In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I wrote that the heat of conflict is the rubbing together of desires. I have desires for my wife that want fulfilled. It may be a meal choice, a movie choice, an intimacy choice, or whatever. Maybe I don't want to fix the squeak in the front door, and my wife wants me to. Fighting springs up when my desires conflict with hers.
In Love That Lasts, Gary and Betsy Ricucci have a good section on conflict and desire. I thought I'd quote some of it.
"Desire - conflict becomes a possibility when a human heart carries a desire. I would like him to be more open and take more initiative and leadership in our communication. Or, I would like her to understand that sometimes I just don't have a lot to say. There is nothing necessarily wrong with either of these desires. So far no sin, no problem.I'm pretty sure they built this progression on some insight from Paul David Tripp or CCEF. I think this is an excellent diagnosis of conflict dynamics. I encourage you to look into your own relationship. Where do you see this progression building? The next time you have a conflict with your spouse - call timeout. Both of you sit down and turn the guns from one another onto the conflict itself. And see if you can't fit your conflict into the above progression. James has given us a prescription for ending the "war of words."
Disagreement/ Disappointment - When our desire meets with disagreement or disappointment, we start to see what sort of hold it has on us. If we say to ourselves, I can't believe he doesn't want to talk with me right now! or Doesn't she realize I'm tired when I come home from work, and just want some time alone! we have a problem. Here desire has begun to reveal a craving, lust or sinful passion.
Deserving - Our sinful self-orientation begins to look at this unmet desire as something we deserve. I've been home all day with the children! Don't I deserve his attention and some adult conversation?! Or, I've been at work all day solving everyone else's problems! Don't I deserve some peace and quiet? It's a sure indication we believe our desire is deserved when emotion stirring in our hearts influences the tone or content of our speech.
Demanding - Once we believe we deserve something, we feel perfectly justified in demanding it.
Dependence - Underneath this escalating war, the heart is exposed as depending on the thing desired. It is no longer I want or even I need. It becomes, I must have! My peace and joy depend on him talking to me! - or, on her leaving me alone!
Deification - This dependency reveals that we have deified ourselves and our desire. My kingdom come! My will be done on earth as it is in my imagination! ... We become willing to sacrifice everything - our peace, our obedience, even our spouse - on its altar.
Destruction - That which our heart deifies eventually destroys our relationships, and us."
Rather than fighting to fulfill your desires, pray. And rather than pray for the fulfillment of your desires, pray a prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus Christ gave up his right to comfort, happiness, wealth and worship in order to come to earth and live a life of deprivation for you. He sacrificed his desire for those things on the cross. He died, not for his own sinful, idolatrous, unloving desires. He died for yours. And after you're done thanking Jesus for living and dying in your place, humbly ask him for the ability and desire to lay down your desires (even legitimate ones) in love to your spouse. Who says James has little gospel in it?