Conflict is such an important part of the marriage relationship, and it’s unavoidable. It is the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy. Fighting a good fight can bring you closer together as partners–you’ll walk through some troubled times together and come out on the other side, more connected than ever.
Here are five tips to help you effectively navigate conflict in your marriage and learn how to fight well.
1. Don’t View Conflict as a Red Flag
How often you fight or what you fight about has no correlation to the likelihood of divorce. Frequency of conflict isn’t a red flag that the relationship is in trouble. What really matters is how you fight.
Conflict in marriage is like fire. It has the power to either shed great light or totally destroy.
Because conflict wields such immense power in relationships, it’s easy to fear it, and to avoid it as a result. Don’t run from or bury your conflict. The strategy is to embrace it instead of avoiding it, because it’s inevitable.
2. Avoid Toxic Behaviors During Conflict
If you’re looking to fight a good fight, pay attention to the things you want to avoid in a conflict. Steer clear of damaging behaviors, because these are detrimental to your marriage, and your intimacy will suffer as a result.
A study from the University of Seattle in Washington revealed these four destructive behaviors to avoid during a fight
Critical comments during conflict are always damaging. Criticism escalates arguments by generating defensiveness in your spouse, so why do that to yourselves?
In order to avoid criticizing your spouse, focus on making “I” statements, as opposed to “you” statements. For example, saying, “I feel so frustrated when the house is dirty and nobody is picking it up,” is better than, “You’re a slob! Why don’t you ever help me around the house?”
Becoming defensive is a result of the fear of conflict and an attempt to avoid it. You might think the argument will go away if you defend yourself, but it’s easy to become so well-schooled in defensiveness that it becomes your natural posture.
Having a perpetually defensive demeanor will escalate the conflict in your marriage and drive you further away from your spouse, rather than the intended result of keeping the peace by avoiding a fight.
A contemptuous person belittles, engages in character assassination, and assigns negative motives to his or her spouse’s actions where no real motive exists.
Avoid saying things to your spouse such as, “You always make us late because you’re irresponsible.” Statements like this cut your spouse to the core and make them feel belittled and shamed.
A spouse who stonewalls withdraws emotionally during a conversation. There is complete shutdown, with no attempt to listen to or connect with his or her partner. Stonewalling also indicates that your heart has hardened toward your spouse.
Avoiding these pitfalls during conflicts with your spouse is a major step toward fighting well, even if you haven’t yet found your own balance and conflict style. If you and your spouse find yourselves engaging in the above behaviors, that is a sign that your relationship is in trouble, and it’s time to make some changes.
Identify and Communicate Your Needs
Each person has their own conflict style and preferences. Some people may prefer to hash out a fight until it’s resolved, even pushing into the early morning hours in order to do so. Others may need to take some time away from the discussion to recharge.
Dealing with conflict in marriage can get complicated if each spouse has a different conflict style, so it’s important for you and your spouse to communicate your needs to each other. Doing so will keep you from inadvertently escalating your arguments due to ignorance of one another’s needs.
Give Your Spouse Space to Regroup
If you’re a person who prefers to hash everything out and get an argument over with all at once, but your spouse needs space and time to process the conflict and recharge, respect your spouse’s need to step away. You may be feeling a fear of abandonment in the moment; instead of trying to force your spouse to function your way, try confessing your fear to your spouse.
You could try saying something like, “I’m afraid if I give you space, you won’t be there when I come back. But I know it’s something you need, so I’m going to give you that.” It’s OK to take that risk because it’s the only thing that will allow intimacy.
If you smother your spouse out of a selfish drive to quickly end a conflict, or because you’re afraid to give them their space to regroup, you will actually get the results you’re trying to avoid. The cycle that forms will be that of the pursuer and the pursued, so end that cycle before it begins, and both of you will function better for it.
Don’t Shut Down Fearfully
If you’re someone who is fearful of conflict and does everything to avoid it, try not to allow yourself to shut down. Conflict can create depression and the need to escape. Ask yourself, “What is so completely devastating and draining to me when a conflict arises? When a conflict erupts, why do I feel so depressed or drained?”
If you feel yourself shutting down and you’re unable to continue in the midst of the conflict, you can try telling your spouse, “Look, I’ve got to take a time-out. I wish I had more energy for this, but I don’t. But I will tell you when I can talk about it.”
Be sure to set a time when you’re ready to bring the issue back to the table. You don’t want to punish your spouse by not coming back to resolve the conflict.
Choose Your Fights Carefully
Couples can squabble about the silliest day-to-day topics–and they’re annoying, pesky little fights that crop up on a regular basis. We call them the “mosquitoes of marriage,” and they can literally suck the positive energy out of any good relationship.
It’s important to defuse these spats to prevent them from becoming major fights. If you can bring a little humor into the situation, it can help you remember you’re on the same team, and make you wonder why you were fighting in the first place!
To keep fights like these to a minimum, make an effort on a daily basis to always have positive connections with each other. Communicate with your spouse as often as you can, and build one another up so that your time and energy are focused on nurturing your relationship instead of engaging in ongoing arguments.
Unfortunately, you and your spouse will face situations when you cannot see eye to eye. Some of these conflicts will be major, and some of them will be minor. During times like these, it’s important to discern which of these conflicts deserve your energy, and which don’t.
Use a simple rating system that helps you rate how deeply you feel about the issue you’re disagreeing on. Our Conflict Card provides you with a way to rate the depth of your disagreement so you don’t check out on each other. The card can help you choose your fights well and focus on what really matters to you and to each other.
Lean Into Your Strengths
Maybe you and your spouse are good at adding humor to your fights in order to lighten the mood. Or perhaps you’re good at focusing on one issue and not bringing everything in. What about taking time out in order to recharge and come back to resolve the conflict refreshed?
Take a moment to take inventory in what you’re already doing well in fighting a good fight. When you lean into your strengths, life gets a whole lot easier, those times of conflict and turmoil become less frequent, and you can cycle out of them far more quickly.
In Romans 12:18, Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Even the Bible tells us that we will inevitably experience conflict, but we must do our best (within our power) to live in harmony with our spouses, as well as everyone else.
Expect a little conflict along the way; we don’t know many couples who can avoid it completely! When you do face conflict in your marriage, you will be equipped with the skills to confidently fight well, and grow closer to one another in the process.