When you encounter conflict, create space from each other to get away for a time to calm down and make an appointment to work out the issue later.  Identify the emotions you’re feeling and what triggered them.  Identify what you want, and take your desires to God, asking Him to provide for you. Then respond to your future spouse in loving ways.

Engage in heart talk. Care about your future spouse’s feelings and accept the validity of those feelings – even when you disagree. Find out what’s behind the emotions that your future spouse feels. Listen carefully and reflect back what you heard, giving your future spouse opportunities to clarify.

Forgive each other.  Constantly be willing to forgive your future spouse whenever he or she hurts or offends you.  Whenever you hurt or offend your future spouse, ask for his or her perspective on what happened, validate that perspective, admit your mistakes, and seek forgiveness. Be patient and honor your future spouse’s boundaries during the process of rebuilding trust.

Find win-win solutions.  In marriage, the two of you will be on the same team, so you can’t have any win-lose solutions to problems.  Any time one team member loses, every member of that team loses. You’ll either win or lose together, so decide to find win-win solutions to your mutual problems. 

Work together to make decisions about which both of you can feel good. Think and pray through each issue at hand until you find the right solution, and be willing to make reexamine the solution after you put it into practice and rework if necessary.

Leave and cleave.  Remember that your marriage is your most important relationship after your relationship with God and should be placed above all your other human relationships. When you get married, you should:

  • break away from the old relationship dynamics you’ve had with parents, siblings, and extended family;
  • shift the priority of your friendships;
  • separate from past romantic and opposite-sex relationships;
  • leave your single lifestyle behind; and
  • resolve past emotional baggage. 

Then you can create a single marital identity out of your two distinct personalities and bond to your spouse.  Share with each other clearly the specific ways in which you can make each other feel loved.  Then take action to do so as often as possible.

Published June 25, 2009.

Adapted from Before You Plan Your Wedding … Plan Your Marriage, copyright 2008 by Dr. Greg Smalley and Erin Smalley with Steve Halliday. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, West Monroe, La., http://christian.simonandschuster.com/howard.

Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley have been married for 16 years. They have two daughters, Taylor and Maddy, and a son, Garrison. The Smalleys live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas and work together at the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University. One of the exciting aspects of their work at CRE is directing a large, multi-million dollar healthy marriage initiative called NWA Healthy Marriages. The Smalleys speak together around the county and do intensive relationship coaching for both married and engaged couples.