Seek healing for a hardened heart. If your heart has become hardened toward your spouse (so that you no longer feel love toward him or her or motivation to work on your marriage), ask God to heal your heart by filling it with His love.

Open your heart to your spouse. When your spouse pushes your emotional buttons, decide to respond rather than react. Take a break for about 20 minutes before resuming the discussion with your spouse, and during that time, identify the specific emotions you’re feeling. Then pray, asking questions like these: “What is the truth about my emotions?”, “What is the truth about me?”, “Is what my wife/husband is saying about me true?”, “What lie is Satan trying to write on my heart?”, “What do I need to take responsibility for?”, and “Who is the person I want to be in this moment – the person God created me to be?”. Then ask Jesus to give you His peace, which will guard your mind and allow you to open your heart to your spouse when re-engaging in the discussion. When your heart is open, God’s love will flow through it.

Create an emotionally safe marriage. Ask God to help you recognize your spouse’s incredible value and to honor and cherish him or her. Treat your spouse as someone who is valuable by allowing your spouse to share his or her deepest thoughts and feelings with you without fear of judgment or criticism, knowing that you will accept and love him or her no matter what. When your spouse is in pain, show compassion through kind and gentle words and actions.

Communicate well. After you each have opened your hearts to each other, listen to each other, seek to understand each other, validate each other, empathize with each other, and apologize to and forgive each other.

Work together as a team. Seek win-win solutions to your arguments – solutions about which both of you feel good. Keep asking each other questions about what’s important to each of you and why until you come up potential solutions. Then pray, asking God to guide you all to the best solution that will benefit both of you.

Adapted from Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage: How Healthy Conflict Can Take You to Deeper Levels of Intimacy, copyright 2012 by Dr. Greg Smalley. Published by Howard Books, Brentwood, Tn., http://imprints.simonandschuster.biz/howard

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as Executive Director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as president of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of 11 books, including The DNA of Relationships, The DNA of Parent and Teen Relationships, and The Wholehearted Marriage. Greg lives in Colorado with his wife Erin and their four children.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer. 

Publication date: November 19, 2012