Last week I started a four-part series on marriage, starting with how to make your marriage last. (Go back and start with that post if you haven’t read it yet.) This week we’re going to talk about fighting — how to prevent it, how to argue fairly and how to resolve it. Conflict is inevitable in marriage. You have two different genders, with two different upbringings and in our case two different cultures. It’s a natural recipe for conflict.
When Marcello and I first moved in together we fought for weeks on end. He moved here for six months from Italy after we had dated two years long distance to basically see if we should get married. I now regret that we lived together before marriage. I had walked so far away from my faith I wasn’t sure God existed — a story for another day — and we didn’t have too many options as Marcello spoke little English and had no job — also a story for another day! If any two people know about fighting, it’s us.
We’re both passionate and stubborn and half the time we weren’t even arguing about the same thing with our language barrier! I didn’t know that he would use any and every empty surface on a dresser or table to lay out his things — watch, wallet, anything that belongs in a man purse. He didn’t know that I would leave all my shoes by the front door in our tiny apartment. We sat down for dinner and he wanted to know if I had a tablecloth. No. I gave him a placemat. I actually had milk with dinner, like the young midwesterner that I was, which was unacceptable for an Italian. He told me in half English, half Italian that only wine or water was acceptable. Do you see what I’m getting at? We have argued since day one.
Over the last 10 years things have changed. We don’t argue about the same things over and over much anymore. We disagree and discuss most things now instead of having a knock-down, drag-out fight. I can’t remember the last time I slammed a door or he raised his voice. I’m inviting a challenge from Satan on this, I’m sure, but for the most part we talk things out together in detail until we’re blue in the face and have reached a compromise or solution.
Carrying on from the three points from the first post, let’s jump into the next four points. Some of these ideas you might not have heard, some might seem old fashioned, yet try to take them in with fresh eyes. Read them with your own behavior in mind, not your spouse’s. Think about how these can apply to you and what you need to work on, not what he needs to work on. Ok?
And while I’m being bossy, I’d ask that you not skip over reading the few scriptures included. My words have no supernatural power to speak to your soul, but His words do. Enough rambling from me, let’s get started.
#4: Be kind.
This seems obvious, but I think a lot of us tend to take things out on our spouse instead of build them up and treat them like our other half. How many silly fights could be prevented if we were just nice? I heard someone say once that she wished her husband would treat her as nice as he treats his best friend. It rang in my ears. It resonated with me because I knew that I didn’t talk to my husband the way I talked to my best friend.
So I conducted an experiment. For a day, I ran everything I did or said to Marcello through a filter of “would I do or say this to my best friend?” I surprised myself in the worst way. I basically had to eliminate half of my actions and words. No critiquing his parking spot choice. No remarking that the pasta had too much salt in it. No rolling my eyes or giving disapproving looks.
Nobody would want a friend who does these things! Why would you want to marry someone who does it on a daily basis? I realized how much work I had to do.
I started saying thank you for things he did around the house instead of expecting them. “Thanks for remembering to take the trash out on trash days.” The quicker I was to show him appreciation, the quicker he was to show me appreciation. It’s easier to do the everyday mundane tasks when you know your spouse sees it and is grateful.
About that same time I heard Greg Laurie give this litmus test on what you should say to your spouse that I found helpful.
T.H.I.N.K. before you speak.
- T—is it true?
- H—is it helpful?
- I—is it inspiring?
- N—is it necessary?
- K—is it kind?”
It took some brain power to recognize my thought patterns and consciously change them. I saw that when I became aware of and filtered the words that used to flow freely out of my mouth, his behavior changed toward me. As I made an effort to say only things that were true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind, he wanted to spend more time with me.
Some sore spots that were once in our marriage began to dissolve. One night I slipped up and began to criticize his dishwashing skills because there was still food on the “clean” dishes. As soon as it came out I regretted it and grit my teeth awaiting his response. To my surprise he laughed and made a joke. Why? Because it had been a long time since he had heard me offer disapproval.
Of course, there is a time and place for serious discussion, but here I’m speaking of everyday comments that will hopefully build a partner up rather than tear them down.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. — 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
#5: Fight fair.
When you have an argument with your spouse do you fight to win? Do you think your way is the only right way? Do you keep a mental file cabinet of how you’ve been wronged? If you do, I have some important news for you: Your spouse is not your enemy. In fact, fighting with your spouse is as futile as a left hand fighting a right hand. You are one, a team who God united as one.
The real enemy
Your real enemy is Satan, who wants to destroy your marriage. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
“Satan was the cause of the first marital conflict in history when he enticed Adam and Eve to rebel agains God’s Word,” Pastor Tony Evans explains in “Victory In Spiritual Warfare”. “This led to blame, pain, the battle between sexes, and sibling rivalry between the children. Marital conflict is indeed a spiritual issue.”
