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Four decades of wisdom on marriage and conflict

Ron and Deb DeArmond share their research and experiences on fighting fair in marriage

Ron and Deb DeArmond Handout

Four decades of wisdom on marriage and conflict

Deb and Ron DeArmond learned so many lessons on conflict from their 40 years of marriage they decided to write a book together on the subject. In Dont Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight, they say the problem in marriage is not conflict, but how spouses deal with conflict. Ron is a pastor and Deb is a writer, trainer, and consultant. I had this conversation with them at the International Christian Retail Show in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Youve been married for more than 40 years. How did you meet?

DEB DEARMOND: We went to high school together [in the] same year and knew each other as friends for a couple years before we started to date. Once we began dating, he knew that I attended church regularly. I was in a nondenominational, Protestant community church. He began asking me when we started to date about my church doctrine and asking me questions about my faith. Not only did I not know the answers, I didn’t understand most of the questions. “What do you mean, what’s my church doctrine? What’s our stand on the Trinity?” I had no clue what that meant. For six months, he diligently sowed little seeds of Scripture into my life—he and his best friend Milton. Milton would say something provocative and I’d go, “Check it out with Ron,” and he’d say, “Well let’s see what the Bible says about that.” For six months, he was faithful. The night before we graduated from high school, sitting in a parked car, talking about the Bible, which is not what teenagers usually are doing sitting in a parked car, he led me to the Lord. … That was just a really sweet, sweet thing.

Your book says conflict in marriage is inevitable.

DD: The couples that tell us, “We don’t really have any conflict,” I’m thinking, one of you has disappeared or is asleep at the switch. [With] two different personalities, two different sets of backgrounds, and neither of us ever having been afraid to express our opinion, there’s going to be conflict in any healthy marriage. There are differing perspectives. You don’t need two people with exactly the same point of view. We believe that conflict can be a strength because it can lead to discovery. Or it can be your undoing, and it leads to damage.

Based on your research and experience, what are the biggest sources of conflict in marriage?

RON DEARMOND: It is the unwillingness to listen. … That means I’m willing to be changed by what you have to say to me. The listening skill is lost in the family because we’re usually spinning our wheels, thinking, “What’s my response to what you’re saying?”

DD: I do think that you hit on all the big ones. The only one you left out was children. Money, sex, kids, in-laws, and how are we going to walk our Christian life? There’s a lot of disagreement about this.

RD: Somebody once joked to me about guitar playing that some people have 30 years of experience and some people have one year of experience 30 times. My wife and I’ve been married for over 30 years, 33 years now. I do find that sometimes we have the same arguments over and over and over again, that is until one of us wises up—it’s usually her. … One of us is not listening to the other. Humility’s the key. If we’ll humble ourselves enough to say, “Maybe this woman I married knows a little bit more than me in this area or maybe she has something in this information here that I really need to take to heart. It is my job as being her completer and her mate to ask that and to bring that into me and to be willing to be changed by it.”

DD: Our favorite definition of listening, Warren, is the willingness to be changed by what you hear. That’s not easy to do. In an argument, couples are typically thinking about what I’m going to say as soon as he breathes or swallows. We’re not listening. We’re just not talking. Listening opens up the possibility that there could be something I haven’t thought of, hard to imagine though it might be. That’s when we really find our way to something neither us could have come up with on our own.

So, just because youre talking doesnt mean youre communicating.

DD: Early in our marriage, in the middle of what we call an “intense moment of fellowship,” Ron put his hand up in the international stop sign and said, “You know, if you want to win, you’re on a roll. If you want the best solution, one we can both support, we need to slow this down and really listen to one another.” I have to admit in the moment, there was this flash that said, “Do I want to win? Or do I really want the best solution?” Part of what we realize is, if there’s a winner, there’s a loser. I don’t want to be married to a loser. If that’s the goal, we’re in trouble.

When you were doing research for the book, did you learn anything about marriage that you hadnt seen before?

DD: We really wanted to know if Christians did it different than the rest of the world, and the answer, sadly, is no. Two things really stood out. We did two groups, one, those who identified as Christ-followers and one that had no faith affiliation whatsoever. [They were] virtually identical when you asked, “What was the top source of the conflict?” They said, bad communication or poor communication. …

The other one that really surprised us is that over 40 percent of those who identified as Christians said that seldom or never do their Christian principles of faith enter into the conflict resolution process. How can that be that we have no advantage? I was stunned.

The title of your book, Dont Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight, is from Scripture, where it says, “Dont let the sun go down on your wrath.” You say that thats the most misunderstood passage in Scripture. What do you mean by that?

DD: There’s two parts to the title. [The first is] “don’t go to bed angry.” It doesn’t take long to look at one another and say, “This is way beyond the boundaries of positive conversation. Can we just pray together, release one another, ask forgiveness from one another and from Him? Let’s get a good night’s sleep and come back at this tomorrow morning.” That’s the first half of it. The second half, “stay up and fight,” [means] stay up, stand up, fight together because we do have an enemy that is out to destroy our marriage. It’s just not our spouse.

Can you share the story from your book about your daughter-in-laws reaction when she overheard you two having a conflict?

DD: Her dad died when she was 5 and her mother never remarried. She had no model for marital conflict at all. We’d known this young woman since she was 13 years old. The kids had been friends all those years, married at 19. This was within the first three or four years of their marriage. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came downstairs so tentatively and said, “You and dad had a fight.” I said, “We did and I’m so sorry you heard it.” She said, “But you seem so together.” I said, “How do you think we’ve stayed so good? I’m sorry that you heard it but that’s how we get it all out on the table.” She immediately relaxed and she said, “That’s important to know,” because she said, “Sometimes, Jordan and I will get into it and what I’m learning is, I’m okay, you’re okay. This is normal.” This is one of those things that I don’t think anybody ever teaches us in premarital counseling, and I don’t think it’s an expectation that most newlyweds and even a lot of oldieweds would acknowledge.

What would you say to a couple who doesnt have good conflict-resolution skills and doesnt see a way out of a conflict they are in?

DS: Everybody has conflict. It’s normal. It’s human. For Ron and I, we had very different backgrounds. We didn’t come to the altar on the day we wed, fully prepared. We worked through a lot of ugly, angry moments that were painful that didn’t make us feel good about ourselves in the moment. The two things that we learned were, first, to honor how different our styles really are. Ron’s an engineer, purposeful, thoughtful, deliberate. I think and process very quickly. That could be a disaster, and for a while it was. But we learned how to use that to our benefit. Appreciate one another’s styles. Secondly, learn about the tools and the rules.

RD: In this process, we sat down with our sons and said, “Look, wake up. You need to understand that your wife came from a different house than you did. We didn’t do it right, and the way we did it isn’t the right way, but it’s a way. You need to sit down with your wife and learn her style. If she processes, give her space to process. If she can stay up with it and you guys can deal with things, then do it. At least open your heart to understand who she is and how she processes.”

If somebodys listening to this, and they just dont know how their marriage is going to survive even to the end of this podcast, what would you say to that person?

DD: Marriage was God’s idea, and He wrote the owner’s manual on how to do it well. What we say and how we say it can make all the difference in the world. His Word is absolutely true and always faithful, and if you turn to the Word and turn to one another as you do that, you may just be able to come out on top.

Listen to Warren Smiths complete conversation with Ron and Deb DeArmond on the July 8, 2016, episode of Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.


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