The question is: Can we have healthy fights within our marriage? The answer? Yes! But it will take intentionality to learn how to do that. Unhealthy fighting comes naturally when a sinner marries a sinner. And let’s face it… we all have a propensity to sin. That’s why we have to make the extra effort to fight sinful ways of approaching difficult situations.
In addition, it will take intentionality to actually follow through and apply what we’ve learned. We can have all the good info at our fingertips to fight in healthy ways with each other; but if we don’t apply it—it won’t help a bit. It’s a matter of learning AND applying what we learned.
Quite honestly, we don’t always apply what we’ve learned about this whole matter. We know better than that, but sometimes we still fall into unhealthy habits. Yes, we are sinners too. We wish we could say differently, but then we’d be lying and that would only prove our point all the more. But thankfully, we have come a long, long way on this matter. Our “unhealthy” fights are mostly behind us. How about you?
Have you learned how to have healthy fights with each other? We’re pretty sure that you do fight. Most married couple do. It’s all a part of the marrying process. But what we’ve learned is that it’s not a matter of IF you and your spouse will fight—it’s HOW you fight that’s most important! There are toxic ways of fighting and healthy ways of fighting.
So how do you have “healthy fights” with each other? We’ll give you a few pointers here to start you off on this important journey. Also, we encourage you to keep applying yourself to learning. There is no way we can cover it all concerning healthy fights. But this will be a good start. And then we have a LOT more info posted on this web site (and linked to from this web site) to help you even more. First:
• “Healthy” fights can help grow your marriage relationship in a good way. What?
“If handled correctly, conflict can help build stronger marriages. Conflict is the price smart couples pay for a deepening sense of intimacy. Conflict helps peel away the superficial layers of a relationship and discover who we really are. So don’t bury your differences. Instead, view them as a potential source for cultivating a deeper sense of intimacy. To do this, you must learn to fight fair.” (Drs Les & Leslie Parrott)
• But make sure your healthy fight is necessary. Here are a few considerations on this matter:
“Before starting an argument consider if it’s really worth it.” (Gloria Redner) We’re told in the Bible: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” (Proverbs 12:16) “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so, drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14) “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3)
“Sometimes we tend to build monuments to pain when a spouse says something that hurts us. We need to learn to put down the magnifying glass and take a look at things the way they are and not magnify them. Pick and choose your battles when you’re in conflict. Not everything needs to be addressed. If it does, do it in a way that won’t magnify the situation.” (Donna Sacher Hurd, from Marriage Missions Facebook comment)
• Additionally, timing is important. Just because you’re upset about something it doesn’t mean you need to settle things right then and there. There are Healthy Fights; and there are healthy times to work through your issues. We’re told in the Bible, “There is a time for everything under heaven.” And that includes arguing. So, it’s important to note:
“Not all conflicts must be handled as soon as they arise. Find the time and place that work best for both of you.” (Toni Sciarra Poynter)
Further, on this Healthy Fights Point:
We’ve talked often of the H.A.L.T. Method. (Follow the link for more details.) This has helped our marriage tremendously! And we believe it will help yours too.
“Sometimes the root of your conflict is that one of you is too tired, stressed, scapegoating (mad about something else and reacting to your spouse), dealing with hormones, chemical imbalance, negative reaction to medication, or you’re overwhelmed. Do all you can to get proper rest, eat well and reduce stress in your life. If you aren’t able to do this, be aware of how physiology may be affecting you or your spouse.” (Anne Bercht, from the article, “Going from Argument to Harmony”)
• Take a time out when needed.
“Don’t confront when you’re stressed out. Learn to identify your body’s own natural signs when you’re getting stressed out, overloaded, or about to shut down. But never walk out without agreeing to take a break. It’s okay to temporally stop when a solution is unclear. However, agree to resume the discussion when your emotions have cooled off.” (Michael Smalley)
“Whatever you do, don’t allow your hurts to remain unresolved! The longer you leave them, the harder you will have to work to restore emotional connection to your relationship.” (Dr. Sharron Hart Morris, from “The Safe Haven Marriage”)
“Just as a squeeze of a sponge brings to the surface stuff that’s soaked deep within, sometimes conflict exposes stuff in our hearts—stuff that we might not otherwise see. For the sake of my heart, I want to keep my eyes wide open during these uncomfortable opportunities rather than avoid them.” (Ted Slater)
• The goal should always be to attack the problem, not your spouse. So, try to ease into the matter in a non-attacking way. Seek to resolve your differences so you BOTH feel heard and understood (to the best of your abilities).
“Many arguments erupt like a lit match to gasoline because of a harsh start-up. You do or say something that hurts your spouse, or vice versa. The offended party likely says ‘you…’ The person on the receiving end feels attacked. They try to explain why they did what they did, making matters worse. It comes off as justification instead of understanding. Make no mistake, it takes maturity to have a great marriage.” (Anne Bercht)
“Remember to attack the problem, not the person. Our natural impulse during conflict is to defend and protect our position. …You’ll be far more productive if you focus on the problem and work together, as a team, to devise a way of avoiding it. In other words, separate the problem from the person.” (Drs Les and Leslie Parrott, from the article, “Learn to Fight Fair”)
• If your argument gets too heated, again, take a time out. Or do what you can to cool down the situation.
