My favorite undergraduate class was PSYC 361 (Marriage and Family Psychology). If I could sit in on that class today with the same professor, I would do it! He didn’t use a textbook. He taught from his own curriculum and it was awesome! Each class period was practical and enlightening. Eric and I took the class different semesters before we ever met and he also says it was his favorite undergraduate class (what are the odds?!?).
One time, I remember the professor exhorting us: “Fight!” He told us we needed to have a good fight before getting married. That may sound completely counter-cultural as so many of us are taught that “good” relationships are those that never involve conflict, but that is a load of garbage! Good relationships have conflict; yet, not only conflict, but conflict resolution. Strong relationships almost always involve two people who have embraced conflict, worked through it, and have allowed it to strengthen their bond.
So, why do I need to fight with my boyfriend or girlfriend before getting married? For one, you want to have experience with arguments and disagreements before marriage so you are not caught off guard or completely freaked out when you have your first married fight. The first fight can seem like the end of the world, but after you have worked through a number of problems, each conflict seems less life-altering and terrifying than the one before – especially for women.
Another reason to fight before marriage is to give you both an idea of how you naturally deal with conflict. Are you a fighter? Do you argue your point to the death? Do you normally flee from conflict? Do ignore conflict, put your fingers in your ears, and sing a happy song? Are you someone who freezes in conflict? Do you back into a corner and beg for the conflict to go away?
Knowing your natural tendencies will help you discover what you need to work on in this area. Do you need to work on talking less and listening more? Do you need to work on staying engaged in the conversation and not ignoring problems? Do you need to work on respectfully standing up for yourself instead of letting conflicts debilitate you? It’s easier to learn about conflict resolution before marriage. Once resentments have a chance to build, it’s harder to want to resolve conflicts. After marriage, stressors like work, school, bills, and young children will come up and make learning to fight fair harder. If you are in the habit of fighting fair going into marriage, resolving conflicts appropriately will be second nature to you by the time stressful situations arise.
It’s like a First Workout
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Though I’m not terribly crazy about that saying, there is some truth to it. Have you ever taken an aerobics class or hired a personal trainer? If so, didn’t that first work out almost feel like it was going to kill you? Chances are you limped to your car, took a hot shower, woke up the next morning completely stiff, and let out groans of discomfort whenever you had to stand up or sit down.
The first few conflicts you endure may feel the same way. “If resolving conflict hurts this much, I don’t want to deal with it!” A lot of people quit working out just about the time their workouts would have become easier – and some people do the same with conflict. If they would allow themselves to deal with the pain and aggravation, they would learn valuable lessons like how to talk to each other effectively, how to focus on the relationship (versus “winning the fight”), and how to avoid such conflicts in the future.
After a while, that aerobics class is no big deal. You still feel the burn when you work out, but you are able to finish, leave, and move on with your life with a spring in your step. Now your workouts are blessing you because your body is stronger. If you stick it out, your conflicts can also make your relational muscles stronger. Believe me; if you and your honey are willing to put the work into learning how to fight fair and resolve disputes, your relationship will get stronger. There’s no way around it! ~smile~
Tips to Resolve Conflict
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you and your sweetie attempt to resolve conflict.
- Listen, listen, listen. This may be hard when you are angry, but you and your loved one could be fighting over a complete misunderstanding. Know where he or she is truly coming from by listening intently.
- Remember that once this fight is over you will still be in a relationship with this person. How you handle yourself can wound or encourage your sweetheart. A soft answer turns away wrath! (Proverbs 15:1)
- Never, never, never call him or her derogatory names. Words are powerful and they stick around. Even years after the fight is over, she will remember you calling her a heifer and he will remember you calling him an incompetent fool. Your words will even outlive you. (Sobering.)
- Keep conflicts private unless you both agree to go to someone for counsel. You will likely forgive your sweetie and move on, but your family or friends will have a harder time forgiving him or her for hurting you. In the case of abuse, authorities need to be notified.
- Focus on how to resolve the problem instead of focusing on how the other person is wrong. Sometimes the actual problem gets buried because both people become obsessed with being right. Some fights continue even after the original issue is forgotten. We are prideful creatures!
- Remember the word “grace.” We have had grace lavished on us which we don’t deserve. When you are tempted to hold a grudge against your sweetie, remember that Christ loved us so much that He died for us while we were still living in sin. He didn’t choose to die for us only after we repented. Choose grace just as Christ did for all of us (Romans 5:8).
When Eric and I are working through difficult times, it’s comforting to know that God is using those trials to strengthen our faith and our bond. Even though it won’t feel natural, choose to thank God for the conflicts you and your honey go through. Count it all joy (James 1:2-3)!
How have you and your boyfriend or girlfriend grown closer after working through conflicts?