I will be the first person (and my husband will be the second) to tell you that I don’t argue well. I struggle to articulate my points and am often overly defensive. The people-pleasing side of me dreads even the smallest dispute while my pride flares up and aggressively declares that my opinion is the only right one (truly, I’m a walking contradiction). Contrary to my newly-wed dreams, conflict has been an active part of my (soon-to-be) ten-year marriage. As a blogger who writes about her weaknesses rather than her strengths, I hesitate to offer advice, but to put a positive spin on my mistakes, here are the top ten conflict tips I can offer after having failed in each these areas:
1. Schedule a Talk.
So often, if there is an “issue” in our marriage, I tend immediately to jump into a discussion in the heat of my emotions or I avoid the topic until I can no longer hold my tongue. Neither are healthy options. Scheduling a serious conversation allows both parties to know that a difficult talk is about to happen. This simple step prevents a husband or wife from being caught off guard and controls the parameters of the setting. For example, you might plan for tough discussions to take place when the children are not around or choose a sentimental environment (such as a favorite park) to ease anticipation. Accountability enters the picture when both parties are aware of the scheduled time and place by preventing the conversation from being continually postponed.
2. Pray and Fast.
Pray before, during, and after the conversation. Pray individually before the two of you are ever together, and ask the Lord will go before you and your words. Also, ask Him to prepare your heart to be receptive to things your spouse might say. To add fuel to your petition, take time to fast! It is also important to pause and pray together before you launch into the discussion. Inviting the Lord into the midst of your conflict will help you both demonstrate grace and peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit. Ask the Giver of all good things to bless your conversation with honesty, revelation, Godly sorrow, conviction, and repentance (when applicable). Pray especially for protection from Satan, who would love to use times of disagreement to plant seeds of destruction. Afterwards, thank the Lord for your time together and ask Him to be in the midst of your restoration.
3. Don’t be Accusing or Defensive.
Oh, how I regularly struggle with this one. I often use accusatory and over-dramatic phrases such as, “You Always…” or “You Never…” because I forget that I am not the Holy Spirit in my husband’s life. The few conversations where I have stated the facts or asked genuine questions always yield a better outcome than when I criticize and complain. My heart’s desire is to give my husband a safe place to open up and talk, but since I tend to approach these conversations in a punishment sort of way, I don’t often succeed. I have also noticed that there are times when I am extremely sensitive (hormones, exhaustion, and hunger are triggers for me), and if I begin a conversation explaining that I might be in one of those times, it immediately puts my husband at ease because I am aware of my fault in the equation. The times when I am the one being addressed, I often will play the blame game and grow defensive. That is only successful at shutting down communication. I must become better at taking ownership of my mistakes and explaining my side very calmly.
General rules to remember for any conflict that fit this category would be to: never raise your voice, threaten divorce, walk out of the room, or say things in the heat of emotion (take pauses to gather your thoughts if needed), and avoid manipulation or the silent treatment.
Give them time to respond. Allow them to talk without interruption. Grant them permission to cry without scoffing. After addressing the issue, let the other person lead as much of the conversation as possible. Encourage them to be real rather than say what they think you want to hear. It is true that most sins can be traced back to a heart issue. In these conversations, we need to remember that we don’t want their behavior to change as much as we want to get to the root of why this happened. Listening is the best way to get there.
Hold hands, put your hand on your spouse’s leg, allow him put his arm around you, hug and kiss. All of these can be reassuring to both people and helps keep unity within conflict. Continually speak of your love and commitment — focus on that rather than the hurt.
6. Share Everything.
Despite my natural desire to get these conversations over with as quickly as possible, it is always worth the extra time and discomfort to disclose everything fully. Perhaps one of the scheduled talks opens an opportunity to discuss other topics that aren’t on the original agenda. Don’t hinder honesty and vulnerability if they are taking place. I often have to remind myself not to let an opportunity pass by to confess something or bring up another topic for discussion. Get everything out into the open.
7. Increase Intimacy.
Conflict is never fun and, oh, how I dread it! However, after the raw conversation, I always feel closer to my husband. Even hurtful secrets that are revealed lead to better communication, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy. If you keep the end goal of increased intimacy in sight — these talks become more beautiful than painful.
8. Forgive Completely.
Once the discussion is over, and an action plan is agreed upon, forgive. Ask God and your spouse for forgiveness and move forward in your marriage.
9. Forget yet Remember.
Forget the pain, forget the transgression, but remember the lessons that were drawn out.
10. Follow Up.
Don’t have an amazing conversation and then never discuss it again. Set up an action plan and see to it that you both follow through. Ask occasionally, “So, how are you doing with this?” Continue to pray about it together. Don’t avoid the topic(s) that were discussed, but rather make them non-issues in your marriage by following up on them.
As much as I dread these conversations, I always love the flood of mercy and grace that fills our hearts after settling a conflict. I love the re-commitment and the fresh start. I love the honesty.
How do you and your spouse handle conflict in your marriage?
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