Marriage is not always an easy road; it’s filled with bumps, holes, and at times can feel like it’s paved with broken glass. It’s not a forgiving environment for couples who have a lot of conflict or offend easily. Fighting is inevitable in any relationship, but all too often our arguments are more destructive than constructive.
They intend to hurt more than heal. I don’t know why we save our worst behavior for the ones we love the most. I suppose they’re the only ones who’ll (eventually) forgive us. Most fights follow the pattern of 1) get offended, 2) become mad, 3) blow up, 4) calm down, and 5) carry on. The problem is that each time this happens it leaves a scar, and if there’s no real resolution then nothing useful is coming from these fights. In time they’ll wear a marriage out.
There are ways to resolve even heated arguments without singeing the fabric of your marriage. If done well, arguments can actually improve your emotional connection. This doesn’t mean go pick a fight to strengthen your marriage.
What it means is when fights do happen, make them constructive. If one spouse has to ‘win’ and one spouse has to ‘lose’, it’s still a no-net gain for the marriage. That’s not constructive. Aim for the win-win scenario where both spouses feel heard, validated, and respected, even in disagreement. I know this can be tough in the heat of the moment; however, remembering the three steps from your school fire-drill days may help turn down the temperature in your next argument.
How to Handle Arguments in Your Marriage or Relationship
When an argument is teeing up, do yourself a favor and take a step back, breathe, and allow your logical brain a minute to catch up to the emotional brain that just got offended. Stop for a minute and take a look around; read the room and look for context as to why something happened or was said. Maybe the snarky comment or attitude was more about having had a bad day or not feeling well. See if there’s an outside reason why things just turned south. Then, listen.
You can’t listen if your mouth is moving. We need to stop refueling our word arsenal and actually hear what our spouse is saying. When we listen it leaves little room to build a bunch of assumptions that may not have merit. Give a nanosecond to let the words sink in before jumping to conclusions that are often wrong. I’ve learned that I don’t always get my words out right the first time, so I shouldn’t expect it of others either. Give room to speak, and especially when emotions are high, seek clarity before responding.
In a win-win situation we drop the need to be right and instead focus on being loving. We need to drop our defensiveness, our pride, and the desire to dominate the other with well-crafted counter-arguments. Moreover, we need to drop the insignificant details we often rally around and stick to the main point. The main point is what you really need in your soul at that moment that has been neglected.
This is where we can gain ground in our marriage. Behind anger is hurt or fear. Learn to talk about the root of the conflict (i.e. insecurity, not feeling valued, lack of respect, lack of safety, etc). Resolution can come much faster if you focus more on the target instead of the catalyst. A measure of self-control is needed to not make the fight about a person but rather a need. I know this can feel next to impossible when we’re ticked off, but if both spouses practice this together then both should have their needs heard.
Instead of rolling to victory we should roll to reconciliation. God calls his children to be reconcilers (2 Cor 5), which means one who restores harmony. When we don’t need to be right but rather resolved, the needle on the health of our marriages makes a big jump. By dropping pride, we’re able to pick up the humility needed to see the path through.
Remember that you love this person and you promised to honor them. Honor means to hold another in higher standing. God tells us to esteem others as higher as ourselves (Phil 2:3), and for spouses to love and respect each other (Eph 5:33). I know there’s fear of being steamrolled while engaging in humility, which is why both spouses need to have the same pursuit of reconciliation. That’s where the win-win comes from. Each spouse is caring for the needs and greater good of the other, which results in working through the fight with your heart intact.
Love keeps no record of wrongs, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be wrongs. As humans we are bound to emotionally beat each other up from time to time, especially our spouses who know us better than anyone. We should never get too comfortable in our relationships to believe that since it’s inevitable it’s ok. Fights are rarely invisible; they will leave an emotional mark somewhere that over time can do serious damage. If you and your spouse are having trouble navigating this road, Crossroads counselors are here to help you fight to win in your marriage. Give us a call at (225) 341-4147.