How to Fight Fairly

I really like being right.

And not only being right, but being completely recognized and acknowledged by everyone in the land as the one who is right.

How to Fight Fairly

This, um, quality, might be perfectly acceptable if, say, I lived on a deserted island. But as a person living among people—and with a person—it’s proved… problematic. And as a person being conformed to the image of Christ? Yeah. Downright painful.

We’re working through Craig and Amy Groeschel’s From This Day Forward with a group of young married couples at church, and the “Fight Fair” discussion brought this and other conflict-resolution problems to light. Yet, more than just exposing the problems, God’s Word and His Spirit are changing the way a lot of us approach conflict in our marriages.

Amy Groeschel pretty much called me out on my need to be right:

“Besides being a terrible objective to have in a fight, it actually makes that fight unwinnable. If you win every fight, but destroy your relationship in the process, what have you really won? Nothing!

“Redefine winning to mean that at the end of every fight you are closer to each other than when you started. That’s winning! And that’s what it really means to fight fair.”

So how should we approach conflict? According to the Groeschels, there are three important strategies:

1. Stop and listen carefully.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19b, NIV)

Listening carefully involves “active listening”—where you’re actually hearing what your partner is saying instead of mentally working out your next response—or ignoring them completely while staring at your phone. A great exercise is to listen and repeat back what you hear your partner saying, in a sincere way—not condescendingly or sarcastically. You don’t have to agree with what they’ve said, but you do need to acknowledge that you hear them.

2. Guard your words faithfully.

“Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23, NLT)

The Groeschels suggest asking yourself two questions before you speak:

  • Should it be said?
  • Should it be said now?

The couples in our class are reporting that this tip has already had an impact in their marriages. Just a little self-control, and humility, can go a long way to diffuse conflict.

Another common technique offered by counselors is to focus on “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Where “you” statements are accusing or blaming (“You never want to spend time with me!), “I” statements are non-threatening and more conducive to a productive exchange (“I feel like we haven’t spent much time together lately. Why don’t we put a date night on the calendar?”).

3. Handle anger righteously.

“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV)

To this point, the Groeschels recommend some ground rules for the inevitable fights that will occur in most marriages. Among these:

  • Never raise your voice. (One piece of advice I read: “There should be no yelling in the house unless there’s a fire.”)
  • Never get historical. Not a typo. Don’t bring up ancient history—focus on the issue at hand. Besides, “[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5, NIV).
  • Never use words like “never” or “always.” Saying “You never listen to me” is probably not true and it’s not helpful. Avoid accusations and extremes.
  • Never threaten divorce. That’s either manipulative or just plain cruel, and nothing good will come from threats.

To this list, I would add:

  • Don’t fight when you’re tired or hungry. Right?

Another way to head off fights and dissension is to work on your marriage during non-conflict times. Be intentional about sitting down and telling your spouse what they’re doing that makes you feel loved and appreciated. Then follow that up with a discussion of some areas that might need a little work.

When you can create an environment that begins with gratitude and affirmation, then constructive feedback on areas that need improvement are going to be a lot easier to take.

So next time tension rises and you feel anger escalating, remember that unhealthy couples fight for personal victory. Healthy couples fight for resolution. The ultimate goal is not to fight each other, but to fight for the marriage you want.

A member of the MarriageRoots team, Leslie Martin Young loves words and rain and travel and her sofa. She spent over 20 years working as a newspaper reporter and editor in rural Northeast Louisiana and now happily works around the family farm with her husband of 31 years, Jesse. They’ve raised cotton and corn and two children who turned into fantastic adults, which is a testament to grace and not exceptional parenting. Empty nesters and new grandparents, they are finding this season of life incredibly sweet.

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