Like it or not, conflict in marriage is simply inevitable. When you tied the knot as bride and groom, you joined not only your hopes and dreams but also your hurts, fears, imperfections, and emotional baggage. From the moment you unpacked from your honeymoon, you began the real process of unpacking one another, unpleasantly discovering how sinful and selfish each of you could be.
Pretty soon your mate started to slip off your lofty pedestal, and you off of theirs. The forced closeness of marriage began stripping away your public facades, exposing your private problems and secret habits. Welcome to fallen humanity.
At the same time, the storms of life began testing and revealing what you’re really made of. Work demands, health issues, in-law arguments, and financial needs flared up in varying degrees, adding pressure and heat to the relationship. This sets the stage for disagreements to break out between the two of you. You argued and fought. You hurt. You experienced conflict. But you are not alone.
Every couple goes through it. It’s par for the course. But not every couple survives it.
So don’t think living out today’s dare will drive all conflict from your marriage. Instead, this is about dealing with conflict in such a way that you come out healthier on the other side.
Both of you. Together.
The deepest, most heartbreaking damage you’ll ever do (or ever have done) to your marriage will most likely occur in the thick of conflict. That’s because this is when your pride is strongest. Your anger is hottest. You’re the most selfish and judgmental. Your words contain the most venom. You make the worst decisions. A great marriage on Monday can start driving off the cliff on Tuesday if unbridled conflict takes over and neither of you has your foot on the brakes.
But love steps in and changes things. Love reminds you that your marriage is too valuable to allow it to self-destruct, and that your love for your spouse is more important than whatever you’re fighting about. Love helps you install air bags and to set up guardrails in your relationship. It reminds you that conflict can actually be turned around for good. Married couples who learn to work through conflict tend to be closer, more trusting, more intimate, and enjoy a much deeper connection afterwards.
But how? The wisest way is to learn to fight clean by establishing healthy rules of engagement. If you don’t have guidelines for how you’ll approach hot topics, you won’t stay in bounds when the action heats up.
Basically there are two types of boundaries for dealing with conflict: “we” boundaries and “me” boundaries.
“We” boundaries are rules you both agree on beforehand, rules that apply during any fight or altercation. And each of you has the right to gently but directly enforce them if these rules are violated. These could include:
- We will never mention divorce.
- We will not bring up old, unrelated items from the past.
- We will never fight in public or in front of our children.
- We will call a “time out” if conflict escalates to a damaging level.
- We will never touch one another in a harmful way.
- We will never go to bed angry with one another.
- Failure is not an option. Whatever it takes, we will work this out.
“Me” boundaries are rules you personally practice on your own. Here are some of the most effective examples:
- I will listen first before speaking. “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
- I will deal with my own issues up-front. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
- I will speak gently and keep my voice down. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Fighting fair means changing your weapons. Disagreeing with dignity. It should result in building a bridge instead of burning one down. Remember, love is not a fight, but it is always worth fighting for.
If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. – Mark 3:25
Talk with your spouse about establishing healthy rules of engagement. If your mate is not ready for this, then write out your own personal rules to “fight” by. Resolve to abide by them when the next disagreement occurs.