What Detractors Have Taught Me about Resolving Marriage Conflict

Today is supposed to be the day we hear from my hubby, whom I have affectionately called Spock. However, stomach virus hit our household last week, and there wasn’t a lot of sexiness going on in the Hot, Holy & Humorous household. I ask for a little grace in this regard and a week’s extension on that deadline. Spock will be here next Monday.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to run a different post on marriage I’ve been sitting on for a while.

From time to time, I get comments questioning or attacking me and my blog. The first time it happened, I was upset . . . for quite a while. I kept playing over and over in my head what the commenter said and letting it drag me down. I talked to my husband about it until my face turned blue. I worried and wondered if I was really doing my best with this ministry.

Yeah, I’ve gotten over that.

For every detractor, there are maybe ten or more readers who comment that this blog has been helpful and encouraging. Moreover, I am constant in prayer about what I am doing and have ongoing reinforcement and encouragement to continue in this ministry. As I have stated quite a few times, I believe in healthy, godly marriages, and I mostly address one piece of the pie that makes a quality marriage — sexuality. Others address issues such as finances, communication skills, parenting, and how to hang a picture in your house together without either of you losing your religion (link, anyone?).

Over the whole pie, we must place growing our own faith and living out Christianity as individuals before God.

Intro done. Now here’s today’s point: I have learned a lot about how to approach conflict with my spouse from how commenters approach concerns with me. While I welcome conversation and even debate, there is a beneficial way and a destructive way to communicate when you disagree with another person. I’ve learned that what makes good conflict resolution in blog comments makes good conflict resolution in marriage.

Illustrations of angry male and female

Resolving Marriage Conflict
Illustrations from Microsoft Word Clip Art

Here are my take-aways.

Show respect. John Gottman, well-known marriage researcher, talks about the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. These are ways you deal with your spouse that, if overused, signal the coming of the end. Two of them, criticism and contempt, are all too common in marital arguments. It’s easy to feel that you are criticizing your partner’s opinion and merely have contempt for his position, when in fact you are demonstrating a lack of respect for the person. God created your partner in His image as well, and we should treat others with respect. It is the command of the Bible that we treat each other this way as well.

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” 1 Peter 2:17

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1 Peter 3:7

Ask for clarification. A ridiculous number of our marital agreements have occurred because we thought we understood what the other spouse had said. Perhaps we took one phrase and gave it additional meaning, ignoring the rest of what our spouse said. Or maybe they didn’t word things well and it came out all wrong. In my calmer moments, I have been known to look askance at my husband after he says something hurtful and ask, “Do you want to let that stand? Or say something else?” That’s a signal that whatever comment he made did not come across in a positive way.

Spouses should also learn to use phrases like, “What did you mean by . . .?” “It sounds like you’re saying . . .” “How does that match what you said earlier about . . .?” If you think your spouse’s position is wrong or hurtful to you, ask questions. He may not even think what you think he thinks. Was that clear?

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2

“To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13

Be specific. It does not help to make blanket accusations at your spouse for anything and everything he has ever done to upset you. Avoid statements that include words like “never,” “always,” “constantly,” and “all.” Deal with the specific instance at hand. Explain the facts as you see them, what is bothering you (preferably as an “I” statement, such as “I feel used when you immediately roll over and fall asleep after intercourse”), and how you want to approach a win-win solution. Don’t drag into this moment every other time you have been hurt.

In fact, want the secret to reducing overall conflict in your marriage? Successfully resolve your next argument. Then the next one, then the next one, until you have established a new pattern. I like to think of it like a batter’s turn at home plate. He shouldn’t worry about his entire baseball career while waiting for the pitch; he just tries to get this one right, and then the next one, and then the next, and on and on until he has a pennant and makes the Hall of Fame.

“Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.” Philippians 4:2b

Don’t namecall. Seriously, they teach kindergarten children this. It’s basic. Wanna ruin your marriage? Start calling your wife a “b” or your husband an “a.” It doesn’t nothing to resolve conflict, get your point across, or help your relationship. It merely makes you appear petty and immature.

“Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:22

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

Don’t assume intent or “heart.” You can’t see into their heart anyway. God can. Deal with the statement or behavior itself without trying to read behind it. You may be right with an accusation about their motive, but you may just as well be way off base. At times, our spouse is trying to show us love, but it comes across all wrong. For instance, for years my husband would walk away from arguments, which left me crushed — certain that he didn’t care enough to resolve the issue. WRONG! He walked away because it pained him so much to be in conflict and he wanted to give us both time to cool off. We were eventually able to discuss that what we each needed was different, when we stopped trying to characterize the other as selfish or mean for what they were doing, when it fact it wasn’t.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Look for areas of agreement and build from there. There is an interpersonal feedback approach called the “Sandwich Technique.” Essentially, one sandwiches a disagreeing comment or constructive criticism between two comments of encouragement or positive feedback. Simple example: “I love your dress, but your necklace is the wrong color. This color is better because it brings out your beautiful eyes.” I’m not suggesting constant use of this technique because, honestly, it can be overused and becomes very easy to spot the spam in the midst of the bread slices after a while.

