Marriage can be wonderful, but conflict is usually part of the equation. There are differences to work out, hurts to deal with, and misunderstandings to overcome. Some people will barge into conflict with little concern for how it hurts the other person. Other people will bottle their feelings in until they’re ready to explode. Either way, the consequences can be devastating. Learning how to deal effectively with conflict in a marriage can be helped by laying down some simple ground rules on how to fight fair. I was helped by Brian Orme’s article in this regard. He gives five do’s and five don’ts for more constructive conflicts. This week, we’ll look at the five things to avoid.
1. Don’t fight in the car.
He warns against fighting in the car because neither spouse can look at the other directly and it’s a recipe for misunderstanding and tension. There are probably dozens of places where conflict should be avoided for the same and other reasons. Any setting that doesn’t lend itself to calm, private discussion isn’t a good place to deal with conflict.
2. Don’t talk about divorce.
Orme argues against ever verbalizing the word divorce in a conflict. What starts as a threat, becomes an option. And what’s entertained as an option can quickly end up as an attractive alternative. If there’s going to be resolution to a conflict, it will come when there’s less tension, not more. It will come when there’s more commitment to working things out from both sides, not less.
3. Don’t use the words “always” or “never.”
When we’re hurt or annoyed, it’s human nature to look for stronger or more persuasive ways to make our case. When we do, we often exaggerate the other’s weaknesses and minimize our faults. When we accuse someone of “always” saying things or “never” doing things, it attacks their character in a way that inevitably brings out their worst. The more fair and generous we can be in expressing our frustration, the better chance we have of really being heard and finding a resolution.
4. Don’t go to bed angry.
The next “don’t” comes from Ephesians 4:26-27, “[D]o not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Many of us have heard this so many times that we don’t really hear it anymore. But just swallowing our anger isn’t Christian. We owe it to the other person to express our feelings in positive and constructive ways. To let things simmer only gives a foothold for Satan to breed bitterness in our hearts and gain control in our lives.
5. Don’t bring up the past.
If you want to resolve something that’s happened, the more you can isolate the problem the better. Whenever a conflict devolves into a long list of past wrongs, I feel like there’s too much to deal with and whatever I do won’t be enough. When someone tells me what I’ve done wrong without turning it into a litany of everything I’ve ever done wrong, I’m more motivated to respond and try to make the change that I need to.
I think Orme’s list is helpful. Of course knowing is easier than doing, but having some ground rules about how to have healthy conflicts is much easier and more constructive than just trying to avoid ever having conflicts altogether. May God give us grace in fighting fair and guarding our marriages in peace and harmony.
In awe of Him,