Healthy couples fight for resolution. Unhealthy couples fight for personal victory. Healthy couples fight with respect for each other, with both people working toward a solution they can agree on.
Every couple has disagreements and fights. It isn’t if a conflict will arise, but when. Arming yourselves with healthy conflict resolution skills along with a few rules for fighting fair, will enable you to work through tough situations and end up more connected in the end.
If there is a conflict that needs to be resolved, experts Les and Leslie Parrott, (authors, a psychologist and a marriage and family counselor) recommend that before an important conversation takes place, be sure you are both well rested, fed, and in an emotional state to communicate effectively. If you realize that you have been frazzled by the day and need a hot shower before you are ready to sit down to a talk, simply share that you would like to communicate, but after dinner and a shower. How about 8pm? You are not saying “no” to working things out, just postponing until you can be your best self.
Think carefully about how you can most lovingly communicate what you want to say – then speak the truth in love. Sharing the truth in a tactless manner will cause hurt and resentment, damaging the relationship. A truth packaged in love will be better received.
Do you find yourself half listening to your spouse while you are formulating your rebuttal? Are you defensive? Listening to understand your spouse’s heart, even if you don’t agree, communicates respect and a willingness to resolve the issue.
James 1:19-20 says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
How can you more effectively communicate to hear each other?
Even if you don’t agree with the other person, you can still validate their feelings.
If your spouse says something to you like, “Sometimes, when you _____, it makes me feel ______.”
Feelings are what they are, not necessarily right or wrong. Trying to better understand, getting to the root, and working through to the other side to resolve conflict is the goal.
Remember you are both on the same team.
Try saying this in response: “What I hear you saying is, when I do _____, that makes you feel ______.”
You’d be amazed how such a simple statement can defuse a situation. You don’t have to agree, you just need to acknowledge that you are listening and trying to understand.
If you find yourselves in a conflict too heated for a sit down conversation, consider writing each other a letter. If you can’t talk it out – write it out. This technique is an effective way to communicate your well thought out feelings and thoughts, without interruption. It can be emailed and read separately, then once digested, a more healthy, calm conversation can take place. (Honestly, my husband and I just used this technique a couple of weeks ago… we’re much better now.)
It is also good to recognize that everyone has a different way of handling conflict and resolution. Some people are verbal processors who need to talk through everything and resolve conflict quickly. They are not whole until the matter is settled. Others need to retreat to their own space and quietly process before coming together for resolution. If a couple is made up of each type, recognize that a compromise needs to be made in order to accommodate both styles. Maybe you wait a little longer than the verbal processor feels comfortable, but not as long as the internal processor would prefer. That is compromise.
Rules for fighting create a healthy guideline for resolving conflict.
My husband and I hold the following rules sacred in our marriage.
Rules in Fighting:
- Do not hit below the belt.
You know your spouse better than anyone. Don’t use that against them by pressing their hot buttons or their bringing up their weak spots. Just like hitting below a belt, this causes injury and pain. Loving our spouse is fighting with integrity, not cheap shots.
- Do not threaten or speak of the “D” word.
Divorce is not an option or spoken of as a way out in our home. (Unless there would be a situation of adultery or abuse)
Each one who has married, made a covenant before God, family and friends, a commitment to each other till death do you part, not till you don’t feel it or aren’t that happy any more. Do everything to work it out.
- No name calling or degrading.
Name calling or cussing (even if someone deserves it), diverts your attention from resolution. This also causes more heat on the fire, hurt, and anger.
- No talking in extremes.
Saying words like “you never” or “always” cause defensive reactions, and are unlikely truthful. This is easier said than done. In our last fight, the dialogue inside my head was saying “I never” and “we always…” so I had to consciously change my verbal language to share my feelings. When one person talks in extremes, immediate correction and defenses kick in by the other, and no progress is made.
- No bringing up the past.
Stick to the present issue if possible. We are all sinners. But through Christ we’ve been forgiven. How are we modeling Christ if we continue to bring up past failures?
You may wish to add your own “rules” for fighting fair in your marriage. It is mainly important for you both to agree to them, and work toward resolve.
I love the quote by Ruth Bell Graham, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Amen to that!
Please feel free to ask questions about conflict, or add what communication techniques work in your marriage. Share in the comments below. God bless you and your spouse.
I love that this was posted on my 25th anniversary! Wish I would have had this to read 25 years ago because we have both broken every single one of the rules for fighting fair. Ugh! Thankful for maturity, grace, love, soft hearts, and forgiveness.