There are few things in life as disheartening as unhealthy conflict with your spouse. But conflict doesn’t have to destroy relationships. Healthy conflict can be a doorway to deeper intimacy. It can facilitate communication, understanding, trust and respect if we choose to manage our differences and disagreements in nourishing ways. I hope you’ll realize that healthy conflict is a way to discover your spouse’s most important feelings and needs.
When was the last time you were able to have a productive, Christ-like conversation in the middle of an argument with your spouse? That doesn’t happen, right? In the middle of a fight, when you’re frustrated, hurt or upset, your heart closes. Understand that when your heart is closed, you’re likely to react in unloving ways (anger, withdrawal, sarcasm, defensiveness, etc.).
A closed heart is the reason it’s practically impossible to have a healthy, kindhearted conversation with your spouse in the middle of an argument. So, how do you move from unhealthy conflict to healthy conflict?
Instead of trying to force your way through a conversation, do what Jesus himself recommended: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). The key to moving from unhealthy conflict to healthy conflict is to first get the log out of your own eye so that instead of simply reacting, you can thoughtfully respond to your spouse in a productive, Christ-like way.
This is how to open your heart and “fight” your way to a better marriage:
Call a timeout. Separate for a brief time to allow your emotions to settle.
Verbalize to your spouse that you will be back to talk when your heart is open.
Name what you are feeling (I feel . . . unloved, disrespected, worthless, controlled, unimportant, etc.) and notice how it calms you. Do this during your timeout.
Pray. Ask God to reveal what is true about your feelings and what is true about your spouse.
Tapping into the power of healthy conflict is a matter of opening the door to your heart.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.