When James and Connie got married, they expected to live happily ever after. But not many months later they were spending as much time fighting as they were enjoying each other. James felt he was honestly trying to make things work, and that Connie was refusing to deal with significant issues they faced. Connie felt their problems were primarily James’ fault, and that he was always complaining about her and their life together.

The first thing James and Connie will need to understand is that their expectations of marriage are different, and will almost surely need to be adjusted as they grow their marriage together. The second thing they will need to learn is how to handle conflict.

EVERY couple will face conflict. The question is not IF you will face conflict, but rather HOW you manage conflicts when they arise. Handling conflict in marriage is a learned skill: no one knows how to do it automatically, but anyone can get better at it.

Couples can fight about money, religion, parenting, sex, in-laws, and a host of other things. Don’t be surprised when you and your spouse see things differently: after all, if you were both the same, one of you would be unnecessary! What’s important is what you do then.

Here are five important steps in facing conflict:

  1. Cool off. Trying to work things out when you are both feeling the heat of emotions will not be productive. If either of you needs some time, back off. Let the emotional temperature cool down to a level where your rational thought can take charge.
  2. Don’t ignore the problem. If you need to cool off, that’s just step one. You must come back together and talk through the conflict. You may need to choose a time and place to deal with the issue where both of you are rested and rational.
  3. Be honest. State your point of view as clearly, completely, and concisely as you can. Don’t hide your own feelings, or try to manipulate the truth. As long as you and your spouse are people of good will, being honest is the only way to build a healthy relationship.
  4. Listen! Spend just as much time truly listening to your spouse’s point of view as you do in sharing your own. Don’t listen in order to find fault or debate: listen to fully understand where they are coming from.
  5. Push past discomfort. Learning to fight fair (that’s what dealing with conflict really is) may feel very uncomfortable. It may feel vulnerable and risky. Like learning any new skill, it takes practice. Don’t give up before you learn how to resolve conflicts together sanely.

These are skills that apply as much or more to Christian couples as to anyone else. Conflicts do not magically resolve themselves just because you go to church every week or have a Bible on the table. Prayerfully ask God to help you work on your marriage wisely.

Working through conflicts together, if done in a fair way, may actually help you understand each other better. And that’s worth a lot.

Your turn: How good are your skills as working through conflicts? How well do you think your spouse would say you do in this area? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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