Fights. Arguments. “Intense discussions.” Whatever you call them in your marriage, they’re rarely pleasant.
However, I want to ask you—is your communication productive during these tense moments?
What I mean is that, most of the time after a fight, do you sense that your feelings have been heard, new ways of behavior have been mentioned, and healing has begun?
(Note that I said “most of the time.” And also notice that I didn’t ask you if life was perfect afterward but, instead, if some sort of progress—even the tiniest step—had been made.)
Most of the time, my husband and I don’t end an argument unless we feel like we’ve resolved some issues, but honestly, sometimes our fights are incredibly unproductive (and we decide to quit talking before we do more damage).
As I look back over the years at these conversations, I’ve recognized that during these times we fell into one (or more) of these traps:
- believing that the situation is hopeless
- attacking the other person without fair warning
- forgetting that we’re on the same team
- not staying on the topic
- not praying before, during and/or after the conversation
- thinking that the other person is fully to blame for the issue
- expecting the other person to change first
- being unwilling to change unless the other person does
- expecting the change to come immediately
- seeking our own pleasure instead of what’s best for us as a whole
Sometimes we also started a fight at the wrong time of day (late at night is not the best time for us!) or started a discussion that we couldn’t adequately finish (because kids were around, because one of us had to leave for work, etc).
Ultimately, my husband and I have unproductive and frustrating conversations because we’ve broken (at least one of) the 10 big ground rules we’ve established for our marriage.
I can honestly say that when we remember these 10 rules we have much more effective conversations, and change happens in our marriage.
Friend, I want to share these ground rules so that you can have better communication with your spouse too!
Give these “fighting fair” ground rules a try the next time you and your spouse need to have one of those “intense discussions.”
Our 10 Ground Rules for Fighting Fair
1) Accept where you are.
It’s OK that things aren’t perfect. Every marriage has issues that need to be worked on!
Accept the current state of your emotions and those of your spouse. Believe this truth: “We’re starting here and with grace, a listening heart (and God’s help) we can make things better.” Have faith that things may not change overnight, but that hope is possible.
2) Talk before you share.
No one likes to feel like their cornered and attacked out of the blue. And that can easily happen when we go to our spouse and suddenly start sharing deep emotions (or probing him or her with questions), all in the name of feeling “closer.”
My husband and I find it helpful to give each other a heads up about a big conversation we need to have. Something along the lines of, “Hey honey, can we chat later today about some stuff in our relationship?”
3) Look for your part in the problem.
I had a college professor who said, “In marriage, both parties plays a role in the happiness or unhappiness of the relationship.” Very true. It’s easy to blame the other person as the “reason” for the issue. And sometimes it’s true that one person is more “at fault” than another.
Excluding situations where abuse is present, both a husband and wife play a part in the state of the marriage (the good and the bad). It can go a long way in a conversation to first recognize and apologize for your part instead of just instantly placing blame.
4) Location and timing are everything.
Pick a time where there are no kids around or phones that will buzz. Find a place where you can speak privately and you both feel safe. For us, that’s our master bedroom (read more about how to make your bedroom a sanctuary for your marriage here). (TK—LINK).
5) Make it a safe place to share.
If you’re not sure that you can talk about these things without accusation, condemnation or pointing fingers, consider having a third party (like a counselor) present to keep the peace. Or, if it’s more comfortable, it might make sense to use a journal to ask your spouse questions or write emotions down.
6) Pray, pray, pray.
Pray before you even choose to have the conversation. Pray right before the conversation. And in those moments when you’re incredibly frustrated, pray for in-the-moment wisdom on how to handle the emotions.
7) Stay on topic.
This isn’t a time to dredge up old fights or to even cover a lot of issues at once. Pick one or two things and stay focused. Do your best to not veer off on rabbit trails or other areas of tension.
8) Remember that resolution is the goal (not just airing your needs).
Make the focus about growing closer, not just about airing your needs. Consider how your spouse may be feeling. Really listen to his or her feedback. The goal isn’t to be “right” or “wrong,” but for each of you to share honestly so that these issues won’t keep you separated.
9) View the issue as “we” not “me.”
When our partner is hurting emotionally, we’ve got to view the problem as something we work to solve together. The Bible describes marriage as becoming “one flesh,” and so when one hurts, both hurt. We can’t belittle the emotions or concerns but instead ask, “How can I help you through this? What part do I play in the problem, and how can I help solve it?”
10) Time for change (and tons of grace) must rule.
Realize that one conversation may not change everything. Growth is a process, and once we understand the deeper emotions behind the circumstances, we have to give our spouses time and space to slowly make the changes. This can be oh-so-hard (it’s the hardest part for me!!), but it’s the incredibly important grace side of marriage.
Agree to check in from time to time to discuss the issues if they can’t be solved right away.
Marriage fights are never easy, but these critical conversations can be productive and even times of blessing for our marriage if we work together to keep these 10 “fighting fair” boundaries in place.
Are there some tough issues you need to discuss with your spouse? Give these 10 ground rules a try.
What other “fighting fair” ground rules have you found effective in your marriage?
Which of these do you and your spouse tend to violate the most?
Let’s share about it in the comments!
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