The Hidden Value of Conflict

By Greg Smalley
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Rather than making it our goal to resolve arguments, we must learn how to manage our conflicts.

Murfreesboro, Ark., is home to Crater of Diamonds State Park, a site where the public can search for diamonds. For a small fee, visitors can dig for diamonds and keep whatever they find. The park is located above the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe. This “crater” is actually a 37-acre open field that is plowed from time to time to bring diamonds and other gemstones to the surface.

I will never forget my first impression of this place. It wasn’t pretty. This volcanic field is a treeless wasteland of dirt and rocks and, apparently, diamonds. At first glance, it seems impossible that there could be anything valuable hidden beneath the ancient volcanic dirt.

This is actually a perfect picture of the hidden value of conflict. On the surface, conflict is not pretty. For some couples, it feels rocky and treacherous—full of tension and anger. Others experience conflict more as a distant wasteland—filled with avoidance and withdrawal. Either way, most couples experience conflict as frustrating and painful, something they should definitely avoid. However, as the person who found a 40.23-carat diamond at the state park discovered, conflict is loaded with potential treasures as well.

Most people, for good reason, view conflict in a negative light. They believe that the arguments and angry interactions between a husband and wife are not just stressful but unhealthy. In the end, many couples see conflict as a sign that their relationship is in trouble. This belief is understandable yet unfortunate. Conflict is not negative; instead, it’s an inevitable part of marriage that will be managed in either a healthy or an unhealthy way.

I prefer the word “managing” over “resolving” conflicts. Rather than making it our goal to resolve arguments, we must learn how to manage conflict. The good news is that if we manage conflict in a healthy way, like Crater of Diamonds State Park, it is loaded with treasures to be unearthed. Marriage expert John Gottman addressed this issue in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail:

If there is one lesson I have learned from my years of research it is that a lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship. Many couples tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness and believe the claim “we never fight” is a sign of marital health. But I believe we grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences.

That’s how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage.

In the same way that the Grand Canyon expands as the Colorado River fights its way through, healthy conflict helps a marriage to grow and evolve. If handled right, arguments have the potential to create greater understanding, trust, and connection. Many people fail to see the true value of disagreement because it’s housed in something unpleasant and unglamorous – like that wasteland of ancient volcanic dirt. Most couples fail to notice the diamonds lying just under the surface, waiting to be discovered. Here are a few of the diamonds buried within healthy conflict:

  • Brings problems into the light and helps couples face their issues instead of denying or avoiding them
  • Helps you to better appreciate the differences between you and your spouse
  • Gives you a chance to care for and empathize with your spouse
  • Provides an opportunity to break old, ineffective patterns
  • Can restore unity and oneness
  • Humbles us and God gives his grace to the humble (James 4:6)
  • Gives you great insight into your own personal issues
  • Helps you learn how to anticipate and resolve future conflicts
  • Brings you closer together as you listen, understand and ‚Ä®validate each other
  • Provides a great source of information. For example, conflict can reveal the need to spend more time together
  • Can raise you to higher levels of marital satisfaction every time you manage the conflict well

So what is the real value of conflict? If we compared each potential conflict benefit on that previous list to a 2-carat diamond, the most valuable aspect of relational disagreements would be like the 40-carat diamond discovered at the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Adapted from Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, published by Howard Books. Copyright © 2012 by Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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