You can be entirely wrong about how you are exactly right.
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s possible for you to be correct about your position on an issue, but if you communicate your disagreement with hostility or pride, you may as well be wrong in a million ways. Whether it’s a disagreement with your spouse, or an issue that you are trying to navigate as you parent your children, we can short-circuit the process of conflict resolution when we ignore our attitude towards the other person. Positively, learning to examine not just our position in a disagreement, but also our posture can help us work through disagreements in our marriage more effectively.
Several months ago, my wife and I spent time with a mentor couple that we have invited to be honest with us about our marriage. They have spoken to us both truth and grace in ways that have both challenged and encouraged us. We were sharing with them about one of those issues that just kept rearing its head in our relationship. It was a disagreement in which I had convinced myself that I was correct – but my wife hadn’t yet seen it that way. Re-treading the same ground over and over again had become frustrating, and discouraging, and so we shared this conflict with our friends. “Have you thought about your posture when you talk about this?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. He went on to explain that how we disagree is just as important as why we disagree. While we might be technically correct in a matter, if we refuse to listen or understand another viewpoint, or if we act smug or self-righteous about our position, we are in no better place relationally than if we are entirely wrong about our position. In fact, the opposite is also true. A person may be mistaken about their viewpoint or their preferred course of action, but if they approach the matter with humility, and openness, with a willingness to learn, and a sensitivity to the other person, she may be far from the truth, but in a far better place relationally.
To prove his point, my friend reminded me of the example of the Pharisees in the New Testament. The Pharisees were religious experts; they believed in God and they knew their bibles well. They lived disciplined, morally rigorous lives. Their moral position may have been right, but their posture was all wrong. The Pharisees were all about puffing themselves up. They were all about parading themselves in front of others and seeking the applause of those around them. They were condescending towards others who didn’t obey God’s Law with quite the same precision. Jesus doesn’t mince words when he rebukes these poorly-postured Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others”(Matthew 23:23-24). The Pharisees were in the right position – they practiced obedience down to the smallest detail. But their posture was all wrong – they showed complete disregard for how they were treating others.
How might these sobering words help us in our marriage? For a moment, consider the last conflict that you found yourself tangled in with our spouse. Whether this is the same argument that you’ve had dozens of times, or whether it was a one-time issue, consider together:
Your point of view matters. Can you calmly express and articulate what it is that you want, and why it matters to you? Have you thought through what lies behind what it is that you want? Does what you want benefit you as an individual more than you as a couple? Is this something you can let go, or find a compromise on? In working through conflict, it’s helpful to be able to express clearly what it is that you are after.
Most of us have a reasonably good sense of what we want in a disagreement; but we haven’t given a lot of thought to our posture. I suspect many marital conflicts could be lessened significantly with some thought here. When you communicate your point of view to your spouse, are you trying to intimidate them? Do you appear condescending or dismissive of their viewpoint? Sometimes, when conflict arises, we hunker down and prepare ourselves for battle. What if we adopted a different posture? What if, when disagreement came, you determined to be relationally open to your spouse? This would involve communicating to them a willingness to listen and understand their point of view more than a desire to express your own point of view. This posture would clearly show that you are on their team, and that you are committed to working with them towards an outcome that satisfies both of you. Keep in mind that your posture can be communicated with both verbal cues (what you are saying, your tone of voice, your choice of words) and non-verbal cues (whether or not you make eye contact; sitting and facing your spouse or turning away from them; a jaw clenched in anger versus calm facial features).
As our friends walked with us through that disagreement that we’d had time and time again, it dawned on me that even if I had been right the whole time, I’d in fact been wrong because of how I had approached the matter. Through that conversation, I learned what it might look like to change my approach; posture matters as much as position! What is your posture in your marriage?