Java with Juli: Fighting Fair

Couple having a disagreement
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All couples fight about something.

Whether you're celebrating the first year of marriage or you're reminiscing about decades together, there's no doubt that marital bliss has been interrupted by conflict somewhere along the way. All couples disagree about something — money, in-laws, sex, the laundry. It seems at times as though conflict is a necessary evil in marriage. But has it ever dawned on you that what you fight about is far less important than how you fight about it?

The process of conflict

Some of my arguments with Mike (especially early in our marriage) have been about petty issues — how much to spend on an extension cord, whether to answer the phone (before caller ID) or why Mike would eat a huge bowl of cereal right after eating a small portion of the meal I had prepared. Even today the subjects of our "discussions" are usually minor, but the way we "discuss" them has proven to be crucial to the health of our relationship.

Spouses can do incredible damage to the trust built in their marriage, even as they argue about what kind of toothpaste to buy. Name-calling, criticizing, bullying and threatening (even appeasing in order to avoid conflict) will leave a lasting scar on the relationship. Couples can deal with the consequences of just about any decision as long as they build trust in the process of coming to that decision. Even with the big issues, the process is far more important than the outcome.

Valuing love

Underlying each of the issues that you and your husband disagree about are central questions about trust in your relationship. While you may be insisting that you should go to your parents' house for the holidays, you are also asking your husband, "Do you understand me? Can I count on you to consider my needs?" Your husband is silently asking similar questions: "Do you respect my opinion? Do you care about me as much as you care about getting your way?"

Many broken marriages lie in the wake of good people invested in winning the argument who lose sight of their love for each other. Conflict isn't just a necessary evil — it becomes the Refiner's fire in which we are confronted with our own fears, blind spots and selfishness. It presents us with choices: Will I be defensive or receptive? Humble or self-righteous?

So, the next time conflict knocks on your door, remember that how you fight is more important than what you fight about.

Juli Slattery is the author of Finding the Hero in Your Husband.

Did you know couples are 30 percent less likely to get a divorce if they get some sort of premarital training? If you or someone you know is planning to marry, check out Focus on the Family's Ready to Wed curriculum, and then prepare for a marriage you'll love!

This article appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine and was titled "All Couples Fight About Something." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2010 Focus on the Family. From the Focus on the Family website at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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