Today, Tyler and I are sharing with you some conflict resolution strategies for when you and your spouse get into an argument. This article was borne out of a lot of experience with conflict with each other. When we first got married at the ripe age of 20, we fought…A LOT. We had to learn “on the job” how to fight fairly with each other.
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.Proverbs 19:11
A few memorable instances of us fighting fairly – NOT!
After several minutes of sobbing hysterically at Tyler, he replied: “Your tears are invalid.”
Once, while expressing my frustration and anger at something that Tyler deemed benign, he laughed at me. So I threw my keys at him. And he laughed some more.
If you’ve ever thought your husband had a heart of stone you can take comfort knowing I (Tyler) had the emotional sensitivity of a gargoyle. I thought I was the great arbiter of which emotions were justifiable and which were not. Turns out you’re better off empathizing and actually caring about what your spouse cares about.
On my part (Tiffany), I had to realize that I was allowing my emotions to rule me – for me, what I felt was my truth. My feelings were reality, and whatever Tyler did or said could not convince me otherwise. I unintentionally weaponized my tears against him in arguments, and they quickly became ineffective in convincing him of anything.
The strength of your emotional response to a situation has no correlation to how true it is or isn’t. Sometimes I (Tyler) felt like held hostage by Tiffany’s emotions in any given situation. She would feel something so strongly it made it difficult to disagree without further hurting her feelings. She has since greatly grown in her emotional self-control, which has stopped more disagreements from unnecessarily escalating and makes it easier for me to be sensitive when she does feel something strongly.
Both of us have said things to each other we regret, taken small hurts too personally, thrown old failures at each other like daggers, and generally just been immature, selfish and filled with pride.
Since our first year of marriage, we have grown a lot (and, clearly, there was a lot of room to grow!) through the power of God. We wanted to share some conflict resolution strategies with you here today to hopefully help you through difficult situations with your spouse.
1. Remember what the ultimate goal is: unity.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.Philippians 2:3-4
When you’re married, it’s not about winning or losing an argument. We have to redefine what a “win” is. Reconciliation is the goal. Being unified with your spouse is the goal.
To do this, we have to consider our spouses more valuable than ourselves. It’s worthless to “win” an argument at the expense of our spouse. Like Jesus did with us, we have to humbly consider the other person’s needs before our own.
One practical tip is to hold hands and look each other in the eye while you’re working through a conflict. It’s tough – it’s certainly not natural to do when emotions are running high. But it’s a good reminder that you love each other and you’re in this life together for a reason.
2. Ask about your spouse’s feelings and share your own feelings.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.Colossians 3:12
To get to the bottom of what’s really bothering your spouse, ask questions. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Ask: “What are you feeling? I can tell you reacted strongly when I said XYZ, can you help me understand?”
When it seems like your spouse is overreacting to something, it’s probably because there’s an underlying cause for that over reaction. Maturity comes when instead of responding in proportion to the initial over reaction, you instead sincerely ask why they are reacting so strongly in the first place.
When it comes time to communicate what you’re feeling in the situation, understand the difference between: “you were wrong” versus “this hurt me.” The first one puts your spouse automatically on the defensive – AKA, on the opposite team. Remember that you guys are on the same team trying to work toward a common goal: unity and reconciliation.
Some ways you can communicate your feelings: “When you did this, it made me feel…” Be vulnerable. This is your spouse you’re talking to, the one who married you and wants to spend the rest of his/her life with you. Don’t be afraid to bare your soul with them.
Say what you really mean. I’m prone to pushing Tyler away when really I need his physical and emotional reassurance. And, of course, because he’s not a mind-reader, he doesn’t understand that when I say, “Don’t touch me!” what I’m really saying is: Please, hug me.
Men appreciate it when you’re literal and straight forward. For example: “I would feel loved and appreciated if you would take me on a date once per week.” This is something that I can make happen! My guess it that women tend to not want to do this because they feel it will take away from the romance element of their relationship but I would make the opposite case. I think romance and creativity come into play once you have your baseline needs met. The best way to have those met is to communicate them directly. This will in turn make you feel closer to one another and set the stage for more creativity and romance.
If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, try: “I’m feeling something, but I’m not sure exactly how to express it, can you help me by asking me some more questions?”
3. Accept wrongdoing. Forgive and be forgiven.
Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.Colossians 3:13
First, it’s important to take responsibility for your own wrongdoing. It always humbles me whenever Tyler hits the “reset” button by expressing what he did wrong in the situation. It helps me to look at my own wrongdoing and apologize. To read more about how to apologize, read this article about the 5 Ways to Apologize Properly.
It’s possible that your spouse might not “get it” 100% – and that’s okay. There are things that we may never understand or fully “get” about the ones we love, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love them and respect them. Give them grace for their shortcomings, just as you would want grace for yours.
Do the hard thing. If your spouse points out a flaw in you, don’t look for the 80% that’s wrong in what they said, look for the 20% that’s right. It’s easy to find fault in the other person, it’s much harder to admit to our own faults and change.
At the end of the day, regardless of the status of your conflict, please offer grace and forgiveness to your spouse and yourself. Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we could be forgiven. If He can do that, we can forgive our spouse.
If you’re battling with overly critical thoughts of your spouse, please read this post before your next conflict.
4. Have a conflict resolution rulebook.
A fool vents all his anger, but a wise man holds it back.Proverbs 29:11
When you’re not in the midst of a conflict with your spouse, decide beforehand what’s out of bounds when you have an argument.
The idea that you have to say everything you think is a foolish one. People who do this tend to take pride in their bravery when they should feel shame for their lack of self-control. Saying what you think is easy and lazy, weighing what you say and the possible consequences or effects is the hard work. Restraint is a characteristic of the strong. Words are powerful, especially when they are coming from the entity you love most in the world.
Another tip: Keep the discussion about the direct situation, NOT about a character trait. You can bring up character issues when you’re calm and not in the middle of conflict, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, it’s not the time to discuss your spouse’s overall lack of self-control or deeply rooted impatience.
Avoid saying “you always…” or “you never…” or other phrases that unnecessarily escalate the situation. Sometimes, we can give full vent to our anger and in the moment it feels good because we’re blowing off steam, but this is always harmful to our spouse and to us. If you need to take a break in order to get under control, please do that before spewing hurtful words.
5. When you can’t get resolved…
There are times when even with all of these strategies, you just can’t get resolved. In this case, here’s a few ideas:
Take a short, defined break. Sometimes just having a little breathing room will give you both perspective to be able to come back together and get resolved. Full disclosure: I HATE taking breaks because I hate conflict and it always seems like in the moment I don’t want to take a break because I don’t want the conflict to keep going…however, having a break almost always helps. Just make sure that your break doesn’t go on indefinitely. It’s important to have full resolution and for the conflict to not be hanging between the two of you.
Pray together. It seems like we never want to pray in the moment because we’re so fueled from the conflict but when we pray it breaks down those walls we’ve built up.
Get another couple involved. Ideally, you would have a couple who is spiritually mature and able to help you work through your conflict. It takes humility to ask for help, but it’s worth it. Your marriage is more important than any perceived embarrassment! Remember: the goal is reconciliation and unity.
For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.Ephesians 6:12
The reality is if we’re not spending time together without the kids, it’s easier to get into unnecessary conflict. So…go on consistent dates! Even if you can’t get a sitter or you’re quarantined right now, you can still go on dates. Here’s a whole year’s worth of stay-at-home date ideas for you to do while the kids are asleep, napping, or even before they wake up! And check out this list of summer date ideas too.
I hope this is helpful as you and your spouse fight – not against one another – but fighting together to reach full unity and resolution.