A marriage without conflict is a dead marriage. All good, healthy, passionate and loving marriages have conflict. Expect conflicts and prepare for it. Why is this? Why cant people live happily ever after? It is because a marriage comprises of two sinners, selfish and self centered in their own way coming together in holy union. God uses marriage to shape and sanctify us. The Book of Song of Solomon has 2 chapters on conflict which is a realistic portrayal of what marriage look like. God knows that there will be conflict in marriage and he gives us wisdom to handle it.
We can either fight fairly and lovingly or fight dirty, to hurt and punish our spouse. How we deal with conflict creates a foundation for a marriage where romance and intimacy thrives.
How do we fight well in a marriage?
A. Respond in love
(She) 5:2 I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.”
Solomon’s beloved has gone to bed. She is not asleep yet and has been waiting for Solomon to return from work. Solomon is delayed for some reason and he comes knocking on the door late. She hears the knocking and his voice. He calls out to her with words of endearment but she does not open the door to let him in.
3 I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them?
Solomon is expecting them to be intimate while she is not willing. She basically says she is tired and has a headache.
Is this when a husband quotes scripture like
Ephesians 5:22 Wives submit to your husbands
1 Corinthians 7:4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does
1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive one another
Or should the husband force his way in a break the door open like a Bollywood hero? These are verses for the wife to obey and not for the husband to quote in marriage. Solomon does the honourable thing here.
4 My beloved put his hand to the latch and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt 6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him but found him not; I called him, but he gave no ans
He left some perfume on the handle door. She changes her mind and as opens the door, her fingers are dripping with liquid myrrh. This is a gift of love. But when she opens the door, he had already left by then.
There is conflict in their marriage. They are romantically frustrated couple. There are two sets of expectations from Solomon and his beloved and they are dealing with unmet expectations. This is common in marriage.
A husband and wife plan to have a date night. The husband returns home from work looking forward to this time with his wife. He expects the kids to be done with their work, finish dinner, bathed and in bed so he could take his wife out. But he returns and finds the kids still playing and not ready for bed. Meanwhile, the wife is looking forward to this date night with her husband. She is expecting her husband to return home, give the kids dinner, a bath and put them to sleep so she can have a break, get ready for dinner peacefully. They have different expectations which leads to conflict when they are not met.
Conflicts happen in marriages but how we respond to conflict shapes our marriage, romance and intimacy. When expectations are not met, respond in love, not in anger.
Solomon feels rejected and his wife feels neglected. He feels disrespected and she feels unloved. Both are hurt and disappointed. But he covers his rejection and hurt with love. This is how a covenant love looks like. This is godly behaviour.
Anyone can yell, criticise, shame, blame and make the other feel guilty. Anyone can stone wall and give the silent treatment to their spouse. This is walking in flesh giving in to the sinful desires of the flesh. But God urges us to respond in love just as Christ responds in love to our disobedience.
When we respond in love, then it gives room for God to work on our behalf. To correct, convict and reprove our spouse in a way that is patient, gentle and fill of grace and mercy. When we take matters into our own hands, we do it in anger, with impatience and lack grace. We need to learn to get out of the way and let God do his work. Resist the temptation to step into the role of the Holy Spirit in your marriage.
But you might feel hurt. You might say your spouse does this again and again and they don’t understand unless you deal with them. Stepping out of the way does not mean you don’t take about the issues. It means we don’t react in ways that will drive our spouse further away.
6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer 7 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls.
He responds in love and God is already at work. She is feeling bad and horrible for not letting Solomon into the room. She let her feelings get the better of her and realises she should not have shut the door. Her heart is in pain, ache and agony and feels like physical bruises. She feels convicted when he responds in love. When you face conflicts in marriage, deal with unmet expectations, respond in love toward your spouse.
B. Defend with honour
8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love. (Others) 9 What is your beloved more than another beloved, O most beautiful among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?
She goes to her friends looking for help but her friends are not very helpful. They say what is so special about Solomon? Why do you hurt so much out of love? Don’t feel bad, he deserves it. It is important to have friends who will fight for your marriage and not make your fights worse.
It could have been easy for her to join with her friends to dishonour and disrespect her husband. She could have said, yes you are right, he’s always like this. He’s been this way since marriage. I made a mistake of marrying him. But look at her response. He defends his honour before her friends.
(She) 10 My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand.
He is distinguished, meaning he is esteemed and honoured among ten thousand men. He stands out and is respected.
11 His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. 12 His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. 13 His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh.
Solomon described the beauty of his bride in the previous chapter. Here she is describing his beauty, and worth and is praising and adoring him.
14 His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires. 15 His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. 16 His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Gold, jewels, ivory, sapphire indicate Solomon’s character which is strong, dependable, loyal and faithful. She says you have no idea about Solomon. He is my friend. His mouth is sweet, meaning his words are kind, gentle and tender. He is flawless in her eyes just like she is to him.
He’s not perfect and yes they have conflict. But she defends him with honour before others. She prefers to focus on his goodness rather than his flaws. She resists the temptation to disrespect her husband and instead celebrates and honours him. This is what covenant love looks like. May our mouths be instruments of respect, affirmation, love, dignity and honour toward our spouse especially in front of others.
How do you speak about your spouse when there is a problem? Scripture calls us to defend them with honour.
C. Deepen your commitment
(Others) 6:1 Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you? (She) 2 My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. 3 I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.
How she defends him makes her friends change their attitude toward him. They go looking for him. She says she knows where he is, in the garden gathering the lilies. And in v.3 she restates her commitment to him, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
Even during conflict and especially during conflict, don't forget your covenant and commitment to each other. Restate, reaffirm, reassure, make peace and deepen your commitment. Reassure each other that you are not going anywhere, yo are right here and that you will get through this together.
People of covenant don’t threaten to leave but deepen their commitment. They never utter the D-word. Such posture tears down the marriage, not build it up. Covenant love is choosing each other again and again. Choosing each other by forgiving each other, showing grace, love, honour and respect to each other again and again. This is what sparks romance and intimacy in marriage, not the other way around.
D. Grow in appreciation
(He) 4 Ur beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners Tirzah.
He compares her to the beautiful beaches in Tirzah, that she is holy and set apart like Jerusalem and that she is honoured and respected like an army with banners.
5 Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me—Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
He shows his intention to genuinely reconcile without an ulterior motive of having physical intimacy.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins; not one among them has lost its young. 7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.
He restates what he said on his wedding night. He reaffirms that his love has not changed and that she is as beautiful to him as she was on the day of their wedding.
8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. 9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her. 10 “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”
He says that no one can be compared to his beloved. She is more precious than all queens and virgins.
What’s happening here? We see a growing appreciation for his beloved. He is re-emphasising his love, adoring her beauty, cherishing her character and he tells it again and again. He does this because he is able to pay attention to her life, her virtues and he praises her for it.
(She) 11 I went down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. 12 Before I was aware, my desire set me among the chariots of my kinsman, a prince.
(Others) 13 Return, return, O Shulammite, return, return, that we may look upon you. (He) Why shold you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before 2 armies?
When we respond in love, defend with honour, deepen our commitment and grow in appreciation, then it forms a foundation which sparks romance and intimacy in marriage. It leads to a satisfying and fulfilling married life.
Scripture commands us in Ephesians 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
Don’t let anger and feelings get the better of you during conflict. Don’t let bitterness control you and don’t let anger persist. Deal with it quickly. Why? So you don’t give the devil a foothold in your marriage. So that you don’t let the little foxes ruin your marriage.
Learn to submit to God’s word, to submit to one another out of love and respect, to obey God’s word in faith knowing that he rewards us when we seek and obey him.