to disconnect from the situation in order to slow down.

Anger is a quick emotion. That is why we say things like, “She has a short fuse,” or, “He is a hot head.” Anger can make us say things we will regret later. Neuroscientists suggest that the emotion of anger is a thousand times faster than our rational faculties.

But in order to think through a situation and seek wisdom, we first need to take a timeout. This needs to be mutually agreed upon though or else it could be perceived as stonewalling, which is equally dangerous.

Once the slowing down process has taken place, it is important to reengage. When cooler heads prevail, it will be much easier to talk through issues that are troubling us. After we have stopped in order to reflect and seek God’s wisdom, we will be in a much better position to do the next steps.

The next step is to be a good listener. That same verse in James begins by saying, “Be quick to listen.” When we get upset with our spouses, we tend to want to be quick to express ourselves. And as Proverb reminds us, we can become foolish by giving full vent to our anger. In order to prevent this from happening, we need to slow down then take time to listen to our spouse’s perspective and point of view first.

One great phrase that helps get the ball rolling with good listening is “help me understand.” When you seek to understand your spouse’s thoughts, intentions and actions, you are taking a vested interest in them. It demonstrates that you care for them. Listening signifies that you are putting the other above yourself, and this is exactly what we are instructed to in God’s Word.

Lastly, we seek to empathize with our spouse. Empathy doesn’t mean we feel sorry for our spouses. Empathy means that we come alongside them and attempt to identify with their feelings. This can sometimes be frustrating because it moves slower than our desire for quick resolve. However, taking the time to listen to one another’s feelings is pivotal in caring well for our spouses during conflict.

If we practice these three basic spiritual principles, over time we will find that conflict and disagreements no longer threaten the marriage. We will learn that love truly does cover a multitude of sins.

And most importantly, we will learn that even in the face of conflict, we can put Christ in the center of our marriages. That is definitely a cause worth the fight.

Nathan Thompson is the family pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.