Conflicts need not destroy a marriage. Rev Dr Tan Siang Yang offers tips on resolving them. Photo by Thanh Duc PHAN on Unsplash.

Is your wife insensitive and unsubmissive? Is your husband harsh and authoritarian? Do you have a difficult marriage?

Welcome to the club.

Every marriage has its issues, challenges and conflicts, said Rev Dr Tan Siang Yang.

Rev Dr Tan is a clinical psychologist and pastor, as well as Spiritual Director of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).

The clinical psychologist and Senior Pastor Emeritus of First Evangelical Church Glendale in the US was speaking at the two-day seminar in Singapore Bringing Healing and Wholeness to Families in Pain.

Expect marital conflicts, he added.

“Anything that drives you to your knees in deeper prayer is a good thing for your spiritual life.”

“You put two sinners together, what do you get? Double trouble. Where on earth did we get this silly idea that a man and woman brought together by God will live happily ever after?

“You expect that, you’re going to be very deeply disappointed.”

Instead, marriage is a “spiritual discipline given by God to help you grow up”. The more challenging the marriage, the more opportunities to turn to God in humility and prayer.

“Anything that drives you to your knees in deeper prayer is a good thing for your spiritual life,” said Rev Dr Tan.

The biblical perspective on marriage, then, is that God made marriage not to make us happy but to make us holy, that we might be perfected and be more like Jesus.

Yet marriages can be happy and healthy, and many are. One way to have a successful marriage is to learn how to manage marital conflicts. Rev Dr Tan shared his insights below.

The biblical view of marriage

The Bible talks a lot about marriage and biblical principles can help stabilise a marriage. 

1. Submit to one another

When people read Ephesians 5:21-33, they often start with verse 22 and so miss the context of the entire passage.

“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. That is called mutual submission,” noted Rev Dr Tan.

Rev Dr Tan was invited by the Singapore chapter of The World Needs A Father (TWNAF) to speak about how hurting families can heal.

“There is a deep love and compassion for one another. There is a mutual respect for one another.

“If the husband submits to Christ, if the wife submits to Christ, then submitting to one another is easy because you’re already submitted to Christ.”

2. Husbands be tender

The command for husbands to be tender and sensitive to their wives (Colossians 3:18-19) was a counter-cultural one in patriarchal Jewish society.

“Paul was revolutionary,” said Rev Dr Tan.

Such consideration on the part of husbands remains important today because it is “fitting in the Lord”.

3. Be gentle with each other

Gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit and when wives display that towards their husbands, it is “precious in God’s sight”.

Husbands are to be gentle towards their wives so their prayers will not be hindered.

In fact, such a display of godly character is what would turn unbelieving husbands to the faith.

“Some of us, you know, push too hard to try to convert a non-Christian spouse. But the best means of touching them with the Gospel is by your conduct, your behaviour, your love.”

In the same way, husbands are to be gentle towards their wives, showing them understanding so their prayers will not be hindered.

4. Remain faithful 

Hebrews 13:4 tells couples that marriage should be honoured and the “marriage bed kept pure”.

Said Rev Dr Tan: “God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral. This is a serious verse.”

Prepare for “surprises”

“Some things come as surprises the couples don’t expect because they’re not realistic,” said Rev Dr Tan.

These surprises can “jolt the relationship”, which is why it is important to be aware of  them to better fortify the marriage against them.

1. Unfulfilled expectations

When expectations are unrealistic, disappointment is inevitable.

“Minister to your spouse in their love language.”

To avoid this, learn to minister to your spouse.

“You need to know her or him, you need to know their needs so that you can do your best with God’s help to meet their needs, and to be sacrificial and non-selfish.

“You have to communicate well, express your needs to one another.

“Then you need to take steps of faith to minister to your spouse in their love language, not your love language.”

2. Disappointing sex

Couples think that the best sex they will have is on their wedding night or during their honeymoon.

“The best sex in the world happens in a committed relationship.”

In truth, they are often too tired.

Rev Dr Tan quoted Dr James Dobson who used to say that fatigue is the greatest factor in poor sex for married couples.

There will be plenty of time in marriage to engage in more enjoyable sex.

“The best sex in the world happens in a committed relationship with a husband and wife with deep love committed forever and forever.”

With senior couples, sexual needs may be mismatched. Negotiation and compromise may be needed so that there is still enough intimacy to satisfy.

3. Faulty communications

Communication fails not because of lack of skills but lack of love.

“To be each other’s best friend, you need to learn how to communicate.”

Said Rev Dr Tan: “John Gottman feels that the secret to good marriage counselling has very little to do with communication skills, or conflict resolution skills.

“It has everything to do with learning to be each other’s best friends.

“Of course, to be each other’s best friend, you need to learn how to communicate.

“You can learn all the communication skills in the world, but if you don’t love one another, you don’t admire one another, you don’t appreciate one another, you are not good friends with one another, then forget it.”

4. Unhealthy relationships

Rev Dr Tan also warned about adultery. With business trips becoming more prevalent, it is “very easy to have a fling”.

Another form of cheating is emotional adultery where there is no sex but there is a close relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

Leaders in Christian ministry can be especially vulnerable because they are often idolised by people. But their wives who know them for who they are may not put them on a pedestal. The admiration from others may feed pride and lead to emotional intimacy.

5. Unwise choices

Make big decisions with each other.

“Remember, the two shall become one. You have a partner. You need to talk to your spouse, you need to consult.

“And then hopefully you can agree on the decision. If you don’t, you often end up making an unwise choice that hurts your spouse.”

6. Secrets

It is best not to have secrets between husbands and wives, as this concerns trust.

Beware of undermining influences

Unlike surprises that occur suddenly, these influences are subtle and happen over time.

1. Busyness

Busyness tires you out and tiredness kills your sex life and even communication.

2. Role confusion

Do husbands and wives know their roles as partners and parents or are they constantly contradicting each other?

3. Inflexibility

Stubbornness causes marital conflicts. Sometimes, spouses simply have to “agree to disagree” because the argument cannot be resolved.

Here is where being best friends with your spouse helps because the mutual respect and enjoyment will make it easier to repair the marriage after a conflict.

There is a bonus to building friendship with your spouse.

“Many men complain about sex. When your friendship is better, your sex life will improve.”

7 principles for making marriage work

1. Enhance your love map

Get to know your spouse. He or she may have changed over time. You will need to learn to expand your understanding of them.

“You need to talk and show an interest. Marriage is an ongoing adjustment.”  

2. Nurture your fondness and admiration

Rev Dr Tan suggested one way spouses can do this.

“Sit down and write all their good points.”

3. Turn towards each other instead of away

Intentionally adopt a posture and attitude of turning towards your spouse.

4. Let your partner influence you

Be flexible and do not always assume you are right.

5. Solve your solvable problems

This includes a willingness to compromise and tolerate each other’s faults.

“When you’re very intense in your conflict, have a timeout. Take a break, stop talking, be separated for one or two hours and you’ll calm down.

“Then come back again later.”  

6. Overcome gridlock

Gridlocks are things you are stuck in. When there is something that cannot seem to be resolved, ask: “What’s your meaning?”

This may help to clarify the issue and help you see your spouse’s point of view.

7. Create shared meaning

Shared values such as those in the Bible can draw a couple together.

Finally, Rev Dr Tan encouraged: “Remember, working briefly on your marriage every day will do more for your health and longevity than working out at the health club.”


Trapped in a string of unhealthy and abusive relationships, this single mother finally broke free

“Suffering can draw us back into the life that God intended for us”: Tips for people helpers

About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.