Preparing a couple for marriage is an exercise in continual surprises. One of the first surprises a couple experiences is: The 3 Reasons A Marriage Fails. Infidelity is not a surprising cause of marriage breakdown. The fact that finances are notone of the three most common reasons is surprising. And the fact that a lack of pre-marriage preparation is one of the top three causes is also surprising. But it’s the other cause of marriage failure that is not only surprising, it is full of surprises.
“Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” Amos 3:3
HOW A PERSON DISAGREES SAYS A LOT ABOUT THEM
The biggest challenge any couple (and any two people, for that matter) will have is how to communicate effectivelywith each other. While this often surprises a couple I prepare for marriage, it’s what they learn about disagreeing that surprises them even more! We live in a world often framed by shallow arguments. Here are some examples of shallow ‘arguments’ :
“Because I said so!“
“I just reckon.“
“I read it on the internet.”
“I heard it on TV.“
“Because such and such professor recently published it in a book.“
“God told me.“
“I believe it with all my heart.“
None of these ‘arguments’ are reasonable. Contrast these shallow ‘arguments’ (none of them are actually ‘arguments’ because they are only opinions or assertions) with what a strong argument should look like:
“I know this is the case because I have seen it with my own eyes and here’s the photo I took of it.”
“In Dr. Kenneth Gentry’s book, ‘Before Jerusalem Fell’ he has made the case that the Book of Revelation had to have been written before A.D. 70!“
“Because in 2007, Geelong won the A.F.L. Premiership.“
“You couldn’t have been working late, because I called into your work when you said you were there and it was closed and your car wasn’t in the carpark.”
I hope you can see the difference between someone’s opinion and someone’s reasons from this brief comparison. But here’s where it gets surprising when it comes to communicating with someone effectively. Others opinions matter! The problem we have with having opinions though is that we can hold them despite some good reasons not to. An even greater problem is that when we meet someone who has an opinion which differs from ours, we tend to clash with them. It can be a very confronting thing when our opinions are challenged by someone who might have good reasons for believing we are wrong. This is when this kind of clash can result in tension and conflict. That why we can tell a lot about a person by how they disagree with someone.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another,agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Second Corinthians 13:11
WHAT WE LEARN ABOUT SOMEONE BY HOW THEY DISAGREE
When someone is confronted with another person who disagrees with their opinion, here’s how you can tell if their opinion is reasonable or not.
Do they have reasons for their opinion, or just a belief that they are right?
Are they prepared to face challenges to their opinion, or do they refuse to discuss the matter?
When challenged by someone with a different opinion to them, do they respond by attacking the person instead?
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, First Corinthians 6:5
WHEN DISAGREEMENT IS WORTH MORE THAN GOLD
Perhaps the biggest surprise that a couple encounters when we discuss developing intimacy, is just how necessary disagreements are! Disagreements are most often seen as a sign that the relationship is in trouble, when in fact, it is a sure sign that the relationship is actually deeper, stronger, and closer. This is because these potential clashes often involve matters of the heart. And I say, ‘potential’ clashes because they needn’t be an occasion for a heated quarrel. What we discover in pre-marriage counselling is how to recognise these potential clashes as gold for their relationship. Rather than setting out to crush the other’s opinion, it is wiser to listen to it and to seek to understandthis person by discovering why they hold this opinion. In marriage preparation, this surprising discovery leads to a couple learning to: seek to understand before being understood. It is surprising to learn that when someone feels understood, even if the other person still disagrees with their opinion, they simultaneously feel closer to that person. This is why disagreement is gold for developing a more intimate relationship with someone. After seeking to understand someone with whom we might disagree, it then creates a more conducive environment for them to begin to understand our opinion. In a heated quarrel this kind of mutual understanding rarely takes place and the result is distance and animosity. This distance and animosity can be repaired with a genuine exchange of apologies, and new commitment to understand each others heart.
¶ But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:11-14
THREE WAYS TO DISAGREE, TWO ARE UNHELPFUL
I have briefly discussed one of the most helpful ways to disagrees with someone There are two others, which are far more popular. The first way is avoidance. Simply ignore the disagreement. For small issues, this is the most civilised way to disagree. The second is attack the other person. This generally happens when the attacker has a shallow or weak case to support their opinion. It’s also proven to be a most effective means for settling a disagreement – but it is wrong! It takes more effort for a parent to patiently explain to their disagreeable child why they need a regular and consistent early bed-time. It’s far easier just to use force. For those interested in twentieth century Spanish history, the example of General Franco is an abhorrent illustration of this. Taking the time to demonstrate your reasonableness, without resorting to threats of violence of intimidation, is hard work. It’s one of the reasons why I really appreciate what Samuel Green does in debating with Muslim leaders and scholars about why Islam is false and Christianity it true. Samuel does this without resorting to ridicule or threats of intimidation.
As a church, if we are to grow, we will have disagreements along the way. It is my hope that we can learn to understand before being understood, and that we can also learn which disagreements are worth dialoguing about.