Priscilla Shirer gave an analogy in “Armor of God” that changed the way I think of the spiritual battle. She said that during a homemade version of whack-a-mole at a festival, there was a child who was so irritated by the puppets coming up and down as people tried to hit them, that he ran over and pulled back the tablecloth to reveal six adults under the table with the puppets on their hands! He discovered that the problem wasn’t the puppets, it was the adults moving them. “Our problem isn’t people,” she said, “it’s Satan.”
“Your real enemy — the devil — wants you to ignore the spiritual reality behind the physical one,” Priscilla says. “Because as long as you’re focused on what you can see with your physical eyes, he can continue to run rampant underneath the surface.”
So how can we do battle with our real enemy? Satan is powerful, more powerful than us, but he is only a lion in a cage when we have Jesus. We can call on Christ’s authority and omnipotence to overcome our sin and the sin of our loved ones. This is where prayer shakes things up. “Your problem is in heavenly places. Prayer takes you there,” says Tony Evans. Doing battle in prayer with God is more effective than 1,000 repeat conversations with your spouse. I really believe that.
Rules during disagreement
Here are some guidelines to a healthy disagreement. Again, think about your tendencies here and pledge to change them.
- Don’t fight to win, fight to resolve.
- Be respectful.
- Don’t yell.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t bring up past arguments. Discuss the subject at hand.
- Don’t build a case over time in your mind.
- Don’t throw or slam things.
- Don’t cuss.
- Don’t call names.
- Don’t be condescending or sarcastic.
- Don’t play the silent game.
- Don’t make a low blow to hurt your spouse and “win.”
- Don’t leave the house. If you do, say where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
- Never bring up divorce.
- Say you’re sorry if you know you’re wrong.
Of course, abuse is never acceptable. Topics discussed in this series are meant to be in the context of a heathy relationship. If you are in an abusive situation and need help, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline online or call 1-800-799-SAFE.
When you follow these general rules, the same disagreements don’t have to play on repeat. When you don’t play fair, you shift the focus to your misbehavior instead of the problem. But when you don’t muddy the waters with hurtful comments or condescension, you can focus the real topic at hand and dig it out from the root so it won’t crop up again.
Look at your marriage and identify what cycles of disagreement you have taken on. When you’re calm, sit down with your spouse and talk about how you can do it differently, better. If your arguments are not healthy, what steps can you take? Don’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results.
He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. — 1 Peter 2:22-24
You are in control of your own behavior, despite what your mate says or does.
Why do we fly off the handle when our spouse says something we don’t agree with? Why do we yell and lose control of ourselves when our expectations aren’t met? Pastor James Macdonald says, “We do that because of what’s inside of us. When we get bumped, we spill whatever we’re full of. And if we haven’t decided to lose that stuff — our sense of superiority and self-importance, our need to win and be right and to have the last word — that’s what naturally comes out.
“But when we lose this self-saturated outlook on life with all its sensitivity to perceived injury and insistence on meeting our personal preferences — and when we fill ourselves up with Jesus instead — something much different happens the next time we’re jostled by aggressive drivers or rude sales clerks or family members with hidden agendas. Instead of ugly, messy “self” spilling out, the fragrance of Christ spills out. The sweet aroma of peace and forgiveness spills out.”
(Side note: I got this content from a fantastic daily devotional email James Macdonald offers. It consistently offers biblical principal that can be applied to everyday life. You can go to his site to subscribe.)
Mistreatment of your spouse can hinder your prayers.
There’s a concept found in “Sacred Marriage,” by Gary Thomas that I had never heard before. God is your father, but he’s also your spouse’s father; therefore, he is your father-in-law. What does He think about how you’re treating his child?
Gary stopped me in my tracks as I read this. (I added the backslashes since most people who read this blog are women. The concept applies to both of us.)
“Viewing God as Father-in-Law has helped me understand the apostle Peter’s words when he wrote, ‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers’ (1 Pet. 3:7).
“If a young man/woman came to me, praising me, complimenting me on my character, even singing songs about me and giving me 10 percent of his/her income, and all the while I knew he/she was making one of my daughters/sons miserable through abuse or neglect, I’d frankly have nothing to say to him/her except, “Hey, buddy, start treating my daughter/son better, and then we can talk. You say you respect me? Then take care of my little girl/boy.
“That would be the first and only thing I’d want to discuss with him/her every time he approached me. So it makes total sense to me that if I don’t treat Lisa well, respecting her as God’s daughter with all the privileges such a high standing involves, that my prayer life will be hindered.”
