What Does the Bible Say about Fighting in Marriage?

An angry young couple sit on a couch engaged in a heated argument.
It's normal to have conflict — and it's unavoidable. According to the Bible, what matters most is how you handle the fighting in your marriage.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your new marriage shouldn’t have any conflict in it. Many couples believe that their lack of conflict in their relationship is a good sign. But then they get engaged and the countless stresses of life bring conflict to the surface until it is unavoidable. It’s normal to have conflict — and it’s unavoidable. According to the Bible, what matters most is how you handle the fighting in your marriage.

So if you’re looking to get married but are worried about the presence of conflict in your relationship, this is the article for you. We’ll walk you through what the Bible says about fighting in marriage and how to manage conflict when you run into it.

Conflict in Marriage Is Not Optional

lt’s imperative that you learn how to face your differences as a couple and work through disagreements and hurt feelings. But this will require a different mind-set. Refuse to subscribe to the prevailing wisdom in our culture that says a lack of conflict is a sign of a healthy marriage. That’s insane! It’s not possible to take a man and a woman whom God created so wonderfully different and expect that they’ll never disagree. That’s ridiculous. You will argue, quarrel, wrangle, bicker, and clash from time to time. As author Max Lucado put it,

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”

Max Lucado

In other words, you will disagree (accept this fact), but what is optional is how you manage those moments when you don’t see eye to eye or you hurt each other. You can choose to manage your conflict in either healthy or unhealthy ways. Allow this truth to penetrate deep within your mind and heart: Conflict is good; combat is bad.

What Does the Bible Say about Fighting in Marriage?

Facing your differences and problems is a healthy aspect of a strong marriage. We believe that’s why Jesus strongly encouraged us in Matthew 5:23-24 to deal with relationship problems so that our hearts can be right:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:23-24

Bible Verses about the Consequences of Unhealthy Fighting

On the other hand, yelling, withdrawing, belittling, criticizing, avoiding, and escalating (combat) will ultimately ruin your marriage. As a matter of fact, some of the best marriage researchers on the planet can predict with a high degree of certainty whether a marriage will succeed or fail simply based on how a couple deals with conflict. If they argue without ever resolving their issues or consistently avoid conflict altogether, their marriage is at risk for divorce. The apostle Paul recognized the same truth when he wrote,

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Galatians 5:15

It’s not how many arguments you have with your future spouse; it’s how you manage them that makes all the difference.

Proverbs 18:19 tells us,

“An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”

Proverbs 18:19

The bottom line is, your marriage will not last if you’re unable or unwilling to work through your issues.

Develop Your Conflict Resolution Skills as a Couple

By the way, we’re not saying that you should “like” conflict or intentionally create it. This is why the apostle Paul wrote, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1). Obviously we shouldn’t go looking for a fight or intentionally push each other’s buttons. You’re never going to like conflict in your relationship. We all hate to feel disconnected, hurt, frustrated, and shut down with each other. The only one who ever wins if you stay in disharmony is the Evil One. He wants to “steal and kill and destroy” your marriage (John 10:10).

So hear us correctly. We’re not suggesting that you should strive to enjoy conflict. Instead, use those moments of disagreement to strengthen your marriage. We really like how marriage expert Dr. John Gottman puts it:

“If there is one lesson I have learned from my years of research it is that a lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship. Many couples tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness and believe the claim “we never fight” is a sign of marital health. But I believe we grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences. That’s how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage.”

Dr. John Gottman

Otherwise, poorly managed conflict is always buried alive, and it often festers until it becomes a much bigger problem. In the end, buried issues end up exploding like a massive volcano, leaving your spouse in its destructive wake.

What Is the Difference Between Conflict and Combat?

So don’t put your upcoming marriage at risk; instead, learn how to successfully manage those times when you experience conflict. Make a decision today that you will keep short accounts with each other. Keeping short accounts isn’t about keeping score, sweeping your problems under the rugs that they mount up, or arguing in unhealthy ways. Instead, it means that you work through conflict as quickly as possible and in healthy ways — the opposite of combat. The goal is never to avoid your problems and keep peace at any price.

As one author wrote, “Peace … is not just the absence of war. It’s the opposite of war.” Make your goal to quickly repair your relationship. We really like how author Sabrina Beasley McDonald describes it:

“Keep short accounts and extend forgiveness regularly. Nothing will ruin a desire to be with your spouse faster than resentment and bitterness. In return, it also ruins your spouse’s desire to be with you. Fights are going to happen in marriage; there’s no way around it. But you can choose to handle these conflicts in the right way and build up your marriage instead of tearing it down.”

Sabrina Beasley McDonald

Now lets turn our attention to the difference between unhealthy conflict and healthy conflict.

Excerpted from Ready to Wed by Greg and Erin Smalley, pages 170-172.

Why “Sit Down and Talk” Is Actually Bad Marriage Advice

To break out of an unhealthy cycle of conflict, you must first understand a commonly held myth about working through an argument. In our culture, the most common advice for a married couple who is in the middle of a conflict goes something like this: You need to sit down and calmly talk through the issue. It isn’t that Erin and I (Greg) don’t agree with the advice,. Ultimately, we do need to resolve our conflicts, and that takes communication. The problem we have with the advice is the when. At what point should a couple begin to talk through the problem?

To answer this question, think about the last time you were hurt or frustrated with your fiancé(e) — a time when your buttons were pushed, your heart was closed, and you were in reaction mode (fight or flight). Now, when you were in that state, when was the last time you were genuinely able to have a good, productive, Christlike conversation with your fiancé(e)? By the way, most people answer with a resounding “Never!”

