Guidelines for Tough Marital Talks

Tough Marital Talks - AdobeStock_191342900Do you and your spouse follow any “guidelines” when you have tough marital talks with each other? (Most people call them arguments or fights; but whatever you call them, these discussions can get tense.) Still, we’ve found that it’s important to have some agreed upon guidelines in place for those times when marital talks slide into rough waters.

Bob and Yvonne Turnbull (of Turnbull Ministries) agree. They wrote something recently that supports this view. We’ll be sharing what they wrote with a few [bracketed] comments dispersed throughout. We think you will benefit greatly from all that is written below. Here’s what the Turnbull’s write (in one of their newsletters):

Marital Talks?

“Hey hon, we need to talk!” Harmless statement, yes, but whenever Bob would hear those words spoken by Yvonne he would have a war-time military expression — “Incoming, Incoming” and make a major sprint to the nearest closet. Well, not quite like that, but you get the idea. He was running for cover because he assumed something must be wrong.

Fortunately, that was not always true. In any relationship, especially marriage, there are topics, and some of them are tough, which need to be discussed. That is a given. When they need to be discussed, a spouse should always be free to say, “Hey hon, we need to talk.” Ignoring or running from those tough topics, whether it is an issue concerning money, the kids, or your relationship, is self-defeating as it creates a chasm between you.

To keep that from happening you need to come together and have a talk session—putting into action the following guidelines. First:

Develop a Regular Airing Time for Marital Talks

If you do not have a regular time to talk, tension builds, bickering starts and then possibly an explosion follows. Instead of spending time repairing the damage after the explosion, set up a time, at least once a week, which is set aside to discuss problems. Make sure that time is distraction free, and you both are well rested. It is important that you two be in agreement and disciplined to consistently set that time aside.

[So, “Pick the right time and place to discuss difficult issues. Not right before you get into bed, or when you’re exhausted, or when the baby is crying, the dog is barking, the TV is blaring, and/or the phone is ringing. Pick a time when you’re both rested, and a setting where you can be undistracted. You may have to get out of the house, even if simply retreating to the back porch, grabbing a table at the nearest coffee shop, or walking around the block a few times.” (Terri K. & Paul C. Reisser)]

Watch Your Attitude When Marital Talks Go in a Tough Direction

Be careful that you do not come to your talk time with this attitude, “This really is not a problem; so, I do not know why my mate is making such a big deal about it.” That attitude can be hurtful to your marriage or any relationship. Something we do to counter this is having an agreement between the two of us which is: If one thinks there is a problem—then there IS a problem.

Since the two of us “have become one” we cannot shrug it off but instead we humble ourselves before the Lord and our mate and discuss it. The best way to maintain this attitude throughout your discussion is to pray together before anyone starts talking. Ask God to reveal to the two of you what would be the best choice for the relationship in this situation.

Focus On the Problem — Not Each Other

Something we keep in mind is that we are not adversaries coming to discuss a problem. No. We are Teammates. With that approach, we can put our energies together to battle a problem, not each other. Oftentimes we have found that we have to remind ourselves of that fact during the discussion.

Another thing is when you start talking, be careful not to rehash the past. Instead deal with the issue at hand. At another time you may have to go back and clean up past differences.

[Here’s something that Drs Les & Leslie Parrott say about this point:

“When we’re debating issues that are highly emotional for one or both of us, it’s easy to slide into a place of overreaction. When we allow our emotions to govern our discussions, we can quickly become unreasonable; and it’s almost impossible to have a constructive conversation with someone you can’t reason with.

“… Resolution Tip: If your spouse is being unreasonable, stop feeding into their emotional reaction. Instead, end the conversation with a polite statement like, ‘I’m going to give you space now;’ then stick to it. Chances are that your spouse will come back around after they’ve cooled down.” Again, focus on the problem—not on “winning” the argument to the point that we pile on each other at the expense of having a healthy marriage relationship.]

Watch What You Say

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is soooo untrue. That is why it is very important that we make sure that we do not use criticism, complaining, or cutting words as we discuss the issue. We have also tried to work on not using the emotionally charged words of “you never” or “you always”.

The goal in the process of solving the problem is not to tear each other down but to build each other UP. We base that on Ephesians 4:29 which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Listen To One Another When One of You Talks

When your mate is talking give them your full attention. Get rid of distractions. Let them speak without interrupting them. If you are more concerned and focused about what you want to get across, you will have a harder time understanding what your mate is saying. James 1:19 says, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” What a great sequence!

[Here’s a great suggestion from Dr Gary Chapman concerning this issue:

“When you sit down to discuss a conflict, take turns talking. Start with 5 minutes each. You can have as many turns as needed, but don’t interrupt each other with your own ideas. Wait for your turn. According to King Solomon, listening to others—particularly if they have constructive criticism to share with us—makes us wise. When we listen to our spouse, especially in the midst of conflict, we will gain more understanding of ourselves, and each other. You may ask questions to help you understand what your spouse is saying.

“For example, ‘Are you saying that you feel disappointed when I play golf on Saturday instead of spending time with you and the children? Are you saying that you would prefer that I not play golf at all?’ After listening, you then have your turn to talk. In this example, you might explain how important golf is to your mental health. Then together you can look for a solution that both of you agree is workable.” (From “The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional” – July 14)]


Hang In There So Marital Talks End in Healthy Ways

The problem may not be solved in one round of a discussion, but if each knows the other wants this to be resolved in the most honorable way possible, you both will be encouraged to keep plugging along.

[“If you’re locked in a power struggle with your mate, step back, take a breath and consider solving the problem together. Let go of your anger and realize that, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.(Matthew 12:25) Relax, remembering the good traits of your mate and work together in solving your marital problems.” (David B. Hawkins)

“To sum up fighting fair in a single word, it would be to cooperate. You must be willing to flex and yield to your spouse. Scripture says, ‘Wisdom… is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere(James 3:17). If you cultivate a cooperative attitude with your spouse, you’ll save yourself and your marriage a lot of unnecessary grief.” (Drs Les & Leslie Parrott, in their article, “Learn to Fight Fair”)]

We believe that’s such great advice concerning our marital talks from all who shared in this Insight! It has taken us a lot of years (and dysfunctional times) before we learned to apply similar guidelines; but it has been SO MUCH MORE productive and peaceable since! We take all of this seriously; and by doing so, our marriage is more loving and healthier and strong. We both feel heard and valued. And that’s so important in building a God-honoring marriage!

We hope you join us in making that your goal in your marriage.

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


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