The great philosopher Jack Sparrow said “It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s your response to the problem that’s the problem.” That guy is a genius.
Did you know that 69% of all of the things you and your spouse fight about are perpetual problems. By that I mean they are problems that will most likely resurface throughout your marriage. If you are like most couples in their first three decades of marriage you will be fighting about:
– Division of Housework
– What a clean house looks like
– Finances and other issues of security
– How to raise your children
– Frequency of Sex
These issues often have a lot to do with deep seated expectations, roles played in family of origin (how your mom and dad did it) and preferences around security and money. Over time, as your marital relationship matures and God works within your marriage towards unity, these issues may come to some resolution. However, these changes do not take place quickly. As a result, you will have fights.
The question is not if you will have a fight, it is how you choose to fight that makes all the difference. If you want to have a fight which results in anger, disharmony, disunity, demeaning behavior and possibly homicide (because divorce is not an option), try one or more of these methods:
- Wait until your husband has been working three hours in 102 degree weather under the hood of a car and is hungry, then ask him about the $20 he spent at Academy with an accusatory tone;
- Come home from work after your spouse has spent the day with two sick children then roll your eyes when she asks if you can run and pick up dinner for the family;
- Try to motivate your spouse to look for a better job by comparing him to the neighbor that just pulled up in a new Vet. In fact, it will be even more effective if you wait until the neighbor can see you and then turn around, point your finger at your hubby and yell “You need a job like his so I can get a new car;”
- Start asking him hundreds of questions just as he walks into the house after a long day at work.
A second option is to use scripturally supported and time tested methods to have conversations with your spouse that have a better chance at resolving conflict. This week let’s explore the first one.
Slow Your Roll
Proverbs 15:15 says “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. ” In short, make sure you have your temper and emotions under control before engaging in a conversation that may result in a fight. In addition, give your spouse the opportunity to prepare for the discussion.
Let’s Throw Down
Sally walks into the house after a long Monday to find John standing there with his phone. He has just seen a $200 charge she made over the weekend and is angry because they had agreed to watch their spending so they would have funds for a vacation next summer. As she walks in he holds up the phone and in an accusatory voice says “You never keep our agreements. Can’t you control your spending for even one month? You’re just so irresponsible!”
What went wrong?
- You should never point a phone at someone, it’s rude.
- He does not know what she spent the money on or why.
- Terms like “always” and “never” put people on the defensive, primarily because they are an untrue accusation.
- He jumped her at the door and did not give her the emotional room to prepare for the conversation.
As a result, she feels attacked and in self-defense says something like “If you had a real job I wouldn’t have to worry about a few hundred dollars.” She goes on the attack and treats him with disrespect because he was unloving towards her. It’s on like Donkey-Kong.
A Better Way
When John sees the charge and starts to get angry, he should ask himself two questions: Why am I so angry and what do I not know about this situation. In most cases we get angry because we are not getting our way. In addition, he has very little information concerning the “what” and “why” of the situation. Instead of waiting at the door to pounce he could simply wait for her to come home and let her know he wants to talk to her about their finances later that night. Then, in a calm manner point out that he had seen the charge made on the credit card and felt like it might violate their agreement concerning finances. This is known as a “soft approach” and allows a couple to start a conversation that has a better chance of a positive outcome. Yes it requires some self control and patience. However, as a follower of Jesus you have both (Gal 5:22-23).
So here is the first step towards better fights; Choose a good time and place for a discussion and then give your spouse some warning so they can prepare for an emotional conversation. In the event your spouse has had a long day, give them some grace and choose another time for the conversation. Don’t wait too long and stand firm on the need to have the conversation, but be sensitive to your spouse. A friend of mine used to use the phrase “I need to enter your garden” when he needed to talk about an emotional topic with his wife. She then could proceed with the discussion or take a few minutes to get mentally prepared. If she postponed the discussion, she was responsible for “reengaging” before the evening was over. Patty and I simply say “I need to talk you about something that might get emotional, is this a good time?” By being patient and letting both parties mentally prepare, there is a much better chance of a positive outcome.
Next Week: When things get out of control – attempting to repair hurt feeling in the middle of a fight.