This an excerpt from a piece my friend Ashby wrote on divorce and how it rips in two what God put together as one. She says it better than I ever could:
“Why don’t we talk about how bad it is? Do you know anyone who is divorced? Are they happy? Honestly? Did their divorce really help their children for the better? I’m sure there are some exceptions but for the most part, I think the vast majority would answer ‘no.’
“I’m not coming from a place of judgment or feeling like I know best but the Bible is really onto something. We are to love our spouses with AGAPE (unconditional love) and offer the same forgiveness that Christ extends to us. There is no greater way to live out the gospel than within our own marriages. There is no greater example of the gospel than to forgive our spouses and stay married, because that in and of itself is a tangible example of what Christ does for us. He made a covenant with us. We are His no matter what. He forgives us and loves us no matter what. And there is such comfort in knowing He isn’t going anywhere.
“He wants us to offer that same grace to our spouse because it’s in that promise where someone can really feel safe. Now, I know we aren’t married to Jesus. We are married to imperfect people who hurt us (and we hurt them!) But that is where we really get to apply this. We get to ask for God’s strength to forgive and to love. And we get to let Him be our defender against the hurts that are caused. He WILL help you. Wherever and whatever state your marriage is in He can breathe life back into it.”
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
If a conflict turns ugly, how can you heal wounds of disappointment and hurt? The answer is forgiveness. Even if he or she didn’t ask for forgiveness.
Why should I forgive?
Simply put, because Christ forgives you. Beyond that, the dangers of harboring unforgiveness toward your spouse (or anyone) are many. Bitterness and resentment take hold and affect your thought patterns, which in turn affect your actions because our actions stem from what is in our heart. If you harbor unforgiveness in your heart, justify it, relive it, feed it, it will poison you. You might believe you are punishing the person, but you are in fact hurting yourself, blocking God from from working in your life.
How can I forgive?
Gary says in his book “forgiveness is a process, not an event. It is rarely the case that we are able to forgive ‘one time’ and the matter is settled. Far more often we must relinquish our bitterness a dozen times or more, continually choosing to release the offender from our judgement.”
In this article, Joyce Meyer offers three steps to forgiveness:
- Decide: You will never forgive if you wait until you feel like it. Choose to obey God and steadfastly resist the devil in his attempts to poison you with bitter thoughts.
- Depend: You cannot forgive without the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s too hard to do on your own. If you are truly willing, God will enable you, but you must humble yourself and cry out to Him for help.
- Obey: The Word tells us to pray for your enemies and those who abuse and misuse you (Luke 6:27-28). Bless them and do not curse them (Romans 12:14).
If you’re concerned about someone getting away with something if you forgive them, you need to give that to God. As Jesus did, you can trust your case in His hands, who always judges fairly. I love the way Miss Clara says it in the movie War Room,: “God is an excellent defense attorney.” (By the way, you need to see this movie if you haven’t yet. It’s relatable, real and thought-provoking. Watch it with your spouse THIS weekend.)
The other side of this coin is to ask forgiveness of God and your spouse if you’ve crossed a line. Humble yourself and say you’re sorry for your actions. Name them specifically. Do not say “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” Say “I’m sorry I was sarcastic and interrupted you instead of listening to your side.”
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Luke 6:14-15
#7: Compromise and work as a team.
Hopefully following an argument is compromise. This doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. Compromise doesn’t mean you give up, it means you find a middle ground. Some of this might sound like Obvious 101, but some of us really need to hear it, myself included.
Listen and adapt.
During a disagreement, do you listen to your mate, or do you plow through and talk over him? You can’t just focus on how you’ve been wronged and the points you want to argue. You also really need to hear what your spouse is saying. Listen to his side so you can find a solution — which will make him much more willing to hear your side too, by the way. Otherwise the argument was for nothing and will most likely come up again.
Or is playing the silent game your secret weapon? Letting things go or sweeping issues under the rug will only allow them to fester and grow.
Don’t try to change who your spouse is.
Somewhere around year seven I noticed that Marcello was perfectly comfortable allowing me to be myself, but I was still trying to make him like me. I wanted him to do things my way, see things from my perspective, treat people how I would. That’s ironic, by the way, because when we walk in the door to a gathering he is greeted with smiles and someone yelling “Marcello!” as if now the party can start. While I’m thrown I courtesy smile and a much more low key “Hey, Kate.” So why I would want to make him just like me when he lights up the room? I’m just not sure.
I had the revelation, as I said, but it has taken time to stop pressing all my insecurities on him, and I’m still not there yet. Did that person know he was joking? Does he know that he should leave more space in between our car and the car in front of us? Does he have to shake his restless leg during the whole church service?