Honestly, most people don’t end up having a healthy discussion, because it’s almost physically impossible. They’re too stirred up emotionally, their hearts are closed, and they’re reacting. When you’re in this state of mind, reflect on what’s going on physiologically in your body — your heart races, your blood pressure rises, and rational thoughts are no longer possible. This is why Erin and I think the worst advice we could give a couple in conflict is to encourage them to first work out the problem together. When your buttons have been pushed, when your heart is closed, and you’re in reaction mode, the unhealthiest first step is to attempt to work out the problem relationally — between you two.

Bible Verses about Healthy Conflict

Instead, the best first step is found in Matthew 7:3-5:

“Why do you look at a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

This is amazing advice from Jesus Himself, and it’s the perfect first step to breaking out of unhealthy conflict. Here, Christ is saying that before you focus on your fiancé(e) and his or her speck, you need to first get the log out of your own eye. In other words, before you try to have a conversation together and talk through the conflict, first deal with you. Therefore, we say that the best thing you can do after your buttons have been pushed is to get your heart back open so that instead of reacting, you can respond to your fiancé(e). Responding is the opposite of reacting. Responding is Christlike because focus is on:

  • Loving
  • Caring
  • Listening
  • Understanding
  • Validating
  • Empathizing

This is why King Solomon wrote, “A wise man guides his mouth” (Proverbs 16:23). In other words, an open heart will guide a healthy conversation. So how do you get your heart to open up again?

Excerpted from Ready to Wed by Greg and Erin Smalley, pages 178-180.

Ready to Wed

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What Can I Do to Open My Heart?

Over the years, we have found three simple steps that help us get our hearts open.

1. Call a Time-Out

Instead of continuing to argue and debate the situation, hit the pause button. In other words, get away from each other for a brief amount of time in order to de-escalate your stirred-up emotions. This is exactly what King Solomon wrote about:

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

Proverbs 29:11

Instead of continuing to react (fight or flight), you want to keep yourself under control and calm down.

Some of the things that can help defuse your pushed buttons include:

  • Taking some deep breaths of air
  • Exercising
  • Taking a walk
  • Cleaning the house
  • Listening to music
  • Praying
  • Journaling your feelings

The key is to create some space from each other and do something that will calm you down. As you create some space, make sure to let the other person know that you’re taking a time-out to get your heart back open and that you’ll be back later to finish the discussion. This is not withdrawing. Withdrawal is an extremely deadly flight reaction. Calling a time-out insinuates that you just need a short break before you continue the conversation. Research suggests that you might need about twenty minutes to calm down once your buttons have been pushed. Erin and I have made it a rule that the person who calls the time-out should also be the one to initiate getting back together to talk about the conflict — but only when both hearts are open.

2. Identify Your Emotions

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

This next step is an important shift in what you’re thinking about. When we’re hurt and frustrated, our thoughts are racing with what the other person did or didn’t do. This is called “stewing.” We can’t stop stewing about how much we were wronged or mistreated. If we continue to think about “them” and replay the conflict over and over in our minds, we’ll stay stirred up. Remember Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” If you’re going to get your heart open, you have to shift from thinking about your fiancé(e) to focusing on yourself. The way to make this important shift is to do what King David suggested:

“In your anger, do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

Psalm 4:4

Name the Button

While you’re in your time-out, start focusing on your emotions — the voice of your heart. Ask yourself, “What button just got pushed?” You want to name the button (identify the emotion). This will continue to calm you down and open your heart. You might be thinking, Whatever, Dr. Smalley! However, there is actual research from UCLA that shows by simply naming what you’re feeling, your brain activity will shift from the amygdala — your fight-or-flight center — to a much more rational part of the brain — the prefrontal cortex. This simple act not only begins to impact the state of your closed heart, but it impacts what is going on in your body physiologically. The goal is to defuse your button, and identifying what you’re feeling allows that to happen!

Armed with some great information about your emotions, now you’re ready for the final step.

3. Discover the Truth

One of the biggest mistakes people make with their emotions is to either ignore them or act upon them. Remember, emotions represent nothing more than information. But we should never mindlessly act on any information without evaluating it first. The best way to evaluate your emotions or feelings (the buttons) is to take that information to the Lord. You’re searching for His truth about you and your fiancé(e). As humans, we aren’t the source of truth. The scriptures make it extremely clear that Christ is truth:

“Jesus [said], ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.'”

John 14:6

If you try to determine the validity of your emotions and thought about your future spouse, you’re at risk of believing lies. Remember, we have an adversary. Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and he wants you to believe lies about your fiancé(e).

When my heart is closed, my view becomes distorted. I lack God’s insight, wisdom, and truth. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”

Ephesians 4:18

This final step is all about abandoning your own conclusions about your fiancé(e) and pursuing God’s truth. The great news is that God is faithful. He only wants what’s best for you and your fiancé(e), and He is committed to restoring unity. He wants us to follow the apostle Paul’s plea:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another, so the there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

1 Corinthians 1:10

God will give you a peace about your emotions that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and will help you see the truth about your fiancé(e).

Excerpted from Ready to Wed by Greg and Erin Smalley, pages 180-183.

What the Bible Has to Say about Fighting and Forgiveness

Sometimes you may want to slam the conflict door shut or at least lock it when your future spouse has an issue with you.

You have a choice to make. You can use unproductive patterns of dealing with conflict or walk through the doorway of healthy conflict into the deepest levels of intimacy and connection to the place the apostle Paul envisioned for marriage:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:31-32

The choice is yours!

Excerpted from Ready to Wed by Greg and Erin Smalley, pages 186-187.

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