Learn to Fight Right in Your Marriage
- 2010 17 Apr
A fresh perspective…
In our five years of marriage, Ryan and I––both hardheaded by nature––have had our fair share of squabbles. Our arguments are usually forgotten soon after they’re over, but one stands out in my mind.
I don’t remember what started the fight, but I do remember that it lasted late into the night, and at some point it included a heated discussion of the contents in our bathroom closet. The only reason I remember this meaningless detail is because of one little line I spouted: "It’s not my job to buy your shampoo!" Only I interjected another word into the sentence––an adjective describing the shampoo. I’m embarrassed to reveal the word, and I doubt it would get printed if I did. But I mention this slip (okay, exasperated thrust) of the tongue because it crossed an unspoken line in our marriage.
Until this point, Ryan and I had not used harsh language in our arguments. Sure, we raised our voices and got excited, but never had we elevated an argument enough to add new vocabulary words to the mix.
I wish I could say that I apologized and repented and that was the first and last time severe words crept into our fights. That, however, would be a lie. Instead, by speaking with contempt toward Ryan, I essentially gave him permission to return the favor. I introduced a new weapon to our argument arsenal. It wasn’t a weapon we used often, but if the conversation got heated enough, verbal daggers would fly in both directions.
I think we rationalized in our mind that the words added emphasis to our emotion. Oh, we reserved them for really emphatic points. They were never spoken as name-calling. Indeed, they usually were pointed at inanimate objects: time, money, laundry. But, the words hurt as though they were aimed straight at each other.
I remember a few times when Ryan chose a well-placed word, I responded with hurt and frustration. "Please don’t talk like that to me." Unfortunately, I also remember digging in the ammo bag and pulling out a zinger of my own.
We have married friends who provide a picture of what happens if you continue to build up an arsenal of harsh words. It’s not pretty. Not only do they curse, call names, and accuse, but they do it all in front of other people. I’d like to think Ryan and I are above that, but I’m ashamed to admit that we were headed in the same direction for a while.
I’m not sure when we were convicted of our war crimes, but I do know that the ugly fighting stopped after we made a conscious decision to tame our tongues. Sure, we still get riled up at times, but now we argue with an underlying respect for each other. When we have a disagreement, I know that eventually, we’ll both give in a little and it will all be over.
Until then, we both steer clear of sarcasm, yelling, name-calling, and ugly words. Though we’re both stubborn, we each try to really listen to and put ourselves in the shoes of the other. And we’ve found that God’s Word is so wise when it says, "A soft answer turns away wrath." By resisting the urge to dig in and swing hard, we can shorten our arguments, save us both a lot of stress, and leave more time for making up…and shampoo shopping.
A seasoned perspective…
My husband and I are so different when it comes to our fighting styles. I was an award-winning debater in high school so I tend to rather enjoy a brisk argument. I see it as clearing the air, fixing something that’s "broken" and making sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. When I pick a fight, it’s usually with purpose, but sometimes with a little too much passion.
Ken, on the other hand, is more of a peacemaker. He’s willing to let sleeping dogs lie and just hope they won’t wake us up barking and growling later on. When we were first married it frustrated me to the nth degree that Ken’s way of dealing with conflict was to just leave the room or, if it was a really big fight, the house.
How could we make sure we wouldn’t be rehashing the same issues again and again if we never talked things out? Fortunately, as we’ve grown spiritually, we’ve both matured a bit in the fighting department. I’ve learned to not pick a fight at the drop of a hat—or the drop of a pair of muddy shoes on my freshly mopped kitchen floor. Grrr. Ken’s learned to stay put until we reach some sort of resolution.
After an especially brief skirmish a few weeks ago, I hugged my husband and told him, "I really like the way we fight these days. We get in there, get down to business and get out." I credit our "Raney Rules of Engagement" with making our fights productive instead of destructive.
These rules have helped us to "fight right" in our marital arguments and come away from a conflict more in love with each other than we were going into it:
• Never hit below the belt (and learn where your spouse’s "belt" is)
• Pick the right time and place for your arguments
• Learn the fine art of compromise
• Never walk out on an argument, except by mutual agreement
• Kick the word D-I-V-O-R-C-E out of your marriage vocabulary
• End every argument with apologies, prayer, and a hug
God has been gracious and after thirty-two years of marriage, we’ve found we argue less and less. But we’re still human, and I doubt we’ll ever completely outgrow the need for an air-clearing discussion once in a while. After all, a good fight gives us a great excuse to kiss and make up!
1. Read Proverbs 15:1,2
2. What does the Bible have to say about arguing? Read: Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 17:27; Proverbs 21:23; Ecclesiastes 3:7
3. What "war crimes" are you guilty of in your marriage? Blaming? Sarcasm? Name-calling? Shutting down? Harsh language? Yelling? Threatening?
4. How can you disarm yourself of those weapons and begin building up your spouse and your marriage?
5. Is it always wrong to argue? Does "fighting" have any place in marriage? Read Ephesians 4:23-32. Try reading this passage in several different translations.
6. Have you consciously set rules in place to help you fight more productively? If not, discuss with your spouse what guidelines you each would like to see in your marital arguments. Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.
Originally published November 16, 2006.
Deborah Raney is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel for Excellence in Media, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have been married for 35 years. They have four children, two little grandsons, and enjoy small- town life in Kansas. Visit Deborah's website at http://www.deborahraney.com.
Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.