Rev. David Holwick W Family Concerns #5
First Baptist Church
Ledgewood, New Jersey
July 27, 2008
I. Are you a happy or unhappy family?
A. The conventional wisdom is wrong.
More than a century ago, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote,
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way."
The words have become immortalized, and the unhappy story of
"Anna Karenina" (kah REN neen ah) is considered one of
the greatest novels ever written.
But psychologists and sociologists are starting to question
John Gottman, a psychology professor at the Univ. of Washington
in Seattle, says, "I think Tolstoy was totally wrong.
Unhappy families are really similar to one another - there's
much more variability among happy families."
Gottman and others are trying to understand why as many as one
in two marriages end in divorce and why so many couples
seem to fall out of love and break apart.
Some of the most revealing answers, it turns out, come from
the couples who stay together.
Conventional wisdom holds that conflicts in a relationship
slowly erode the bonds that hold partners together.
But couples who are happy in the long term turn out to have
plenty of conflicts, too.
Fights and disagreements are apparently intrinsic to all
But couples who stay together over the long haul don't let the
fighting contaminate other parts of the relationship.
B. The Bible has great advice on fighting.
1) You may be thinking, "Christians can't fight!"
a) In reality, we fight all the time.
b) Even the apostles had drag-out fights.
1> Paul separated from Barnabas over Mark.
2> Peter was chewed out by Paul for compromising.
2) Christians fight, but we don't fight like the world.
a) Our goal should always be reconciliation and peace.
b) We take a stand for truth, but we do it in a loving way.
1> (or at least we are supposed to)
c) We should never lose sight of the feelings of the other
1> Especially if they are in our family.
II. What is your conflict style?
A. The marriage formula.
John Gottman, the guy from the University of Washington, did
a 20-year study involving more than 600 married couples.
He carefully plotted how a husband and wife interact and then
reduced those observations to a formula.
By giving points to body language, harshness or gentleness of
words, and emotional intensity, each couple is plotted on
From the graph, researchers can tell which marriages will
succeed and which are headed for the rocks.
Gottman said that how couples resolve differences is a key
factor in whether their marriage will last.
He said his team found that there basically are three types of
B. Three types of stable marriages.
1) Conflict avoiders.
The first is a husband and wife who routinely avoids
When a difference of opinion arises, "they will never
They will listen to the other, but will not try to
Such marriages, which he calls the "avoiders," may be
unemotional and distant, but they endure.
2) Volatile arguers.
These are "like two lawyers in a courtroom."
They can argue at the drop of a hat.
They are the Bickersons.
Such marriages tend to last even though there are frequent
and impassioned arguments.
The third type of stable marriage Gottman calls the
They listen to each other, respect the other's opinion
and only occasionally argue.
"They pick the issues they fight about," he says.
C. Blends have the toughest time.
Trouble in marriages comes when the couples are a mix of
personalities that do not mesh in resolving conflicts.
For instance, a husband who is a volatile arguer married to a
wife who is an "avoider", or one who flees from disagreement,
may be headed for a divorce.
There's little hope for a marriage where the wife is an avoider
of argument and the husband thrives on heated discussion.
But if she can be taught to respond to his verbal attack while
he learns to tone down his volatility, then they might find
a happy middle ground of marriage.
III. Family conflict is nothing new.
A. It begins in Genesis, with Cain fighting Abel.
1) A life is taken, and a family disintegrates.
B. The Book of Proverbs gives gives some snapshots of disgruntled
1) The disgruntled ones are always women (it was written by men).
C. Jesus says a primary reason for conflict is our tendency to
look at the faults of others instead of our own.
Matthew 7:1-5 --
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and
with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speak of sawdust in your brother's eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
IV. Advice in Ephesians 4.
A. Reject deception.
1) Speak truthfully to each other.
2) A web of lies only entangles YOU.
B. Put limits on your anger.
1) You cannot ban all emotion or passion.
a) Paul assumes everyone gets angry.
2) But you can restrict it so there is no permanent damage.
a) By sundown, have the argument resolved.
b) Unresolved anger leads to spiritual danger.
1> Your marriage may not be the only casualty.
2> Satan gets a foothold in you if you let anger have
C. Aim for the edification of the other person. 4:29
1) Edification means to build someone up.
a) Sort of like our new building that is going up.
2) Your words and intent should be helpful.
a) You should keep the other person's needs in view.
b) You want them to gain from this.
c) This is true in any conversation, but especially in an
1> Think in terms of "win-win" rather than "win-lose."
D. Fight fair.
1) Get rid of the malice and harsh feelings. 4:31
a) Some people think intensity shows sincerity.
b) Most of the time it only increases the volume.
2) Practical advice on "don't"s:
a) Don't be sarcastic.
b) Don't criticize, condemn or compare.
c) Don't use name calling, or derogatory remarks.
3) Focus on the real issue and try to reach resolution.
V. Reconciliation is better than agreement.
A. Not every argument can be settled.
1) Even if people don't see eye-to-eye, they can be at peace.
2) Our relationships are more important than any issue that
may divide us.
B. Reconciliation often involves forgiveness.
Dietrich Bonhoffer was a German pastor during World War II.
To a young couple who had been married a brief time he wrote
"Live together in forgiveness for without it no human
relationship, least of all a marriage, can survive.
Accept each other as you are and forgive each other every
day from the bottom of your hearts."
This advice is made more powerful by the fact that he wrote
it from a Nazi prison, where just a few years later he died.
Forgiveness is not easy.
It is an ability that comes from God.
C. Families aren't the only relationships that need reconciliation.
1) The Bible says all of us need to be reconciled to God.
2) Even if we don't realize it, we are arguing with him.
3) Jesus is the only one who can bring us together again.
a) Turn to him for forgiveness and healing.
SOURCES FOR ILLUSTRATIONS USED IN THIS SERMON:
#20322 "Researcher Has Formula To Predict Marriage Outcomes," by Paul
Recer, The Associated Press/America Online, February 13, 2004.
#22565 "Sorry, Tolstoy, Happy Couples Aren't All Alike," by Shankar
Vedantam, Washington Post, http://www.jsonline.com,
February 17, 2002.
#30752 "The Ability To Forgive Comes From God," by Dr. Michael T. Powers;
State Street United Methodist Church; Bowling Green, Kentucky;
Kerux Sermon #19364, "Handling Conflict At Home,"
January 14, 2001.
These and 30,000 others are part of the Kerux database that can be
downloaded, absolutely free, at http://www.holwick.com/database.html
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