How does your relationship compare to other couples in your life. Consciously or unconsciously this is the question we often ask as we look at social media. Is social media really a problem for relationships?
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how to fight better. We have discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts, compromise, influence and soothing. This week we will wrap up this series by considering the overall goal of your fight. When a fight kicks off there is a gap between the time something happens to anger you and your response. In this gap you have a choice to make. Will I fight for getting what I want or will I fight for the unity of my marriage? When the wrong choice us made, especially over the long haul, it is disastrous to a marriage.
In marriage, we are called to sacrificially serve one another in a way that builds unity in a marriage. We are called to submit to one another looking out for the best interests of the other. We are called to humility; admitting wrongs and asking for forgiveness when needed. We are called to pursue each other in ways that show how much the other person means to us. We are called to “die” to self and seek the other person’s needs before we seek our own. When we do this we turn towards one another instead of away from each other. We understand that when we fight, we are fighting for our marriage, not to get our own way. We recognize that our spouse is not our enemy but is our ally.
If you get married you will have trouble (1 Cor 7:28). God will often use your marriage to change you more and more into the image of His son, Jesus. That growth is not an easy process and we often fight against it by fighting with our spouse. Additionally, you have an enemy that hates your marriage. Satan stands against your marriage as it is a reminder of God’s relationship with His people. Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.” Though selfishness, pride, hatred, disunity and Satan all stand against your marriage, they are no threat to the God of the universe that is holding your marriage together. In unity, with each other and with God, we can stand against the powers of this world that seek to undermine our marriages. In unity we can stand together, lifting the shield of faith against the arrows of the enemy, and overcome any attempt to undermine our marriage. In unity, we can turn towards each other, rely on each other, and bear each others burdens instead of turning away from each other and accepting defeat.
This mindset requires the power of the Holy Spirit and a commitment to following his lead. Considering this before you get into a fight helps frame the fight in a way that builds your marriage instead of undermining it. Being thankful for the blessing you have been given in marriage on the good days helps you remember the blessings on the bad days. Listening to the Holy Spirit at the beginning of a fight helps resolve the issue more effectively.
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how to fight better. We discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts, compromise, and influence. This week let’s take a look at how we can self-soothe and soothe our spouse when anger and fighting get the best of us.
As we have discussed earlier, fighting often leads to flooding. As emotions increase we enter the “fight or flight” response. Blood flows from our brain to our extremities, blood pressure increases, heart rate increases and our ability to reason decreases. If not dealt with, flooding can result in lashing out in anger or engaging in withdrawal and stonewalling. None of these are good for a relationship.
To resolve flooding a couple can engage in two activities, self-soothing and soothing each other.
Use Your Time-Out Effectively – Soothing
A couple of weeks ago we discussed how and when to take a time out. A time out allows you the time to self-soothe with the goal of calming down and restoring blood flow to the brain where you can reason through an issue. People do this in many ways. Reading the bible, praying, meditation, deep breathing exercises or listening to calming music are all ways to calm yourself. Remember, it takes longer for men to exit flooding than women so additional time may be required for self-soothing. Once you have calmed down, helping to soothe your partner can have even more benefits.
Dr. Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work explains: ” Soothing your partner is of enormous benefits to a marriage because it is really a form of reverse conditioning. In other words, if you frequently have the experience of being calmed by your spouse, you come to associate him or her with feelings of relaxation rather than stress. This automatically increases the positivity of your relationship.” Soothing can take many forms but normally the first step is simply discussing why the flooding took place in the first place. There are many ways to soothe your spouse but what is important is they choose the method and enjoy it. A husband might give his wife a foot massage or they may take turns guiding each other through meditation activities. Whatever the activity, it is important that, in the end, both of you are calmer and better able to engage in the discussion that started the fight.
Prepare for Battle
One of the things that I heard in the military was that it was better to sweat in peace than bleed in war. In other words, preparing during peace allows you to be more effective in combat. This also applies to soothing. Taking some time before your next fight to think about how you will soothe one another can pay huge dividends. Simply think about your last fight and what it was that resulted in flooding. Discuss how you can prevent flooding in the first place, recognize flooding as it is happening, and what it is you need to do when things have spiraled out of control. Finally, discuss how you can serve one another by soothing each other during your next fight.
After three plus decades of marriage research John Gottman, from the University of Washington, was able to identify a number of strategies that help when couples are already engaged in a fight. One of those strategies involves repair attempts.
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.
A friend of mine and I were talking a few weeks back about a friend in crisis. It was a crisis of faith, a crisis of belief, and the challenge was rocking that person’s world. Steve, our youth pastor, made a comment that has stuck with me. “In the middle of a crisis is not a good time to develop your theology.”
Patty and I have remained married for 34 years this last Saturday. Our marriage has rocked on through a number of challenges and obstacles, some from within our marriage and some from outside of our marriage. Knowing that God uses these challenges to grow us, and understanding how immature I still am at times, I can only expect that there are more challenges on the way. However, knowing that God uses challenges for our growth, and knowing that God walks with us through them, strengthen us as we face them together. Knowing ahead of time helps us face the challenges as they arise.
What is your theology concerning marriage? What do you really believe that God’s will is concerning your marriage? Are you thoroughly enough convinced of the truth that it will carry you through the challenges? My prayer today is that you are working to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.