A few weeks ago I wrote about what my wife and I fight about.
This sparked some good conversations about how married couples should respond to each other in times of conflict. In our marriage it has proven helpful to prepare before these times arrive and not just assume they never will.
Truth: married people fight. Hopefully not all the time. Hopefully not about the same thing. And hopefully not for just any reason.
So why do we fight? Why can marriage lead to more conflict than any other relationship while also leading to more joy than any other relationship? I think it’s because our spouses see us at our worst. You can fake it for a long time at work. And you can definitely fake it at church. But you can’t fake it in marriage, at least not for long. Even when couples split up because one person cheats, the other person is usually not completely fooled into thinking they were living in a healthy, thriving marriage.
So if conflict is inevitable, what are the rules? How can married couples fight well and fight less?
Here are 3 things that have helped us in times of conflict:
1. Remember that people fight over/for what they care about.
We’ve all heard the story. A marriage crumbles and the friends can’t figure out why. “They never fought about anything!” a relative might exclaim. Well maybe that’s the problem. The deeper relationships get, the more prone to conflict they can become. Maybe the couple that never fights does not have a relationship fighting for. In the midst of conflict, it is important to remember that if your spouse didn’t care about your marriage, they wouldn’t care enough to fight.
2. Remember who/what you’re fighting against.
Have you ever had a fight so long you forgot what started it? Maybe you both had bad days and one comment started to build on another until you have no idea how you got to this point. In that moment, you end up fighting for no reason because you’re both fighting against your own selfishness. More often than not, conflict in marriage can be traced back to one problem we all share: sin. We mess up in marriage when we try and hide the sin in our own lives by pointing out the sins in our spouse’s life.
“12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12
Remember, nobody owes you happiness so do the hard work of realizing what’s at stake.
3. Give and receive forgiveness.
This might be the key. If at least some level of conflict is unavoidable in marriage, the true difference between a healthy, thriving marriage and a dying one very well be in how, and if, resolution is produced.
Giving forgiveness can seem almost impossible. Usually you have to choose to forgive before you receive an apology. Receiving forgiveness can be even more difficult than giving it.
In healthy marriages, spouses don’t keep score. Forgotten dishes one day can’t become fight fodder the next. A misunderstanding today doesn’t turn into a lack of love tomorrow. Give and receive forgiveness by refusing to keep score.
Question: What tips do you have for navigating conflict in marriage?