Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Learn to Fight Fair in Marriage

Learn to Fight Fair in Marriage

Dan and I just celebrated 46 years of marriage. Every day has been filled with peace and marital bliss - and I need to stop right there before a bolt of lightning strikes me dead!

Dan and I have a great marriage – most of the time. Truthfully, there have been days when I have thought about getting in the car and driving away. I am sure there have been more days when Dan has thought the same thing. We have weathered some severe storms in our marriage. It is only by the grace of God that our marriage is strong today. We work hard at our marriage. A good marriage requires hard work and solid commitment. Dan and I are best friends. We want the rest of our marriage to be the best part of our marriage. It hasn't always been that way.

When we first got married, I noticed some things in Dan that I thought needed my fine-tuning. A seed of discord took root and began to grow. Dan seemed oblivious to the things I thought needed changing. One of the qualities I found attractive in Dan before we were married was his strength. My viewpoint changed. Instead of strength, I saw stubbornness. While we were dating, I admired Dan's ability to make profound things so simple. Now it seemed like he was patronizing. I soon saw Dan's overwhelming devotion to me turn into his desire to control me. Satan is so subtle when he invades our thought life and twists truth into lies. I began to resist all of the qualities I had once thought were wonderful. What arrogance on my part! That arrogance produced pain and conflict in our marriage, and Dan did not know what to do.

But one afternoon, Dan asked if we could talk about the problems we were experiencing. With great patience and love, Dan shared his heart. I honestly don't remember what Dan said except for these powerful words that melted my heart and changed everything in our marriage. "Honey, I am not exactly sure what the problems are between us, but I want you to know that I am committed to loving you the way you need to be loved."

Want the recipe for a successful marriage? There you have it. Dan's words absolutely stunned me. My love for him and our commitment to peace took our marriage to a whole new level. It can take any relationship to a new level of health and peace. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. —Ephesians 4:31-32 [The Message]

Most people will do just about anything to avoid confrontation. It is painful and uncomfortable and often uncharted territory. Emotional land mines are everywhere. Rather than confront issues, we try to bury them, hoping they will simply disappear. They don't. Painful issues and conflict accumulate and eventually cause an explosion.

I can remember watching my mother cook chicken using a steam pot. She would fill the pot with water and wait for it to boil. The pressure grew until the little spout on top of the pot began to whistle, sounding an alarm. That's when my mother would add the chicken and turn down the heat. When we refuse to deal with conflict, the same thing happens. The hurt and anger of each wound simmer until it reaches a boiling point. An emotional explosion is sure to occur unless we turn down the heat through the gift of confrontation.

Confrontation is part of every successful relationship, but it is especially important to the health of every marriage. The problem in so many marriages is not the presence of conflict; it is how we deal with it. There are rules for confronting the right way – rules established by and agreed upon by both people, which ensures victory for the marriage relationship. Confrontation is not combat. The goal of confrontation is always restoration – never winning. Silence is agreement. If you really love someone, you are willing to level with them. Love begins with knowledge of one another, and the key to knowledge is open, honest, consistent communication. Talk with your mate about everything - even if it is silly or seems unimportant.

Since friendship is the springboard to every other love, the foundation for every healthy relationship, we must cultivate and nourish the friendship part of your marriage through healthy, consistent communication. Learn to fight fair! Dan and I have had to learn how to confront each other in a way that pleases God and strengthens our marriage. Let me share some tips we have found helpful.

Choose Your Battles Carefully

Be willing to compromise. If we are not careful, every conversation can become an argument. Some things are not worth fighting over. Our emotional default setting needs to be peace, not conflict.

Pray Before You Confront Your Mate

Marriage is God's idea. And his plan. Since he always empowers his plan and provides everything we need to carry out that plan, it only makes sense to ask for his guidance and wisdom before any confrontation.

Pick a Time and Place That Will Encourage Success

For many years, I tended to confront Dan the minute he walked in the door from work. That conversation was rarely successful. Wrong time and wrong place. That's when we began spending an hour each night talking about the day, confronting any issues we had. Defeats turned into victories.

Begin with Affirmation

James Dobson says that before every corrective statement we give to someone, we should start with seven affirming statements. This works! It lets the person you are confronting know that you are coming with an attitude of love. It is the proverbial spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down approach to confrontation.

Be Willing to Accept Blame

One person almost never causes a problem in any relationship. We need to be willing to accept our part of the blame and commit to making whatever change is necessary for the relationship's success.

Express Hurt - Not Hostility

We always need to control the volume when confronting someone. Anger that leads to raised voices can easily derail a conversation and cause even more hurt. People tend to shut out loud, angry voices, waiting for the speaking person to get a grip. And don't dig up the past. In other words, don't get hysterical or historical.

Avoid Certain Words

Avoid using words like always, never, all, none, everything, nothing, everybody, nobody, constantly, completely, entirely, and thoroughly. These words don't ring true and can often spiral into an out-of-control confrontation.

Be Solution-Centered

Come to the table of confrontation – not with a let's just do this attitude, but with an attitude that sincerely wants to get to the heart of the matter. Don't become defensive. Instead, choose to closely examine your heart and motives to see if they fall in line with God's direction.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Talk with a mature Christian couple or a professional Christian marriage counselor. We were created to need each other. Don't be ashamed to ask for help.

Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

God practices excessive grace. Grace means unmerited favor. Since we have experienced the grace of God, don't you think He would be pleased if we gave some of that grace away for the sake of peace and resolved conflict?

Take a Time-Out

When the conversation takes a bad turn, take a time out. It will do two things. First, a time-out will give you time to cool off and get your emotions under control. Second, it will give you time to seek God and his plan for the conversation.

Conflict in marriage and any relationship is a certainty. But the real question is, how am I going to handle it. Choose peace over war. Choose restoration over destruction. Choose forgiveness over bitterness and anger. Making these choices before confrontation will guarantee restoration.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.

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