Health for Your Marriage: Fight to Grow, Not to Win

We are in the middle of a multi week series answering the question: “How can I find health in my marriage.” Last week we talked about learning to truly listen to what your spouse is saying to you. Please consider going back and reading last week’s column on the Herald’s website, on Revolve’s website or in the Revolve Church NJ App.

Today’s pointer: Fight to grow, not to win.

We fight to win. Let’s be honest, you don’t fight to lose. Conflict isn’t enjoyable, and if you are the kind of person who LOVES to get in fights… well, you might have issues!

Conflict within marriage tends to be shaped by our life experiences. When going through premarital counseling, I have people share with me how conflict was in their home growing up. Did mom and dad scream at each other? Did they hold grudges? Did they ignore each other or work it out? Did their parents say they were sorry or just invite the family out to dinner and pretend like nothing happened? Like it or not, we are shaped by these things and we tend to walk in our parents’ footsteps or do the exact opposite!

What about in your marriage? What are your conflict defaults? One author wrote, “[In marriage,] if you fight to the finish, you get one winner and two losers - the losing spouse and the marriage. If one dominates the other, trust is broken and walls to protect are built.” One of the worst things that you can do in your marriage is to make the goal of each fight that you win. When your goal is winning, you enter into a habitual pattern of conflict where you fight about almost everything. This is a one way street towards destruction of your marriage!

Having conflict within your marriage is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the thing that defines you. If your marriage doesn’t have any conflict, I would think that you either never talk about real things with one another or you are a liar. In one sense, conflict is good because it is how we grow as people. God uses our conflict to reveal all of those rough spots, like rubbing rocks together repeatedly until they get smooth.

Since we are different people and are not perfect, we will have conflict. So, what’s the solution to conflict in marriage? It’s not having zero conflict within your marriage. You need conflict to grow, but it’s about how you engage with one another during your disagreements. The solution isn’t 100% peace all the time - the solution is fighting well, fighting for change and growth, instead of fighting dirty.

This type of change can happen when we do a couple of key things. James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." If we slow down and look at that, the advice is straightforward - in the midst of your conflict, listen to your spouse. Are they frustrated that you are absent so much and don’t make it home in time for dinner? Rather than getting defensive, hear what is behind their concerns. They miss you, they need help with the kids, they feel disconnected from you which in turn is causing them to feel unloved. I am not even in your kitchen and I can tell you that this is what your spouse is trying to communicate with you. They want time with you because they love you! Hear what they are saying, even if they are communicating it poorly!

You need to listen to your spouse, and if your head is boiling over with rage you cannot listen. This is why James also tells us to control our anger and be slow to get angry. How do you do that? How do I stay calm and controlled in the middle of a fight? The solution is humility. If we think about our relationships, the vast majority of fights start to wind down after someone admits that they are in the wrong. When it comes to fights and conflict within our marriages, things are never 100% someone’s fault. It might be 99% their fault and 1% your fault, but what I am telling you is that if you’re that 1%, you should aim to be the first one to apologize. How? By humbling yourself!

Humility is disarming and if one of you tends to get defensive, humility has a tendency to break down those walls so that real progress can be made. When we humble ourselves, acknowledging that we are not perfect and that we have played a part in things, we invite our spouse to speak truth into our life and give them a platform to help us to grow - and growth is the goal, not winning.

The next time conflict starts to rise in your home, I want you to ask yourself a few key questions. 1) What is my fault in this? Acknowledge it. 2) What is my spouse actually trying to communicate to me through their anger? Make it right. 3) How can we move forward together? Come up with a plan.