Fighting is inevitable.
It is just going to happen. People fight. Neighbors fight. Nations fight.
But fighting in marriage can be miserable. It causes hurt, and instills fear. Fear that things are going to fall apart. Fear of loss. Marriages are failing left and right, but I don’t think fighting is the only reason why. I think people feel like such failures for fighting, they just throw in the towel. Most of the time, too early.
I like to remind myself that if we are fighting, we are at least still caring about the marriage. It’s when you give up and don’t try to fix things that things can spiral downward quickly. But there are ways to fight without doing lasting damage to each other. There are ground rules that can help keep your hearts from getting hurt in the middle of an argument.
My husband and I were recently at The Story of Marriage conference in Hawaii. We were there because my husband, Scott, was working, but I made sure to keep one ear open the whole time. One thing I appreciated was that John and Lisa Bevere were very honest and real with people. For instance, they told people that they fought. Like really fought. You could see the crowd sigh with relief when they heard this.
So how do we communicate kinder, even when we feel upset?
The first two ways were discussed at the marriage conference, and the last way is something I have learned along the way.
1. Don’t attack character
You can be angry at something your spouse has done, but don’t label them for it. If they lied to you, tell them they hurt you because they weren’t truthful, but don’t say, “you’re a liar.” If they were mean to you and harsh with words, ask them to speak kinder to you but don’t say, “You are a worthless jerk.”
The action is what you need to address, but it will make things worse if you retaliate by demeaning your spouse’s character. It’s easy to cut your spouse down when you feel mad, but being vindictive will only hurt you both in the long run. Those harsh words will crop up in their minds long after you have forgotten you even said them. It’s hard to undo the pain inflicted by cruel words. We want to be loved and accepted by our spouse, even when we fail.
2. Don’t bring up the past
I cannot stress how important this is. When you are forgiven, you are forgiven. God doesn’t toss your sin and failure back at you in your weakest moments. It’s atoned for. So don’t bring it back up as leverage over your spouse. Remember, you are on the same team — you don’t want to cause harm because you want a healthy, loving relationship. Making them pay over and over for the same sin is just going to push them away. Drudging up past mistakes undercuts trust, and makes your spouse feel ashamed and even hopeless at times.
Forgiveness is a difficult thing to walk through, but it’s the best way to find closeness. Don’t look back. You have today, so stop fighting about what is long gone. This isn’t a contest or a tug-of-war. You are one. You are a team. Stop hurting each other in order to gain control. And don’t withhold forgiveness from your spouse.
Grace may feel dangerous, and you might feel tempted to refuse it. It seems scary that your spouse can just be forgiven when they have hurt you so deeply, but you also need grace. Forgive freely because God is kind and forgives you. What perfect balance.
3. Don’t return evil for evil
This is huge. It is the most valuable lesson I have learned. When your spouse is yelling at you, or being hateful towards you, try to bring it down a notch with a kind response. This used to feel impossible for me. I let myself see red when I was being treated badly.
But I started to remind myself that God values and loves me more than I can imagine, so nobody, not even my spouse, can devalue me. I know who I am in Christ, and I am secure in His love. In those heated moments, a kind word can do two things: it can diffuse an angry situation, and it can keep your spouse from sinning even more. I don’t want to be responsible for making Scott [angrier] and saying things he will have to answer for later. If I stay calm, it goes a long way towards reconciliation.
I find more and more, it’s better to respond in love, no matter how foreign or difficult it feels in that moment.
Since fighting will happen, try to fight fair. Try to view the whole thing as a way to make progress. Trust that God will redeem all things and will have your back, even when you feel attacked by your spouse. Lastly, don’t quit just because you fight a lot. We all fight a lot. But over time, you see the scale tipping and you get excited because you see that things are changing.
God isn’t content to leave you in the same place He found you. Things will get better. Be patient and don’t miss out on the joy that comes with that change. It’s exciting and so satisfying, even though it might take time. But the best things require effort and time.