7 Weeks to a Better Marriage Week 4E- Fighting the Good Fight

Over the last week we have been exploring how to fight better.  We have discussed the soft start-up, repair attemptscompromise,  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.

7 Weeks to a Better Marriage Week 4C – Fighting the Good Fight

Over the last few days we have been exploring how to fight better.  We discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts and compromise. Today, let’s take a look at how we allow our spouse to influence us.

Recently I was sharing with some friends that when I was much younger I got a little depressed about my work situation and joined the Air Force without discussing it with Patty.  In essence, I made a life-changing decision that took a newly married young woman away from her family of origin without allowing her to influence my decision.  I didn’t even ask her opinion.   I returned home and advised that within 3-5 days I would be in a uniform being yelled at by a training instructor and within a few months we would be moving.  Destination – Unknown.  Looking back I am surprised I didn’t show up to basic training with hand prints on my throat.

In the end, it worked out.  Looking back I am surprised it did.

When couples fight one of the things that they are often trying to do is influence their spouse.  According to research, couples who resist influence are much more likely to divorce.  When a man is not willing to share power with their wife the couple is 81% more likely to end up in divorce court.  A marriage is a commitment to allow the other person input into those issues that effect them.  Couples who share power, who allow their partner to influence them during an argument, feel like they are part of a unified marriage.

Common sense should tell you that you need to allow your spouse to influence you.  Patty sees things from such a different perspective than I do.   Wisdom would dictate that I not only take her insight into consideration, but that I seek it out regularly.  She is more relational where I am task oriented.  In our ministry both are needed and her strength offsets my weakness.  She was made a helpmate for me, and I am blessed to have her and blessed when she “weighs in” on issues.

However, when emotions are running high and a fight ensues we often withdraw and refuse to listen.  We feel we have the right viewpoint and then work hard, sometimes too hard, to defend it.  When that happens people feel disrespected and unappreciated.  Then it is on like donkey-kong.

Before the crazy cycle starts, take a moment and ask yourself if you are resisting influence and if so, why.  Are you embarrassed over a decision you have made and now feel the need to defend yourself?  Do you really feel that your spouse has no valid viewpoint on the situation?  Are you really so filled with pride that you feel you don’t need input from your spouse?  Beware, you are crossing into dangerous territory.

Strong couples value the opinion of their spouse and seek influence often.  They may not always choose to take the advice when provided, but they seek the advice and consider it when making a decision.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  (Proverbs 12:15)

7 Weeks to a Better Marriage 4B – Fighting the Good Fight Week

This week we started this series with an intro to Fighting the Good Fight and discussed a Soft Startup.  We followed up with Repair Attempts.  Now we want to focus on compromise.

Work to Compromise

Since 69% of arguments will never be completely resolved, compromise is often the best we can expect from some of our differences.  Compromise takes place when we attempt to understand our conflicting needs and then explore ways those needs can be better met. One of the best examples is frequency of sex.  Research indicates that over a lifetime a man will desire sex six times more often than women. Tommy Nelson, author of The Book of Romance, said that if God had given man and woman the same sex drive as the man, there would be children everywhere but we would all live in caves because we would never have time for planning or building houses.  If God had given both man and woman the same sex drive as a woman, we would have lived in a very highly advanced culture, for one generation. Then mankind would have disappeared from the face of the earth because we would seldom have sex.  This, of course, requires compromise. Ryan and Celina Fredericks,  authors of Fierce Marriage, often talk about how they resolved this issue themselves. He determined he needed intimacy/sex 3-4 times a week. She did not need it anywhere near that often and was often exhausted raising two children.  The compromise, their goal would be three times a week and he would settle for two times a week when she had a rough week with the children. They then entered the time for twice a week in their calendar as a reminder so she did not forget, which had been a problem historically. He agreed to be flexible based on her needs and challenges of the day.  This is a great example of how couples can talk through issues and then come to a compromise.

Have a Plan

When issues arise, take the following actions:

  1. Work to identify the real need – As we have discussed before, often our fights are not what our fights are about.  Try and work together to discover what the real issue is.
  2. Explore possibilities of how those needs can be better met.  Allow the other person to influence your thinking and agree to try different ways until something works.
  3. Choose an option and try it for a short period of time until you find something that works.

This course of action often requires patience, sacrifice, compromise, a dedication to peace, a gentle approach and not just a little self control.  Sound familiar?  Remember, a really joyous marriage is not possible without the indwelling spirit of Christ, and that always produces the fruits listed above.

A Final Note

If the topic is an emotional one, the three steps above may requires three separate conversation.  One to identify the problem, one to brainstorm solutions and a third to choose an option to try.  There is nothing wrong with breaking these into three different discussions as you work through your issue.  In fact, many therapist recommend that very thing.

7 Weeks to a Better Marriage Week 4A – Fighting the Good Fight

The funny thing is I knew I was in trouble as the words left my mouth. Mentally I was reaching out trying to capture the offending question and return it to the depths from which it came. No luck.

7 Weeks to a Better Marriage Week 4 – Fighting the Good Fight

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

-In-Laws

– 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?

  1. You should never point a phone  at someone, it’s rude.
  2. He does not know what she spent the money on or why.
  3. Terms like “always” and “never” put people on the defensive, primarily because they are an untrue accusation.
  4. 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.  He forgets that as a believer we are patient, other focused, and dedicated to his spouse’s best interest.  Additionally, 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.

