Practical Guidelines for Handling Marital Conflict
Although people tried to warn us, Sam and I went into marriage believing we were not going to fight. But, let’s just say, we have definitely had our fair share of fights. Thankfully, we learned how to have “healthy fights”. Fights in and of themselves are not wrong. It is actually quite healthy to fight. When two people come together as one in marriage, they strengthen each other with their different perspectives and ideas. But, if boundaries are not respected, fighting can quickly deteriorate into an ugly mess that is damaging to the individuals and the marriage. So, in this post, I want to share with you some of the guidelines that enable Sam and I to love each other while we duke it out!
No Mean Words or Actions
This is so important. We must be kind to each other. Attacking the other person through name calling, sarcastic comments, belittling remarks, or any other kind of jab is not appropriate. It is also inappropriate to get “historical” by bringing up past or unrelated issues; use foul language; throw things; or scream at each other. If any mean words or actions happen, we call a time out.
1 Corinthians 16:14 – “Let all that you do be done in love.”
Take Time Outs if Needed
If anger and other emotions start to take over or if one of us needs time to think before continuing, we call a time out. We also call a time out if the fight is becoming unhealthy. This should not be aggressive. It is merely a realization that we need to pause. When we take time outs, we separate ourselves from each other until the person that called the time out is ready to re-engage. It is the responsibility of the person that called the time out to make sure the time out stays within a reasonable amount of time and that re-engagement happens. It is the responsibility of the person that did not call the time out to give them space and allow them to be alone. We must respect each other’s boundaries.
No subtle comments. Our rule is “if it wasn’t said, it wasn’t said”. It is messy and stressful to have to read between the lines to figure out what the other person is saying. If something needs to be said, we say it. If we are not sure it should be said, we think about it first. We do not require mind-reading. We communicate clearly using our words.
“If it wasn’t said, it wasn’t said.”
Focus on My Side of the Street
The only thing I control is my side of the street. It can be appropriate to share what I believe I see on the other person’s side of the street, but I cannot force the other person to see something. I need to be humble and look at what I can do differently. Even if I am not in the wrong this time, I have done my fair share of wrongs. It is very healthy for each person to individually get feedback from strong people regarding everything, but especially fights. Accountability is an important part of growth.
Make Sure it is Profitable
There is no reason to have a fight that is not profitable. Sometimes we catch ourselves going in circles, having the same fight over and over. Other times, one of us is just angry or emotional and not truly interested in a profitable discussion. Whatever the reason may be, if a fight is not profitable, we end it.
It Can Wait
We will still be married tomorrow. We can pause a fight and continue it later. This has often been necessary for us when we are having a fight at bedtime. We need sleep! But, we should not brew over it in fury until we talk again. We can set things aside and choose to love. If the fight is important, it will still be important tomorrow. If it is not important tomorrow, then we just might avoid a pointless fight!
Do not sweep things under the rug. The rug will need to be pulled up someday if we hope to have a healthy relationship. It is easier to avoid sweeping things under the rug than it is to deal with the filth down the road! If the issue causing our fight is important, we need to resolve it. Sometimes it feels easier to ignore an issue and go into what we call “pretend normal”, where we pretend everything is fine even though it is not. Sometimes it feels easier to pretend we agree so that the fight will stop. But, it is so important that we avoid this temptation and actually deal with things. Both of us need to be honest and open to changing our minds. Sometimes we agree to disagree, and that is in some cases a very healthy resolution.
Involve a Third Party
Sometimes things get to a point where we need to involve a third party, such as our pastor or a counselor, to help us resolve things. If we are not coming to a resolution or if these “healthy fight” guidelines are not being adhered to, it might be appropriate to go this route.
Please note that sometimes one party is unwilling to deal with a very serious issue, such as an addiction. If this is the case and that person is not willing to meet or get help, we encourage the one that is willing to get help for themselves so that they can grow and look at what they need to do. Our personal stability should not be dependent on someone else’s choices.
Love Each Other
Finally, and most importantly, we must choose to love each other and remind ourselves of that in the midst of conflict! We are not enemies. Sometimes we need to pause, even in the middle of an argument, and just remind each other that we love and care about each other. We are on the same team, and hopefully we have the same goal – becoming better individually and relationally.
1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Of course, we are not perfect in applying these rules. But, we have found that this is the path to healthy fights. When we follow these rules, damage is not done to the individuals or the marriage, and we are able to move forward. Even better, we are stronger when we are able to discuss things honestly and openly without hurting each other. As long as healthy guidelines are followed, fighting is actually a sign of a healthy relationship. It means we are sharing honestly and learning together.