What is the most ridiculous fight you ever had with a significant other? When I ponder our marriage journey, a few silly conflicts come to mind. Our most notorious argument was in the Winnie the Pooh Store in 2007 when I accused Eric of losing our 4-year-old nephew. I yelled, “You lost him!” and he came towards me like we were going to throw down (not really, but that’s what it felt like). By the time we situated ourselves and ran out of the store, our nephew was safely in his mother’s arms.
Another time, Eric got upset with me about something on a Friday night. He was so exhausted, my Mensa-candidate husband could not form complete sentences. He stuttered, “but… cause… uh….” The argument quickly ended when I could no longer keep a straight face and recommended he go to bed. He did and things were better the next morning.
Recently, I felt hurt about something, but I did not share it with Eric. I may have hinted at it a bit, but I never said, “Hey, this hurt my feelings.” The more he talked about other topics, the more my internal frustration grew. Before long, I was giving short answers and being as cuddly as a crocodile. Let’s just say, the evening did not end on a high note. Sadly, Eric (along with every other human) is still not a mind reader. ~smile~
Couples fight sometimes; it is the way marriage goes. When two sinners vow to love and honor each other for a lifetime, complications will arise. When couples brag that they have never been in a fight, I hold my breath. Either they are lying, one or both are swallowing some anger, or they have not been together long enough. Sure, there may be a handful of couples out there who never have and never will fight, but you and your honey are probably not one of them. (Eric and I surely do not fit into that group.)
You Do Not Have to Get It. You Just Have to Get It.
Sometimes your significant other will have strange issues which make no sense to you. For example, Eric claims he has never been hangry (i.e., angry due to hunger). Though I am not so sure, I will take him at his word. Because of his ability to be rational and hungry simultaneously, he may not understand why hunger tempts me to act irritably. After all this time, however, Eric has learned that he does not have to understand why something bothers me, he just needs to understand that it does bother me (and vice versa).
Conflict is Coming; How You Approach it is What Matters
Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship. – Dr. John Gottman
Not only is conflict workable, but disagreements build and strengthen our relationships if handled well. Opposition opens the door for discussion and personal sharing. When we approach our disputes with an end goal of improving our relationship rather than being right, resolving conflicts can bring couples closer together.
I believe we’re going to find that respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them. – Dr. John Gottman
Sometimes Conflict is Annoying and Easily Avoidable
Though conflict is not always negative to relationships, some conflicts are like aggravating gnats. These situations can often be avoided by rearranging our environment or circumstances. So, in the spirit of staving off completely preventable scuffles, keep the following tips in mind:
- Seriously, just go to bed. Two tired people attempting to communicate is like a storm brewing. The black clouds roll in and everyone knows to bring in their pets and unplug their electronics. We do not think clearly when we are physically exhausted. Some get grouchy; some get emotional; some get goofy; but, few become more equipped to handle challenges when they are pooped. Almost every time I ignore my instinct to save a touchy conversation while late at night for the morning, I deeply regret it. Most discussions can wait until the light of day. When you are tired or feeling under the weather, be extremely selective about the subjects you confront. If late and unless an emergency, always wait for a more awake and rested time of day.
- Pay attention to your physical needs. Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? Are you sore from working out? Do you have a headache? Is your hip throbbing again? Did you have trouble sleeping last night? Is it 98 degrees outside with no shade in sight? Do you feel gross and in desperate need of a shower? We are spiritual creatures living in a physical shell and that shell gets knocked around in this fast-paced life. When we feel uncomfortable, we are more likely to snap at each other or show less grace towards one another. Before you let that clever (i.e., snarky) phrase slip, consider how you are feeling. Can a potential fight be thwarted by a glass of water or a protein bar? (Also, remember that we will give an account the God for every careless word we speak – cf. Matthew 12:36)
- Take note of triggers. If Eric is in the middle of a task, he gets annoyed when I try handing him something rather than setting it down near him. When I am tired, I get short with Eric when he starts talking about politics. When I am hot, I can figuratively slaughter a small army with my bare hands (Summer is not my best time). Eric is extra sensitive to manipulation or disrespect. The more we know about each other, the more we can avoid pulling those atomic triggers.
- When possible, plan for extra time. Arguments break out between couples every day, all over the world, due to one explosive issue – running late. When a punctual person and a non-punctual person become an item, sparks are eventually bound to fly. Eric and I are fortunate to be the same in this area; unfortunately, we’re both non-punctual (and hate that we are that way). We are rarely on time for anything; but are not okay with this pattern. Because we both prefer to be on time, we can get testy with each other when the other is running late. To be fair, I am typically more anxious and uptight when we are rushing somewhere than Eric is, but all it takes is one frustrated person with loose lips to catapult an entire evening into the toilet. When you can, buffer your leaving time by twenty-minutes (or more) so you can avoid a punctuality dispute.
- Connect. Couples who are not connecting regularly are more likely to squabble over small matters. Take a walk together. Go on a date. Prioritize your relationship. Dry wood easily bursts into flames and dry hearts do too. So often, friction between couples is a cry for connection. As time wears on, we lose the excitement of being together we had when the relationship was new. It takes more work to stay connected the longer we are with someone, but it is important at all stages of a relationship.
- Invest “relationship dollars” even when you do not feel like it. We may think relationships which share more positive moments than negatives ones are doing well, but that is not always true. Research shows couples need six positive interactions for every one negative to remain a neutral relationship. So, if you and your partner speak fifteen positive comments in a day and just three negative comments, you are still in the negative. Small investments such as saying “thank you,” “I love you,” and “you are beautiful” fill the bank with positive interactions so when the negative times come (and they do come), they do not wipe out your savings. Learning and speaking your partner’s love language is an effective way to get the most investment bang for your relational buck. Also, when couples’ love tanks are full, they are typically less irritable and prone to fights.
- Pray before pressure points in the day. When are you and your significant other most likely to argue? After a long day at work? First thing in the morning? Doing evening chores? Pinpoint those moments which often invite conflict and pray before and during those times. We often recommend married couples pray on their drive home from work to help shake off their workday, so it does not affect how they treat their spouse. Praying before stressful moments come can help center your mind on the truth and avoid unnecessary fights.
Anyone who enjoys the mountain top moments of marriage will also have to endure the valleys. Thankfully, our Heavenly Father is present in both of those places and everywhere in between.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10, ESV)
We are not immune to conflict even if we have laid back personalities or optimistic outlooks. When we know we are going to face something, it is wise to prepare for it. It may be all smiles and snuggles now, but the thunder will roll sooner or later. The storm does not have to catch you by surprise or damage your “house.” Avoid the fights you can and use the ones which come anyway to make your relationship even stronger.
(Note: If conflict is present consistently, be wary of getting engaged or married until you work through those problems. If fighting continues over time despite one person or both people seeking solutions, strongly consider ending the relationship before engagement. Once a couple is engaged, it is much more difficult to remain objective about relationship concerns. Pre-marital sex also makes exercising objectivity much more difficult.)
Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. – Ronald Reagan
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. – Ruth Bell Graham
Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional. – Max Lucado
Keep breaking free!
Do you and your partner frequently fall into silly arguments?