Tomorrow:  When things get out of control – attempting to repair hurt feeling in the middle of a fight.

7 Weeks to a Better Marriage Week 4 – Communication

I can’t remember the movie, but it has one of my all-time favorite quotes concerning marriage. In the movie a young woman is talking to a friend who happens to be a marital therapist. She is struggling in her relationship with her husband but continues to deny any need for therapy. During one particular fight she happens to run into her therapist friend and says; “I don’t need therapy, but if I did, what advice would you give me?” His response is profound. He says, “Learn what you want and learn how to ask for it.”

Mic Drop…

Strong communication and the ability to empathize with each other is one of the keys elements of a strong marriage. However, before we start working on how to strengthen our communication skills, we should define it and describe the different levels of communication.

Definition – Self-revelation in which someone reveals something about themselves and another person reveals something about themselves in response.

  1. Hallway – This level of communication is what most of us experience as we walk down the hallways at work or church.
  2. Reporter Talk – This level of communications takes place when we simply share facts. You may tell each other what you saw or what you did but seldom expand beyond that.
  3. “Know what I think?” – At this level you share your ideas or judgments on a subject. This level of communication allows you to share a little more about your inner world as your opinions are based on your experiences, viewpoints and education.
  4. “Let me tell you how I feel.” – This is a high level of communication. At this level you share emotions and gut level feelings, hopefully in a healthy manner. The distance between this level of communication and the previous level is often a giant step. Many people find it hard to share their feelings on certain subjects or topics because they feel others may be disappointed or angry with them. This is risky communication that requires vulnerability and bravery.
  5. “Let’s be honest.” – This is the apex of communication. This level of communication is the platform from which we can build an intimate, healthy relationship.   It allows us to speak the truth in love. It is where we are honest but not condemning; open but not demanding. It allows each of us the freedom to think differently and feel differently, trying to understand why our spouse feels and thinks the way he or she does all the while looking for ways to grow together in spite of the fact that we think differently and feel differently.

So, how much time each week do you believe the average couple spends on communication levels 3 – 5? Would it surprise you that the average couple spends less than 7 minutes a WEEK on meaningful, deep communication? Of course, that means that most of our day to day communication takes place at the same level as when we pass someone in the hallway at church on Sunday. Acquaintances pass each other in the hallway and the following exchange takes place; “Hi Tom. How are you doing today?” “Great Sally. How about you?” “Fine Tom. Thanks for asking.” A wife comes home and is greeted by her husband. “Hi honey. How was your day?” “Oh, it was fine baby. How about yours?” “Fine.”

Next week we will be discussing fighting, which is simply advanced reactive communication, if done well. However, this week let’s spend some time communicating about some basic considerations for proactive effective communication.

Set Time Aside Weekly for Deeper Communication…

If possible, set aside a few minutes each day for checking in with each other. However, with our insane schedules, it may be more realistic to set aside an hour each week to catch-up. As children age, you may find yourself better able to make time daily. Remember, it is a choice to make time for each other. Create your own questions if you want, but at the very least share what is going on in your head and in your heart. If you need a place to start here are a few questions to think about asking each other.

Continue with the Cards…

The “Love Map” cards, provided in class a couple of weeks ago, are a great way to share both cursory and intimate information on an ongoing manner. The more you share your dreams, desires, expectations and even your favorite movie, the more you grow together as a couple. The more you show each other that you care about these things and are willing to work together towards them, the more intimate you become as a couple.

Treat Each Other with Dignity and Respect…

The people we love the most are often the ones we take for granted, and often hurt. We filter our negative emotions towards others as a way of showing respect towards those we have casual relationships with but often lash out without a filter towards our spouse. We can often be hurtful, impatient, critical, contemptuous and mean to those we love the most. Remember, you have the spirit of Christ living within you. Therefore, you have the ability to control your tongue, you just have to make the choice to do so.

Scriptures that Might Help…

1 Thess. 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Encouragement is critically important in a marriage. In our world, there is a critic on every corner, on every channel and on every screen.   Wouldn’t it be amazing to come home every day to a spouse who encourages you by recognizing your character and strengths? Giving thanks every day for your spouse helps keep you in the right mind-frame for a healthy marriage. Periodically telling your spouse why you are thankful for them helps them stay in the right mind-frame for a strong marriage.

Proverbs 15:28 – The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.

Think before you speak. Are the words you are speaking designed to build-up and encourage or will they most likely be destructive? Do you speak highly of your spouse in their absence? Do you speak words of encouragement to them? Even words of correction can be given in a way that is not destructive to a marriage.

Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Even when your spouse opens a conversation in a destructive way, you can choose to respond in a Godly way. Showing sacrificial love, self-control and empathy is the hallmark of a mature Christian. Doing so early in an escalating conversation can prevent a destructive argument.

Proverbs 19:11 – A person with good sense is patient, and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense.

Understand that your spouse will sometimes have a bad day and may speak without thought or wisdom. Being patient with them and expressing your forgiveness, love and respect towards them during a time that you have been wronged is also a hallmark of Christian maturity.

As with everything we have discussed so far, communication requires a commitment of time and intention. The good news is it does not take a tremendous amount of time. Spending 10-15 minutes catching up daily, or spending an hour over coffee each weekend, pays off huge dividends over the long haul of a marriage.  Dividends that increase intimacy and builds a friendship that lasts a lifetime.