Have you ever been in a fight with your spouse? Have you ever found yourself at the place where you are willing to say and do just about anything to “win” the fight? Although people respond differently to tension, and the word “fight” can be understood in a myriad of ways, it is safe to assume that every couple who has been married longer than their honeymoon has had to deal with relational tension. Here are 4 tips that will help you deal with those tense moments in really constructive ways.
1. Restate the problem: When people get tense they tend to hear what they want to hear rather than understand what is actually being said. Because of this a good number of tense situations could be diffused with little more than proper understanding. For example: I take a lot of pride in caring for my lawn. As a result of some high winds one spring our trampoline was turned into a pile of scrap metal. I had cleaned up everything and placed 4 of the poles in a niche near the back side of the house. One day I was commenting on someone else’s yard and my wife said “Is there a plan for the poles that we have leaning against the outside wall of the house?” What I heard her say was more like “You are a lazy person who doesn’t care how our home looks because you have left those 4 poles propped against the outside of the house for way too long!” Because I had a defensive spirit it caused something very prideful to well up inside of me…..only to find out she never said those words. When I felt the tension I told her what I heard her say and she quickly reworked her words to assure me they were not intended to be accusatory and we averted a really tense situation. She asked, in a very kind way, if there was a plan for the poles that we had leaned up to the side of our house….fair enough! I am convinced 95% of our “fights” could be resolved simply by listening to what our spouse is actually saying and holding our response until their intent has been made very clear. The best way to make this happen is to restate the problem.
- If your spouse says something to you that is offensive and/or creates tension your immediate response should something like: “What I hear you saying is__________________________.” Give them a chance to either agree that this is correct or modify their statement. I am willing to bet you will find a good amount of your tension will dissipate before it has time to even develop.
2. Develop rules of engagement: You might be uncomfortable using the word “rules” so feel free to replace it with the word “tools.” Either way I believe this is going to help you work through really tense moments. Everyone has an Achilles heel when it comes to conflict resolution. You are an intelligent person and so is your spouse which means you are both aware of the others’ weaknesses. Sadly, when we get into conflict, we tend to attack those weaknesses in order to gain some personal ground. We know that by capitalizing on their weaknesses we set them on their heels and make it difficult for them to think clearly. We also know that if we do that long enough we can wear them down to the place where they concede and we “win.” However, because two have become one…..neither person wins.
- During a time when there is no conflict have a conversation with your spouse. Agree beforehand that your mutual honesty will be honored and accepted. Once that agreement has been made each spouse is able to ask their husband/wife to avoid doing no more than 2 things in conflict i.e. roll your eyes, talk down to me, leave the house, yell, pout, etc. The goal is 1) recognize things you bring into the conflict that actually fuel the fire and 2) discover ways you can both honor your spouse and give them grace in conflict. In my home, I am not allowed to yell/raise my voice and my wife is not allowed to avoid having a conversation about the tension. She doesn’t respond well when things are loud and I don’t respond well when we pretend the tension will just go away after a while. We grace each other when we submit to these rules/tools.
3. Finish it before bed: I recognize there are issues that can create tension that simply can’t be resolved before going to bed. If you find out at 3:00p that your spouse has been unfaithful then there is no mandate on you to work through all of that by bedtime. However, a good number of our conflicts are not founded on such things.
- As a couple commit to staying up until conflict is resolved. It is amazing how “big” an issue seems at 4:00p and how irrelevant it will feel at 2:00a the next morning. Committing to this will help both the husband and the wife swallow some pride and learn the art of compromise.
4. Check your spirit: I was counseling with a couple one afternoon when the following truth landed on my heart. The Spirit of God will never be in conflict with the Spirit of God. What does this have to do with husbands and wives? Fighting is the result of one or both spouses being in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. When you find yourself in a great deal of tension with your spouse, the first place to look is in your own heart. What is it in you that is giving in to the desires of the flesh (pride, lust, envy, etc)?
- Pray that God would first reveal to you what is corrupt in your heart and motives.
Tension is a by-product of fallenness, so we are all going to be affected by it. However, just because you are affected by something doesn’t mean you have to participate in it. These things have helped hundred of couples over the years shift from viewing conflict as a fight to win and shift to an opportunity to honor their spouse, administer grace and grow in godliness.