Fighting Fair in Marriage

Learn 5 ways to avoid conflict in your marriage before fighting begins.

Tim & Joy Downs

Conflict begets conflict, and that's why every couple's focus should be on preventing conflict before it ever begins. Talk to each other, encourage and thank each other, and let grace abound.

One of the most common sources of conflict in marriage is conflict itself; we grow angry and cross because we’re fighting all the time.

When every minor annoyance or irritation becomes the topic of a discussion, a downward spiral begins: Why is she so picky? Why does he have to complain about everything?

Couples can prevent conflicts before they ever begin. Here are 5 practical suggestions to help you break out of that business partnership and get a marriage going again.

1. Show up for the marriage.

To succeed at any event, you have to show up. You showed up for the wedding; why miss the rest of the marriage?

The first and foremost principle of dedication building is that you have to find time to be together.

Before you glibly check this item off your to-do list, allow us to clarify: Developing dedication requires a certain kind of time together.

It requires getting your mind and your body in the same room at the same time. It means choosing activities other than watching DVD s. Do something that will cause you to actually (gasp) interact with each other.

It means time to slow down and time to focus on anything other than the job, the kids, or next week’s carpool schedule. It means time to be together as lovers and not just as business partners.

This kind of time is hard to find. If it’s been a while since the 2 of you have shown up for the marriage, you may find at first that it’s even harder to know what to do with the time when you find it.

2. Talk about something else.

For years we made the mistake of taking our calendars with us when we went out to lunch. We would end up spending every minute of our time discussing the details of next week’s schedule: the kids, the dentist, the car repair, the dry cleaning . . .

When was the last time you asked your mate what she thought about art (and not taking the kids to the art museum)? About politics (and not changing your voter registration)? About God (and not next week’s church activities)? When was the last time you talked to your mate about anything other than business?

Life is busy, and it takes a lot of planning and coordination just to get things done. But to become more dedicated to your mate, you need to know more about your mate. From time to time, you need to talk about something else.

3. Heap on encouragement and praise.

Samuel Johnson once said, “Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity.”

We’ve discovered a fundamental principle of marital economics: Conflict increases as praise and encouragement decline.

Women often report that in the absence of praise, they tend to assume their husbands’ disapproval. If I were doing it right, you would have said so; something must be wrong.

But men often take the opposite approach. For them, the absence of criticism implies approval. If you were doing it wrong, I would have told you; everything’s OK.

He offers the silence of approval, but she hears the silence of complaint. A husband who is perfectly pleased with his wife, but hasn’t bothered to say so, may find an unexpected conflict waiting in the wings.

“Marriage should be a duet,” Joe Murray writes. “When one sings, the other claps.”

Invest in dedication by heaping on praise and encouragement. If you don’t praise and encourage your wife, who will?

It’s a thankless and critical world out there, and this is a golden opportunity you have in your partner’s life.

4. Make a lifestyle of gratitude.

The Bible highly recommends the giving of thanks -- not merely the feeling of thankfulness, but the audible communication of that gratitude to another.

The expression of gratitude not only encourages the receiver; it has a powerful perspective-correcting effect on the sender too. It drowns out grumbling and complaining, and it shifts the person’s focus; it makes the half-empty glass suddenly appear half full.

You can always find something to gripe about, but we all have plenty to be thankful for too, especially when it comes to our mate. It’s all a matter of perspective.

When you remember to say, “Thank you,” to your mate, you’re also saying, “I notice, I care and I need you." Those are potent messages, and they’re powerful antidotes against feelings of discouragement and disapproval.

5. Let grace abound.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (New Living Translation).

Grace is all about overlooking wrongs. As the proverb suggests, it makes good sense to control our temper and simply let some things go.

When we do that, we “earn respect” from our partners; they begin to think of us as generous and forgiving, and that makes it easier for them to be generous and forgiving in return.

But how can you overlook something that really bothers you? You can’t -- and you shouldn’t -- if it’s a serious offense.

We’re recommending that you work to create an atmosphere in your home where little things don’t bother you as much. Don’t underestimate the power of this principle: Life is filled with little things.

In a sense, grace is not a separate principle at all, but the culmination of our previous 4 principles. When we spend time together as friends and lovers, when we heap on encouragement and praise, and when we make a habit of saying thank you even for little things, the atmosphere of generosity and goodwill that results is grace.

Conflict begets conflict, and that’s why every couple’s focus should be on preventing conflict before it ever begins. Talk to each other, encourage and thank each other, and let grace abound. You’ll find you’re creating an atmosphere where conflict doesn’t grow.

Adapted with permission from Moody Publishers, copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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