5 Steps to a Fair Fight in Marriage

Couple Facing ConflictTwo people grow up in different homes, with different family traditions. They have different life experiences, different personalities, different hopes for the future, and different expectations for what a marriage and family should be.

And then those two people get married and plan to “do life together” for the rest of their lives. Is it any wonder there are differences, even conflicts? It doesn’t matter how carefully they planned, how long they knew each other, how carefully they talked things through, or how much they thought they knew about each other prior to saying, “I Do.” Two people cannot join their hearts and lives without there being friction.

The more important thing is what you do when those differences arise. Ignoring them only allows a wall to grow between the two of you. Angrily fighting over differences drives you apart, and can lead to serious wounds. Fighting fair is a skill married couples need to practice, and one that some find difficult to learn.

I know some couples who have been married for 30 years or more, and who still fight regularly, sometimes loudly. The problem is not disagreeing. It’s not even fighting. It’s learning to deal with your differences fairly.

In a fair fight, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Own your own feelings. No one – not even your spouse – has the power to make you do or say or feel anything. So own up! Say, “I feel frustrated.” “I feel angry!” “I feel sad!” “I feel worried.”
  2. If your feelings are too explosive, put yourself on time out. If it works for kids, it might work for you too. Your brain will be much clearer, and your mouth much less destructive, when the emotional temperature is a little cooler.
  3. Take time to listen. Your spouse has the right to their thoughts and feelings just as you do. Be quiet long enough to hear. Stop long enough to listen – really listen – to what’s going on with him or her.
  4. Be quick to forgive. Don’t hold grudges. We’re not talking about abuse or addiction here. But two human beings can only become one as they learn to extend God’s forgiveness to each other.
  5. Commit to the relationship. Consciously and verbally assure each other of your commitment and love. Even if you can’t come to a quick agreement on how to proceed with a specific issue, say OUT LOUD, “I love you!”

When two people are both committed to God and to each other, they do not automatically think and feel the same. Becoming ONE with your spouse takes time. It takes enjoying each other’s differences. And it takes the glue of God’s presence in your marriage to make it last.

On the most recent Dr Carol Show we talk about handling conflict in marriage, and specifically what Al and I do in our own marriage. The three-minute Saturday Memo gives some specific highlights. And the full archive is available here.

Your Turn: What do you do when you and your spouse have differences? If you have learned to “fight fair,” how do you do it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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