Call them debates, conflicts, arguments, or vehement fiscal discussions – every couple will have disagreements. When a man faces a confrontation with his wife, he typically responds in one of three ways. Husbands, which one of these statements best describes the way you react?
- I give in. I'd rather give up than fight.
- I flee the scene, hoping the problem will take care of itself.
- I assert my authority to gain control of the situation and get my way.
Unfortunately, when you give in, flee, or fight over your differences, you will never experience the satisfaction that comes with effective conflict resolution.
Instead, you could find yourself sleeping on the couch.
Wives, when you disagree with your husband about something, which one of these responses best describes your approach to the situation?
- I try to get the upper hand through manipulation or hiding the facts.
- I challenge my husband—especially when I think I know better.
- I pretty much do as he says; things seem to go more smoothly that way.
Again, women aren't the only ones who manipulate and challenge their spouses, just as men aren't the only ones who fight or flee. But it should come as no surprise that none of these options will promote long-term satisfaction or peace in a relationship. Let's look, then, at God's design for effective communication and conflict resolution in marriage.
First, let's reflect on the Biblical principles. When husbands and wives commit to one another, we see the outworkings of Christ's relationship with the church, as described in Ephesians 5:28-29: "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church."
Scripture commands husbands to selflessly love their wives and wives to respect their husbands. It's not difficult to see how, in a perfect world in which these commandments were never broken, marriages would be peaceful, satisfying, and uplifting. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world, and our natural tendencies are to focus on ourselves and attempt to impose our will on others. Any of my selfish attempts to get Judy to do something "my" way causes communication breakdowns. Those breakdowns often leave ugly scars. Wounded relationships, broken families, and a discouraging lack of peace and satisfaction are just a few of the consequences that can mar a marriage.
In order to maintain our commitment to love, cherish, and honor our spouses, we need to yield ourselves and our rights, first to God and then to one another. Over the years, Judy and I have used several strategies to help prevent communication stalemates, blowouts, and breakdowns. If you and your spouse have a difference of opinion, try approaching conflict with one or more of these guidelines in mind:The following information is adapted from Ron Blue and Judy Blue, Money Talks and So Can We (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 28, 35-35.
- Stick to the problem at hand. Focus on the current conflict, and don't accuse your spouse of "always" or "never" behaving a certain way. Putting your spouse on the defensive is never wise.
- Get on the same side of the fence. Rather than attempting to resolve an issue "my way" or "your way," work toward a solution that represents "our way."
- Try to identify the core issue. Arguments often arise because of events or issues that disguise the real problem. Consider what attitudes or beliefs are motivating your behavior for clues as to what the core issue in any conflict is.
- Don't be a mind reader. Discuss your beliefs and expectations openly. Don't try to interpret your spouse's thoughts or motives from his or her behavior; instead, ask direct questions. Likewise, don't expect your spouse to know what you are thinking.
- Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Settling disputes takes hard work and can also take time. If you haven't reached an agreement by bedtime, put the matter aside with the understanding that you will resume discussion the next day. Nursing anger overnight gives the devil a foothold (see Ephesians 4:26-27). Don't leave yourself (or your marriage) vulnerable.
- Avoid character assassination. As you work to resolve conflict, it's okay to talk about circumstances and behavior. However, attacking your spouse's personality or character is never acceptable.
- Never forget that your relationship with your spouse is far more important than "winning" an argument or "being right."
- Remember that love keeps no record of wrongs. Be quick to forgive, quick to admit your own mistakes, and quick to move on from the conflict.