Dealing With Conflict in a Ministry Marriage

There are many books that deal with strengthening marriages, but few explore the intense conflict that can occur between couples in the ministry. Passionate personalities, mixed with the power of the Holy Spirit, can burn out of control at times. Unresolved issues with clergy couples not only weakens their marriage and family, it can also destroy their church and community.

Being a Ministry Couple is Not Easy

Married couples who pastor a church or lead a ministry together, especially a new church plant, are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Living in a “fish bowl” under the watchful eye of the congregation can create an additional level of stress that non-ministry marriages don’t experience.

Each couple is different and develops a unique rhythm over the years that demands an equally unique approach to dealing with marital problems. Newlyweds who enter the ministry shortly after getting married have not had time to get to know each other, so the pressure of ministry can put even more strain on their relationship. On the other hand, couples who have been married a long time tend to be set in their ways and can be inflexible when problems occur.

Finding what works for your marriage takes time and a lot of patience. Understanding how to properly deal with tension and conflict, before it gets out of control, is the key to keeping your marriage strong. Below are a few methods my husband and I use (not always successfully) to minimize the damage when we don’t see eye to eye.

Conflict Resolution Tips for Clergy Couples

  1. Ask God to take control. The moment tempers start to rise, ask God to control your actions and give you wisdom to deal with the situation. Prayer will give you the clarity you need in the heat of the moment to make good choices.

    1 Corinthians 14:33 – “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”

  2. Resist the urge to scream and yell. Never argue in front of church members or your children, and try to remain calm. It’s not easy, but this is one of the best ways to keep things from getting out of hand. Don’t use sarcasm and passive-aggressive behavior to make your point. Be kind.

    Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

  3. Choose to forgive each other. Arguments stir up emotions and memories of past incidents. Forgiveness is a choice. Negative emotions may remain, but by choosing to forgive you begin to neutralize the situation.

    Ephesians 4:31-32 – “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

  4. Think about why you fell in love. Meditate on your husband or wife’s positive attributes. This will be difficult in the heat of the moment, but if you think about why you fell in love the reasons for your fight may not seem as important. Also, thinking about what your life would be like if they were gone – forever – tends to put things in perspective.

    Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.”

  5. Say something positive. Instead of saying the first negative thing that comes to mind, say something positive. It’s difficult to find something nice to say when you’re angry, but if you can’t say something productive, don’t say anything. The feeling of guilt and remorse over careless words is a tough pill to swallow the next day.

    Proverbs 18:21 – “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

  6. Go for a drive or walk away. Sometimes leaving the room is the only way to stop the argument. Most importantly, resist the urge to post on social media, call friends, or text while you are angry. This will give both of you time to calm down and not text or post something you will regret later.

    Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

  7. Don’t do something stupid. After a heated argument we usually feel defeated, hopeless and depressed. Now is not the time to make life-altering decisions, choices or proclamations. Things will look different tomorrow! Don’t let your emotions (flesh) control your actions. Remember who you are in Christ. Don’t compound the problem by acting on or doing something you can’t take back.

    Galatians 6:7 – “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

  8. Don’t go to bed angry. After you’ve had time to cool down, approach them with a loving attitude and an apology. Your spouse may still be resistant, but keep reassuring them how much you love them. Controlling an argument is never easy, but the rewards will be great if you are able to keep things from going too far.

    Ephesians 4:26 – “Be angry, and do not sin; Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

    Matthew 5:23-24 – “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother (spouse) has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother (spouse), and then come and offer your gift.”

Communication is Key

Stopping a fight before it gets out of control is one thing, but the real work must be done on a daily basis. Having an open line of communication is crucial in any marriage or relationship, especially when the couple has the added responsibility of pastoring a church. If communication breaks down, bitterness and resentment will creep into your marriage.

Even when it’s difficult, talk about your problems, including the burdens of ministry, and find solutions together. It’s a lot easier to prevent conflict than fix the damage that occurs after the war is over. Trust must be developed through meaningful communication. Learning to listen more – and talk less – is the most important thing we can do to strengthen our marriage.

James 1:19-20 – “And let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

It’s Not Over

Never give up on each other! God doesn’t give up on us. No matter how bad things seem, there is always hope in Jesus Christ. Couples with much bigger problems than what you are facing have seen their marriages restored. Remember, we have been sanctified – set apart for His purposes. His blood cleanses us and keeps on cleansing, for better or for worse, through thick and thin.

1 John 1:7 – “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Matthew 19:6 – “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Kim Linton is the IT manager and webmaster of Ministrymaker Ministries. Her articles and technology guides have been published on a variety of websites including Yahoo News, Woman's Day and Intel.