After 26 years together, Christopher and I have learned how to fight fairly well. It’s been a LONG process with a steep learning curve. He came into the marriage dealing with conflict like a rhino and I came in like a hedgehog. You might only need one or two of these rules, but we’ve found that if you decide how you want to have conflict long before you are in the midst of it, chances are, the fight will be more productive and less painful.
1. Commit to deeply listen to each. This means developing an open posture toward your spouse and refusing to build your case as they are talking.
2. Avoid becoming defensive. This is incredibly important and incredibly difficult!
3. Decide on your comfort level regarding decibels. Few of us thrive when someone is yelling. Some of us even shut down. (That would be me!) Determine what’s acceptable before you have a fight—and then hold each other accountable.
4. Avoid swearing, lashing out, and any kind of physical violence against your spouse. (This often begins when one person bars an exit or is rough. If this has already happened, please talk about it AND get professional help.)
5. Decide if it’s acceptable for one of you leave the room. Early on in our marriage, if my husband walked out, I would totally freak out. When my parents fought, one of them slammed the door and left. I had to learn to trust him not to leave, which meant we sat in the same room together until we made some progress. Now, it’s totally fine if he needs to go for a walk because I know he will come back.
6. Don’t deny, avoid, or delay dealing with your anger. We don’t always get to a point of resolution before the sun goes down. Sometimes, we’re just too tired and know that if we continue, the fight may escalate. However, we always book-mark it by saying something along the lines of, “We need to talk about this over the weekend.”
7. Humbly confess and thoroughly apologize when you blow it.
8. Avoid blaming your spouse. This includes using the words “never” and “always.” As in You always do this!
9. Own your share of the conflict. We have found it helpful to ask ourselves, How did I contribute to this conflict?
10. Pray together. One of the hardest things to do when we’re angry is pray but it’s also one of the best ways to keep our hearts soft and get through anger constructively.
11. Stay connected physically. Small gestures have much power in these situations. That said, I often have to will myself to reach across the divide and hold my husband’s hand.
12. Speak directly and honestly rather than relying on sarcasm or inappropriate humor.
13. Offer each other empathy. Step out of your story and seek to understand what’s happening for your spouse. By mirroring back what you hear and sense, your spouse will know that you have understood what they are trying to communicate.
14. Keep talking and working until you find a place of true resolution and peace. If you continue to have the same conflict over and over again, chances are, you’re fighting about something that symbolizes a deeper issue.
15. Don’t stockpile. Bring up one issue at a time and get back to zero.
16. Pay attention personality differences. Extroverts often need to stop talking and introverts often need to start.
17. Learn the art of overlooking and avoid the dysfunctional of denial. There are many times when we need to simply extend grace and choose to overlook something. This is not the same as denial.
18. Assume the best of each other. For some reason, when we are in the midst of a heated argument, it’s far too easy to ascribe wrong motivations to our spouse. Unless there is unmistakeable evidence to the contrary, your spouse is on your team.
19. Forgive fully. Every. Time. No matter how difficult it is.
20. If you don’t know what to say or do in the middle of a fight, tell your spouse you love them and aren’t going anywhere. This won’t resolve your conflict but it will help your spouse to feel more secure.
To read more on this, please pick up a copy of Making Marriage Beautiful.
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