Well, when it boils down to it, I think I just need to get over it. If the person didn’t know he was joking, it wasn’t my conversation and I’m not accountable for it. He has a driver’s license in two countries with no points on either of them and drives all day, every day. He’s capable of driving us to Target. And after a decade, I do know that he, in fact, cannot stop shaking his leg and that’s ok. I need to let him be who he is.
Talk about expectations.
Have you ever been furious at your spouse for something he has neglected? Dirty dishes piled up by the sink, dirty laundry on the floor or kids with unfinished homework? Have you tried asking nicely if he could help? Sometimes we can get so mad about something that we think is glaringly obvious, but it hasn’t occurred to our mate or we haven’t even brought it up.
The illustration that comes to mind is one my friend shared with me. She was pregnant, packing the car for a family road trip. She was irritated and feeling sorry for herself as she carried heavy bags up and down stairs. Why wasn’t her husband doing this? “I started praying that I would calm down and see things clearly,” she said. “God sure did answer me. He put on my heart that no one asked me to load the boys up by myself. I was the one who decided to go and do all of that instead of waiting an extra hour for his help. He reminded me that if I had only asked, my husband would have been happy to help. In fact, when he found out later I had done all that by myself, he was upset with me that I didn’t have him load the car and told me I needed to rest.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. — Philippians 2:3-4
“I hear you, but my marriage feels hopeless.”
If your marriage is in crisis, get Bible-based counseling ASAP. Talk to your pastor. Just do it. Throw out the excuses and make some calls today. Don’t put it off. Don’t worry about your reputation. You can change the course of your family’s life and generations to come.
Completely envelop yourself in God. I’m very serious about this. What you need right now is truth, not sitcoms making light of divorce, not your well-meaning friend who says you’d be better off, not self-medication. Just truth. The only place to receive truth is from God and his word. He’s been there with you all along, now it’s time to open your ears and heart to his voice. Turn everything else off. Turn off the TV and watch or listen to sermons — they don’t even have to be about marriage. Turn the radio station to uplifting worship music. Make a commitment right now.
Start praying like you’ve never prayed before. I’ve never seen a change in my life like I have when I started spending an hour with God several mornings a week. I spend that time praying, journaling, reading, learning and thinking how I can serve others. Read more about how and why to pray in this post. “Worrying about your marriage changes nothing,” author Stormie Omartian says. “Praying about it can change everything.”
This prayer is from Stormie Omartian’s book “Power of a Praying Wife”:
Lord, I pray for an end to this conflict and breaking of the hold strife has had on us. Take away the hurt and the armor we’ve put up to protect ourselves. Lift us out of the pit of unforgiveness. Speak through us so that our words reflect Your love, peace and reconciliation. Tear down this wall between us and teach us how to walk through it. Enable us to rise up from this paralysis and more into the healing and wholeness you have for us. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
There are so many wonderful Christian marriage resources out there. Clearly I haven’t read or watched or listened to all of them, but each of these have made a deep impact on my life and marriage. If you need a place to start, these are my recommendations:
- Sacred Marriage: As you can see from all my quotations, this book flipped what I thought about marriage on its head. I realized I had no idea what marriage is for or what it is to accomplish. It’s safe to say I’ve never learned so much from one book.
- Power of a Praying Wife: Stormie Omartian gave me the words for prayers I didn’t have. She taught me how to pray in this book.
- War Room: Watch this one today whether you have marital problems or not. It will change you. I cannot possibly recommend it strongly enough.
- Sacred Marriage DVD: Whether you’re in need of counseling or not, this DVD of six sessions is fantastic. It’s $23, which for a Bible study series if very affordable. Our praying wives group did it and absolutely loved it. The conversations it sparked were invaluable.
- Think Differently: James Macdonald did a series focusing on strongholds and negative patterns of thinking. He taught me that nothing in your life will change until your thinking changes and how to do that. I felt like I should have been awarded a psychology degree after it was finished I learned so much. Start with this one (free).
- Moody: The speakers through this radio station have given me a vast amount of knowledge. Its uncanny how relevant the topics are in my life. I can honestly say this station has made me a better wife, mother, friend and Christian.
- K-LOVE: Christian music is no longer trying to catch up to the quality or trend of mainstream music, it is pushing beyond with innovation from talented artists. I like K-LOVE because they don’t play the same five songs over and over.
- WAY-FM: Music has power and singing along with a positive message can change your day. Also, there is no need to check lyrics for little ears that are listening. You’ll even want them to listen to the words!
- Spotify: Check out this worship playlist I created with my faves.
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