How to have healthy conflict in your marriageWritten by Janine Petry
What's inside this article
It’s no secret: My husband and I argue – well, we’re not in complete agreement about that. He likes to "debate," while I prefer to "discuss." Whether we’re talking money, movies, habits, hobbies or faith, we disagree daily.
If you’re married, you’ve argued, too. And according to Dr. John Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, you’ll probably be arguing for the rest of your lives. His long-term studies of more than 670 couples showed that many couples don’t resolve their issues over time but continue to argue about the same things. Many times, that’s because the issues are simply irresolvable.
I can understand that. In fact, I believe our biggest reason for arguing is also the most unsolvable: We’re just different. And when two unique people come together as one, there’s bound to be a few clashes every once in a while – or once every day.
With so many differences between my husband and me, it’s no wonder we’ve found so much to "debate" and "discuss." After 10 years, we haven’t come close to running out of material. But here’s a secret: It doesn’t bother us.
Attacking the issues
As strange as it sounds, we’re comfortable confronting one another. While we don’t necessarily find it easy or enjoyable, we do find it rewarding. Healthy confrontation strengthens our marriage.
Now, I’m not talking about fighting. When we fight, we attack one another in an attempt to "win" the argument. While it seems driven by our differences, a fight is actually the result of the one thing we hold in common – our sinful nature. A fight is a very personal battle with a very cold ending, and there’s nothing rewarding about it.
When we have a healthy argument, however, we’re attacking our issues together. We examine our differences, search for understanding and seek one another’s best interest. And we do it keeping our dignity and unity intact. When the argument is over, we may still disagree, but we’ve at least reached an understanding about ourselves and the issue at hand.
When sparks fly
Often, it isn’t what we say but what we leave unsaid that causes difficulties. When I refrain from healthy confrontation, I usually do it to guard myself and to seek my own interests over my spouse’s. But when we willingly engage each other in a difficult, truthful conversation, we act sacrificially for the good of the relationship.
Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." We are tools used by God to sharpen one another for the tasks at hand, and sometimes that sharpening process produces sparks. Although dramatic and scary, those flying sparks are not to be feared when they’re brought about by love for one another and sincere concern for the relationship.
So are you ready for a good argument? Go ahead. Disagree all you want.
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Rules of engagement
1. Don’t make it personal. Address the issues together, and avoid blaming or accusatory language. Seek to understand what your spouse is saying without interpreting everything to be a statement about you.
2. Discern between preferences and principles. Don’t lose sleep over your personal preferences. But if you’re dealing with philosophical or Biblical principles, stick with the discussion until you’re on the same page.
3. Keep your sense of humour. A lighter tone will give you the perspective you need to get through difficult debates.
4. Listen carefully, and ask questions. Many times, poor listening complicates and lengthens arguments. Ask for clarification, and always start by assuming the best.
5. Evaluate the argument. Will the confrontation lead to mutual edification? Are you and your spouse treating one another with love and respect? Are you looking out for one another’s best interest? These questions will help you determine if it’s an argument worth pursuing or a fight better left behind.
Janine Petry served as a writer and editor in Christian publishing for more than 10 years. She’s worked on the staffs of several Christianity Today International (CTI) magazines, including Today's Christian Woman and Virtue, and as the assistant editor of Marriage Partnership magazine. Janine’s also been a columnist for the Women's Connection and MomSense e-newsletters. Janine lives with her husband and four children in Carol Stream, Illinois.
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