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10 Fight Tips That Actually Help Marriages Thrive

  • Jennifer Slattery JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com
10 Fight Tips That Actually Help Marriages Thrive

Couples can fight their way into a divorce court, or they can fight their way to a better marriage. We all long for the latter. No one stands at the altar, hoping one day their relationship will fail. Rather, they dream of the increased closeness they’ll experience day by day as God melds their heart to their spouse’s. We all long for intimacy, to be fully known, our rough edges and all, and yet, to be loved deeply.

But how do we get there? What do we do when our rough edges scrape against our spouse’s, and our sinful tendencies crash against theirs?

Conflict happens but our marriage doesn’t have to end up a casualty. By following some clear, biblical guidelines, we can fight in such a way that builds, rather than destroys, our marriage.

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1. Stay alert to the true battle.

1. Stay alert to the true battle.

When we’re in the throes of conflict, pride can distort our perspective so that we begin to view our spouse as the enemy. They aren’t, and we’ll never experience true intimacy until we realize that. God designed marriage to reveal the depth of His love for us, so that our relationship with our spouse would draw others to Him. It’s no surprise, then, that the enemy of our souls longs to destroy our marriage. That’s where the battle lies. When conflict arises, focus on the true battle—working through your issues in order to keep your marriage strong.

You may need to remind each other of this often. Early in my marriage, when my husband and I were first learning to break negative communication patterns, we’d periodically remind each other, in the middle of a fight, “I’m not your enemy.” That helped diffuse the situation and centered our efforts on what was most important.

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2. Pray in the fray.

2. Pray in the fray.

Most of us know we need to pray consistently and diligently for our marriage—that God keeps our hearts soft toward one another, helps us understand the other, and protects our relationship from external damage. But power comes when we stop, in the middle of a fight, and usher in God’s presence through prayer. When we do, His Spirit soothes our anger and counters our faulty thinking with truth.

“God is most near during conflict,” Shellie Arnold, Your Marriage Ministries leader, said. “He uses it to provide us with an opportunity to learn and grow. When we recognize that and engage Him in that work, we and our marriages grow stronger.”

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3. Check Your Motives.

3. Check Your Motives.

Selfish motives—to prove your point or win the argument—have the propensity to destroy trust and, ultimately, your relationship. They are also the root of most marital issues. James 4:1-2 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight …” (NIV).

In conflict, two opposing desires battle it out for dominance. Once we recognize and are honest with our own desires, we can begin to evaluate them more rationally. Is there a win-win? Is this something you need to concede to? An area where you can show Christ’s sacrificial love?

If the issue driving your conflict is something you feel strongly about, pause to remember God’s sovereignty. He already knows the solution, and it’ll be one rooted in love for you and your spouse.

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4. Analyze Your Perceptions.

4. Analyze Your Perceptions.

More often than not, our issues, whether with our spouse or a situation, have more to do with pain we’ve experienced in the past and how we have or haven’t dealt with it, than anything going on in the present. Unresolved or poorly dealt with hurts distort our perception and negatively impact our relationships.

The first step toward healing and growth is awareness. As you begin to prayerfully unpack your actions and reactions, paying special attention to your most intense emotions, and surrender those to Christ, He’ll help you live, love, and fight differently.

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5. Go Deeper.

5. Go Deeper.

Unmet needs, or the fear that our needs won’t be met, often fuel our most vicious fights. When my husband and I were first married, we fought over the most inconsequential things—socks on the floor, dishes on the counter, phone calls that were never made. When I stopped to honestly evaluate the situations, I realized my reaction came from feeling unappreciated. This understanding enabled deeper communication with my husband who was then able to affirm his love.

Finances also led to many arguments, which again were fueled by unmet needs. He interpreted financial concerns and questions as a sign of disrespect, whereas unplanned spending fueled my sense of insecurity. Therefore, before we could address the issue, we had to first deal with one another’s hearts.

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6. Get Reinforcements.

6. Get Reinforcements.

No one enters into battle alone or unprepared. Marriage is worth fighting for, and many times, the best thing we can do is get help. Three years into our marriage, my husband and I found ourselves $35,000 in debt, which was a constant source of conflict. We knew we needed to make drastic changes but didn’t know how, so we sought help. We attended a 10-week biblical financial class where we learned not only how to create and manage a budget, but how to communicate with one another more effectively.

We also sought counseling—numerous times. An uninvolved third-party, like a counselor, can help couples sort through their differing opinions, needs, and perceptions and seek marriage-saving solutions.

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 7. Know When to Call Time Out.

7. Know When to Call Time Out.

When my husband and I were first married, many arguments that started out relatively benign soon turned ugly. There were many times when the things that came out of my mouth horrified me. To see the wounded look on my husband’s face directly following broke my heart and left me scrambling to repair the damage I’d created.

Unfortunately, hurtful words are like vomit—they’re a mess to clean up and impossible to rescind.  Therefore, it’s imperative we learn to hold our tongues, but this can be difficult to do when tensions rise. Therefore, we need to catch ourselves before we lose control. When we feel our pulse beginning to spike, our temperature rise, or our muscles tense, that’s a sign we need to step back and prayerfully regroup.

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8. Avoid Provoking Words and Phrases.

8. Avoid Provoking Words and Phrases.

Statements like, “You always” or “You never” tend to put others on the defensive, thus causing emotions to escalate and hindering effective communication. When expressing your concerns, stay focused on the issue and how it made you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You never come home on time,” say, “When you arrive late, I feel devalued.” In this way, you are not placing a judgment on the person. Instead, you are expressing how you interpret a particular action. This allows your spouse to hear your heart and focus on a rectifiable issue without implying moral failure. 

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9. Include Positives With Every Negative.

9. Include Positives With Every Negative.

We all have faults and destructive behavior patterns but we also have God-given strengths and numerous positive traits. When fighting, it’s easy to focus on the negative. Life would be easier if only our spouse didn’t shop impulsively, was more attentive, or cleaned up after himself. And while those concerns may be accurate, our spouse will respond better to them if we blanket them in love.

Some call this the bread-meat-bread approach where bread represents positive feedback and the meat is more constructive. Following this approach, you would begin your discussion by expressing numerous things you appreciate about your spouse before sharing your concern. You’d conclude by stating more characteristics or behaviors you value.

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10. Practice.

10. Practice.

Fighting is intrinsic and self-taught. Fighting well, in a way that protects and builds our marriage, however, isn’t. And few of us have positive role models in this area. As a result, by the time we get married, most of us have developed a lifetime of destructive behaviors. To handle conflict well, we need to unlearn harmful conflict patterns and replace them with positive behaviors, and this takes time, perhaps even decades. But the more we practice fighting well, the easier it becomes to do so.  Through prayer, determination, and intentionality, we can learn to argue in such a way that our marriage comes out stronger.  

Jennifer Slattery is a writer and international speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and other writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels maintains a devotional blog found at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. 

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