I have been fighting with my husband more in the last week than I have in the last ten years of our marriage. The funny (or sad) thing is, I know I’m pushing his buttons. I know there are things I can say that will set him off, and instead of holding my tongue, I find myself poking the bear. I’m falling back into old fighting habits, and I’ve had to ask myself, “Why?”
Is it because we have made major life changes, like moving in with my parents? Is it because I’m frustrated and angry at other things in life, and I’m taking it out on him? Is it because there is an enemy (aka Satan) whose whole mission is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10)?
The answer: It’s all three. I am trying to navigate my family of five living with my parents, and there are things in my life that didn’t go the way I wanted them to go, so I’m taking it out on my husband. Also, yes, there is an enemy who would like nothing better than to destroy our marriage.
I know there will be fights in our marriage. No matter how perfect I think we are together, conflict is inevitable. As scary as that sounds, conflict isn’t always bad. It’s actually a skill that can be developed and used for good. God even gives us guidance on how to achieve that. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” God is telling us our words can either bring someone up or tear them down. Our words can heal, or our words can wound each other. And for the past week, my words (or lack of words) have been wounding my marriage.
In the first seven years of our marriage, we sucked at conflict. Small disagreements turned into giant fights. We had two totally different styles of dealing with conflict. I would run away to avoid it at all costs, and Doug would yell until the vein in his head popped out.
The more I ignored him, the angrier he got. The more we fought, the more resentment we felt, and the higher the wall was built between us—until, eventually, the wall was so high we just felt like two strangers living together. We lacked the skills to handle conflict resolution in a healthy and productive way.
We needed help, and we turned to married couples who were following God. (That’s an important part, finding not just other married couples, but specifically those who put God first in their marriage.) When you don’t have God-centered in your life, it’s easy to tell someone to give up on their marriage, start over, and find a new spouse. But couples who put God first will tell you to stay and fight for your marriage. They will guide you through rough times and help you learn the skills you need to build a strong marriage.
Doug and I were lucky to find great couples in a random small group we signed up for at church. (You can do that too, btw. Try it here.) One of those couples asked if Doug and I wanted to join a marriage class they were part of. That’s where we realized how destructive our fights were, and that’s where we started to gain skills on how to have a constructive conflict.
One of the first skills I had to learn was to stop fleeing and have a voice. This meant we had to slow down our fights. I’m not a fast communicator, and I needed time to process everything Doug was saying in an argument. So, we were taught the technique of passing an object back and forth as each person spoke. You weren’t allowed to talk unless you were holding the object, and you weren’t allowed to grab it from the other person. This taught us how to be patient and take turns when discussing a conflict. It gave me the time to gather my thoughts without having to stress that ‘my time to talk’ would get overpowered. It gave him the stability of knowing I wasn’t going to run from hearing how he felt.
Yes, I will admit the first time we did this, it was awkward and even frustrating, but the more we did it, the easier it became. We slowed down our fights, I found my voice, and Doug felt heard. Instead of feeling attacked and wanting to run, I now felt respected and even cared for.
The true game-changer for us was that after each conflict, Doug and I would pray together. I know it sounds crazy to pray after you have been fighting, but God wants to be part of every single bit of our marriage, and that includes our fights. And if I’m really honest, I noticed when Doug and I pray, it always softens our hearts and helps break down walls. Granted, there are times I don’t want to have a softened heart and just want to lash out at Doug, but the truth is lashing out will never solve any problems, and praying together grounds us reminding us why we are a team.
I think the reason I’ve been fighting more with my husband is because I started falling back into old habits. We haven’t been as good about bringing God into our conversations, which leads to me ignoring Doug and running away from our problems. I stopped putting God at the center of our marriage and started putting all the worldly problems first. I was giving up hope when I should have turned to God.
1 Timothy 6:12 states, “Fight the good fight of faith.” I had stopped fighting the good fight, but the good news is that God can help me turn it around. I can tell Doug my frustrations with gentle words. I can be honest with him and stop running.
You will have conflict in your marriage. It’s up to you to decide if it’s going to tear you apart or make you stronger.
We have a choice: We can include God in our marriage conflicts, or we can let the world tell us what to do. The world is going to tell you that you are always right and your spouse is always wrong. The world is going to tell you to be selfish and only do what’s best for you. But God tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
To me, that sounds like a pretty great way to fight.