When an argument starts to get out of control between you and your spouse, look for ways to defuse the situation until you can come back and work on the problem in a more sensible, honoring way. Even if you have to revisit the same problem a dozen times, commit to working on it. Do this until you can control it together—rather than having it control you. Don’t allow it to divide you in marital partnership.
“Do all you can to turn the heat down. Sometimes it’s important to agree to disagree, but it’s also important to remember that your spouse loves you and wants what is best for you and the relationship. I often catch myself wondering if my husband is purposefully trying to tick me off and later find out it’s really the farthest from the truth.” (Lisa Graf)
It’s also important to:
• Stay on Topic.
“Arguments have the bad habit of flowing from one subject to think: ‘As long as we’re discussing who caused the dent in the fender, I’ll also throw in a few comments on his snoring.’ Gently insist on one topic at a time. If you’ve decided to settle a problem, settle that one problem before going on to another. You make little progress when you are talking on one subject and your spouse is challenging you on another front.” (Caryl Krueger)
• Keep in mind that it’s not about one spouse winning the argument. This is not supposed to be a boxing match. Your marriage loses out when your goal is to win the argument. “Right Fighting” doesn’t build relationship bridges; it builds walls of misunderstanding and hurt.
“Generally, people think the goal of conflict is winning. If you’re winning, your partner is losing. And if your partner is losing, the relationship is losing. The goal of conflict is understanding. Understanding doesn’t mean you agree, which is okay because you don’t need to resolve your conflicts. You just need to manage them. So, the next time you feel yourself getting frustrated, instead of digging in and defending your position, stop and say, ‘Help me understand.’ This turns conflict into connection.” (From The Gottman Institute Marriage Minute email, “The Goal of Conflict”)
To Save Yourself Grief in the Future:
• Establish “fair” ground rules or guidelines that you will not cross over. The best time to do this is at a non-combative time. Make it your “together” mission to help you in the future.
Below are a few to help you. And then come up with more of your own that you promise to stick it. Yes, it will take practice. And at first, one or both of you might slip into unhealthy talk and behavior. But keep working at it. We have and it has made a HUGE difference in the way we approach our differing issues.
• Don’t dominate. Seek to be understood AND to understand. It’s a matter of marrying your ways.
“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.” (Gary Chapman, from “The One Love Language Minute Devotional”)
Don’t forget to:
• Be kind. You may be upset, but you don’t have to be mean about it.
“All couples fight. It is inevitable. The key is to learn how to fight smart so that you don’t hurt each other. So, here’s one trick. If you’re in a heated discussion and you aren’t flooded (if you are, take a break), it’s good to lower your voice. When you do that, you make the first gesture of calming down by toning it down. And if you couple that with an expression of understanding your partner’s perspective, they’ll be much more likely to follow your cue and hear you out. Plus, they’ll calm down too.” (The Gottman Institute)
“Every couple should establish this rule: In the middle of conflict, no matter how heated or intense, there will be no name-calling.” (Dr Neil Clark Warren)
“Each person should have the chance to state his or her position without being subject to interruptions, eye rolling, or editorial comments from the other spouse.” (Terri K. & Paul C. Reisser)
“Have you ever made sure that your spouse knew exactly how irritated you were by letting loose with a huge, disappointed sigh and an exaggerated roll of your eyes? How do you feel when one of your children does that to you? If your child has done that to you, then you know how incredibly disrespectful it is. Why would your spouse feel any different when you do it to him (or her)?” (Kim, from the article, “Love by the Book”)
Make sure you both make a pact to:
“Banish contempt. Contempt is an acid that etches ugliness into love. To banish contempt means that when your husband has given in to his least attractive tendencies, his most fearful, or fearsome; when your wife has lost her focus, her patience, or her heart, this is the moment when you exercise the x-ray vision, I’m sure Yeats would have mentioned if he’d known about Superman. This is the moment when you must see through the annoying, demanding, complaining, failing, faltering wreck in front of you. Then find the strong, kind, fascinating, functional person you know your spouse wants to be.” (Lisa Grunwald)
Here’s another important tip:
“Make your bedroom a fight-free zone. Don’t fight in bed. Your bed should be reserved for sleep and romance. If you start associating it with complaints or issues that you’re working through, you’ll think of it as emotionally unsafe and start to avoid each other. Hash out disagreements before turning in, or at least agree to save the discussion until morning.” (By Readers Digest Editors)
We realize that some couples don’t have another room they can use when they argue. Your home may be small, and you have children or other family members in the other rooms. But to the best of your ability, find another room or space (garage, etc.) that you can use.
Above all, realize:
A marriage license is not a license to be mean and nasty towards your spouse. Nor does it give you permission to be impatient with him or her. You can confront with the truth; but do it in a way that is respectful of what God expects from us.
FYI: We have a document posted on this web site that can help you in this mission:
But above all, the Bible is your best guidebook, for healthy living in your marriage. There’s no doubt about it! Here are a few closing thoughts, straight from God’s Word:
“If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hand over your mouth! For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” (Proverbs 30:32-33) “A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you’re in deep water” (or before you say what you shouldn’t). “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)
We pray this will help you as you work to have healthy fights, rather than toxic ones.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
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:
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