By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
Everybody fights. Whatever you want to call it: verbal sparring, conflicts, arguments, lover’s spats, or my favorite—intense discussions, they are rarely pleasant. If you been married for at least second seconds, then you know how easy it is to go from marital bliss to the hot mess express in half a second. When Chris and I got married as teenagers, we had an “It’s us against the world” mentality. We believed in each other and we believed in us. It seemed like everyone had their reservations that we wouldn’t make it. In fact, most of our friends and family thought it was a bad idea and tried to talk us out of marriage.
Over the years as Chris and I began to grow up we also grew apart. Flippant comments, unmet expectations, cold shoulders, and apathy slowly began to creep its way into our marriage. Conflicts turned into combat. After one particular battle, I truly questioned that maybe we weren’t meant to be together because it seemed like we fought all the time. But my uncle Dave taught me otherwise.
After a long seven-hour drive, I found myself on my aunt and uncle’s ranch. They had been through the ups and downs, through the ebb and flow any marriage encounters. But what was unique to the way they fought is how they focused on the bottom line. He taught me to look at conflict differently.
“Everybody fights, but we forget what we are truly fighting for. Instead of fighting for our marriage, we fight for ourselves in the marriage. We fight because we forget that marriage isn’t about you—it’s not about you. And when we forget that marriage is about the two of us, we forget how to fight fair.” Then he said something that I remember every time friction rises: “Fight not to win, fight to love.”
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Prostock-Studio
What Are You Fighting for in Your Marriage?
Fighting to win an agreement turns your partner into an opponent. Fighting to win turns your love into a battle ground. Fighting to win isn’t fighting fair because it turns your partner into the loser and this isn’t what God intended for marriage. If you’re going to fight fair, that means fighting for your marriage! You fight, not to win, but you fight to love.
Wow! Who knew an old rancher could cut to the chase and forever change the way a teenager approached conflict in her marriage? Let’s be honest, even if you find the love of your life, you’re going to have moments where he disappoints you. You’ll have hurt feelings, disagreements over bills, how to parent your children or even when to have children. You’ll argue about what movie to watch or if it’s time to make a career change. But there’s beauty in learning to fight fair with your spouse. Embrace conflict, approach it as a way to grow together. Without conflict, we can’t peel back the superficial layers of the ourselves and each other to get to the roots of who we really are.
God created marriage as a reflection of Him. Author Gary Thomas, speaking to Focus on the Family says, “We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession.” We can’t really miss the point that God views marriage as a sacred and highly exalted relationship.
A marriage built on the foundation of God creates the platform to see Him move deeply in our personal walk, in the spirit of our spouse and in the union of marriage too. The covenant we make in marriage was designed to reflect the unshakeable covenant between Jesus and His people (Ephesians 5:22-33). That’s why fighting for our marriage matters so much to God. Here are four additional tools to help you fight fair and flourish!
Fight to Be with Mr. Right Instead of Being Right
There are four words a counselor taught me about fighting fair in marriage. These are the kind of words that are hard to utter because we want to be right. We want to be heard. We want to be understood. We want to hold our vulnerability and fragility in. We fight because we would rather have our feelings heard than find the middle ground. We fight because sometimes feeling right feels better than being with Mr. Right. Did you get that? Fight to be with Mr. Right rather than to be right. Instead of being right, try these four simple words, “You may be right.” These four beautiful words help create the foundation for fighting to love, not fighting to win.
“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding,” (Proverbs 2:2)
Use Meta Communication
Every couple has their own personal language of communicating. Our past experiences, the way we were raised, and how we interpret the world arounds us is communicated through our words and non-verbal communication. Whether it’s the icy way we utter the word fine to the way we make eye contact. For example, one minute you’re frustrated your husband didn’t take out the garbage and the next you’re losing your mind because you’re telling him about that time he forgot to meet you at a restaurant for date night because somehow in your mind, those two things connect. I can’t tell you how many times Chris and I began fighting and by the end of it, neither of us could remember how the cold war started in the first place. This is the fine art of meta communication.
“Understanding and responding to these unspoken cues is known as meta conversation,” Fatherly.com explains. “And mastering that language is essential to a happy marriage.” In other words, when we are talking or verbally sparring with our spouse, it’s vital to look beyond the surface and try to understand what feelings, issues, and experiences our spouse brings into the conversation. Dr. Kevin Skinner, a marriage therapist puts it this way, “When we have a deep desire to see from the other person’s perspective, we become more curious and fascinated by how they communicate and why. So, when our partner may lash out at us unexpectedly, we might slow our own response down and be able to better see what is going on in the dynamic from our partner’s perspective.” Fighting fair means studying our partner and learning to know them from the inside out and truly listen to what’s being said in between the lines.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” (Proverbs 12:15)
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Ridofranz
Keep the 80-20 Rule in Mind
When it comes to conflict, whether you realize or not, you have committed some sort of wrong. Maybe you’re 20 percent wrong while your husband is 80 percent wrong. Before you should ever expect your spouse to take ownership of his actions, you need to go first. Own it and take responsibility for your 20 percent. Be willing to tell your spouse you were wrong, ask for forgiveness. God reminds us constantly that none of us are perfect and we are all in need of forgiveness. It’s because both have forgotten that no one is perfect. Be the bigger person, own your mistakes, and apologize. It takes courage to make room for another person’s perspective, feelings, or point of view. And this kind of courage grows love in the rockiest of places.
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy,” (Proverbs 28:13)
Your Marriage Is a Mission Field – Not a Battlefield
Learning to fight fair begins with how you view your marriage. Marriage is a mission field, not a battlefield. The sooner we filter marriage through this lens, the better we can understand we will have seasons of waiting, planting, cultivating, and working. Paul reminded us in Galatians we will reap what we sow. If you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly.
What are you investing in your marriage? Are you turning over the soil and planting seeds of love, generosity, quality time, tenderness, and joy? Or have you neglected the fields allowing the seeds of bitterness, self-centeredness, anger, offense, and selfishness take root? Marriage is designed to refine both of you: the sower and the field. Marriage is hard, holy, sacred work where we have to be willing to plow through the ground of hard feelings to unearth a bed of reconciliation, while planting seeds of humility, unity, and love. We have to remember the person in front of us is a God’s masterpiece that’s still unfinished. Your partner is a work of art in progress — flaws and all.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago,” (Ephesians 2:10)
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to our episode on conflict here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
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Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.
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