Every married couple goes through times when they disagree. Whether you call it a fight, an argument, disagreement, or discussion, these stressful times are going to show up in your marriage. In any close relationship, especially marriage, where two people live together for that long, you will eventually have to resolve issues hindering the growth of their relationship. How can we do this well? By fighting fair.
Jesus offers us forgiveness and grace, and we accept it gladly. However, sometimes we forget that we need to forgive and offer grace to those we are the closest to, especially in your relationship with your spouse. When we fail to work through problems in a gentle, mature way, we build a wall between us that will drive us further apart instead of bringing us together.
When there is something that you need to get off your chest, the mature thing to do is to tell your spouse what’s bothering you. Keeping it to yourself just to avoid a fight will only cause a more explosive reaction down the road. But before you just run off, grab your spouse, and say, “We need to talk…Now!” set some ground rules for the discussion. Doing this will make the conflict less likely to hurt one or both of you. Using ground rules will also make it more likely that you can bring about the change you are looking for.
One way of fighting fair is to think of your marriage as a completely separate entity. It’s not about what’s best for you or what’s best for your spouse. It’s about what will be best for your marriage. So ask yourself, what does our marriage need to grow stronger?
Before starting a discussion
Before you decide to bring up a sensitive issue with your spouse that you know could cause discord in your marriage, pray.
Ask God to give you a clear vision of the problem you need to fix. Pray that He will provide you with the words to make your feelings and opinions known without hurting your spouse. Pray the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, to give you a proper perspective of how you should approach this issue.
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. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Remember that very few issues in marriage are one-sided. Identify areas where you hold some of the blame and be willing to admit that to your spouse and yourself. Perhaps there is something your spouse is doing that causes you to lash out verbally and be nasty. Take responsibility for your reaction and decide to change that with God’s help.
Don’t spring a serious issue on your spouse without giving them a warning. Tell them that you want to discuss something, tell them what it is, and ask when a good time would be to have the conversation. Give them some control of the situation so it won’t come across as an attack.
And lastly, as you prepare yourself to have this discussion, stay calm. Don’t talk about it until you can remain so through the entire conversation. It’s better to wait a few days to prepare yourself than to jump in with overflowing emotions that will cloud your view and make you more likely to react than respond.
During a disagreement
Don’t turn a discussion into a fight.
Once you sit down and begin facing the issue at hand, remember the verse from the love chapter that says, “(Love) is not easily angered.” Don’t turn a civil conversation into a screaming match because your spouse said something that you didn’t want to hear for whatever reason. Fighting fair means being respectful of their feelings and them as a human being and a child of God. Don’t say anything to them that you would not want them to say to you. The verse, do unto others what you would have them do to you, should be top of mind.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
Stay on topic
People who work with horses often put blinders on them so that they will not get distracted by the events going on around them. We need blinders too when we are working through an issue. Put the blinders on so you can stay on topic. Don’t muddle the waters by branching out into other things that have nothing to do with the problem at hand. If the discussion is about not making time for one another, don’t throw in that the other person is a terrible cook. Don’t go back and pull up things from long ago. Grudges are utterly incompatible to fighting fair.
Be slow to speak, and don’t interrupt your spouse. Not only is it kind, but it’s biblical to wait and really listen to what your spouse is saying without thinking about all that you want to say in return. Scripture tells us,
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19
Doing this will force you to focus on what your spouse says and consider what they are thinking.
When you make assumptions, you fill in the blanks with your perception instead of looking for evidence. You may assume that your partner has identical emotional needs or communication styles as you do, but that’s probably not true. Men and women are very different in dealing with stressful situations, communication, and intimacy. So instead of assuming what your partner is thinking, ask. Fighting fair means getting accurate information before you move on.
Think about your spouse’s needs
Speaking of the needs your spouse has, those should be top of mind while discussing complex issues. Part of a healthy marriage is putting your spouse first and serving them before yourself. If you are not willing to meet the needs your spouse has that make them feel loved and secure in your relationship, your marriage cannot flourish. Make it more important to you to meet those needs your spouse has than getting your way. Love them more than yourself and demonstrate that love during these tense times.
Issues between the two people in a marriage are very rarely one-sided. When things go wrong, many people blame their spouse for everything that has gone badly in life. People do that because it is easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for what they’ve done wrong.
So as you are talking, take note of when you begin blaming your spouse. Recognize this is a problem. Then, admit to yourself and your spouse that you are falling into a pattern of blaming someone else for situations where you were just guilty for starting the trouble or adding onto it.
Don’t make threats
The biggest thing I tell couples struggling in their marriage is never to make threats to end the relationship. Threatening a divorce when you are angry can drive a deeper wedge between you and make it more challenging to solve the problem. Tell yourself that you will not divorce over this issue, and force yourself to work toward a solution rather than looking to end the marriage because it’s just too hard.
Take breaks if necessary.
If you are having trouble keeping your calm or following any of these rules for fighting fair, you may want to call a timeout. Set a time to return to the discussion and use the break as a time for more prayer and thinking about how you can continue without breaking the rules. If your emotions are running wild, a reasonable solution to the problem will be difficult to find.
After you’ve talked
There are two different ways to wrap up your discussion. First, you can agree to disagree and resolve not to worry about it anymore. If you choose this option, don’t bring the issue up again at any time. It’s something you’ll just have to deal with. This solution is valid since up to 69% of issues couples fight over are irreconcilable. Your spouse just isn’t going to make that change because of who they are and how they are wired. You won’t be able to do it either.
The other possible ending to a conflict where you are fighting fair is to make at least one change that will make the situation better for your marriage. If you feel disconnected, agree that you will talk for at least ten minutes a day one-on-one or schedule date nights that give you a chance to focus on the other person.
There will inevitably be a season in life coming where you and your spouse will not see eye to eye. Prepare for that season by getting these rules cemented in your mind. The more of these rules you follow, the better chance you have of reducing the intensity and number of conflicts you and your spouse face.
Here’s another resource that may help you if you are having trouble resolving issues in a constructive way. It’s from Melissa over at the A Virtuous Woman blog. How to Calm a Fight + Bible Verses for a Happy Marriage
John Gottman is one of the leaders in marriage research, and this book can help you get your marriage on track. Gottman’s seven principles give insight into marital conflict and how to solve problems together. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work