However, the principle behind it is wonderful: Look for and point out the positive. Oftentimes, the point of conflict with our spouse is what stands out, like a “which one of these does not belong?” exercise. Yet we may agree about quite a lot, and we need to start there and build agreement. It’s a small thing, but shopping for furniture is the example that comes to my mind in my marriage. Our most recent couch purchase was an exercise in find areas of agreement: There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to agree to that hideous leather monstrosity with its massive cup-and-everything-else holders for every single seat. And there was no way he was agreeing to the cozy chenille sofa that barely had enough room for him to stretch out. But we discovered that the overall goal we both had was comfort. Starting from there, we ended up with a fabric we could both live with, reclining seats, and plenty of room for the two of us to snuggle.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)

Remember that means don’t justify ends. Sometimes in getting the what correct, we forget to pay attention to the how. Yes, truth is important. We are not to be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). But we sometimes forget that the next verse says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

Whether our disagreements with our spouse are big or small, we can become so focused on speaking truth that we forget the next words, “in love.” We are not told to ignore the Fruit of the Spirit or the many, many commands to “love one another” while making sure we get the content of any one issue correct. It matters to God how we treat each other. Just read the New Testament letters and see how much of them are about how we should treat one another.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:13-15 (NLT)

Your spouse’s part. Yes, of course, your spouse has responsibility in all of this — just as this marriage blogger has responsibility to listen to those who disagree with me and test what they say against God’s Word. In the face of reasonable and respectful challenge, I have changed what or how I said something here.

Yet, I think you’ll find the process here and with your spouse more pleasant and effective by paying attention to how you go about providing constructive criticism.

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.” Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT)

“An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (Proverbs 18:19)

25 thoughts on “What Detractors Have Taught Me about Resolving Marriage Conflict

  1. Erin (Mystery32)

    Love this, J! In fact, I was thinking through a similar post myself! Great minds…

    I especially love the Don’t assume intent or “heart” part. This is a mistake I’ve seen many friends, especially women, make when their husband is standing there still wondering what he did. As women we tend to look for more meaning in the actions done to us, even when there may be no meaning there. If we don’t let go, it can lead to some catastrophic events! Thanks for reminding us how to “fight fair” and respect one another in times of frustration.

  2. Grace Pamer

    First up I’m very sorry to hear about Spocks condition. I hope he is well by next Monday. Secondly I’m sorry to hear of the problems you’ve experienced in comments. Trolls or just the negative type seem to take a perverse enjoyment in just seeing the world through narrow twitching eyes. So be it but I’m glad you stick to your mission here as your topic of choice is just as valid as any other marriage related blog so you should feel no shame about what you are doing, in fact it should be celebrated so good for you.

    As to your points I always think it comes down to respect. If you both treat other with respect, nip any negativity in the bud when it comes and ensure you find the space to speak freely then all arguments can be overcome. I guess I’m lucky that we are both of the laid back nature but even then there’ll be things that make you pause. Knowing how lucky we are to have our health and each other though quickly makes you overcome such a pause. Always value what you have and what matters most.

    1. J

      Thanks. It’s actually ME who had the real stomach stuff, but then Spock had to do double-duty. My heart goes out to single parents in times like these. We are definitely better with tag-team parenting in this house.

      RESPECT is definitely key, Grace. Sometimes, though, we feel respect and don’t show respect. That’s where I slip up at times and have to remind myself.

  3. Anonymous

    Dear J You are a great blessing in an area of life that is often minimized or diminished in terms of how important it is in the life of a married couple and much it pictures for us the love our Heavenly Father has for His bride.I appreciate your forthrightness, your honesty, your love and kindness in this blog ministry, and your humor as well. Sometimes you have been the indirect cause of me not being being able to wipe a smile off of my face all day.I want to thank you, and encourage you to continue in a sensitive but valued work. Sincerely Joe

  4. Greg

    “Over the whole pie, we must place growing our own faith and living out Christianity as individuals before God.”

    This is so true; we must never apologize for biblical truth, and sexuality is no exception: “Where Scripture speaks, we must speak. Where Scripture is silent, we must be silent.” As another wise blogger (Annabel) noted, “sex matters” for every one of us–whatever stage of life we are in. We have to be salt and light to those around us.

    “However, the principle behind it is wonderful: Look for and point out the positive.”

    Yes–just thinking a compliment isn’t one. That said, thank you for standing firm for the truth through the times of negativity and challenges! Sorry your household was hit by the virus. 🙁 Praying that you and your family are feeling better soon.

    1. J

      Thank you so much, Greg. I’m really not bothered by debate here. I welcome it. I just have learned a thing or two from commenters on the difference between disagreement and personal attack. And these lessons translate well to marriage…or really to any relationship in our lives.

      And yes, I’m much better now. Thank you.

  5. mamarachael

    Ugh, no like stomach bugs and they are making the rounds. Hope it passes quickly.

    Some good thoughts on dealing with conflict. We have learned that tone of voice can have a big impact — for me at least. I hear, in the tone, “I’m angry and I think what you just said was stupid”, when Hubby is trying to say “I don’t get it”. I’m learning to read less into his tone and he is learning how to better modulate his tone. Its not an easy thing to do, for either one of us, for sure.

    1. J

      I am much more emotionally expressive than my husband, and he sometimes points out my tone when I wasn’t even aware how edgy it had gotten. *hanging head* It’s good when you can calmly point that out and work through it. Thanks!

    2. Leah

      Tone is SUCH a huge thing for my husband and I! It has taken years for me to make any progress in this area! Definitely not easy, especially when it’s not a conscious decision to sound annoyed or whatever. This is an area where intentionality is key!

  6. Anonymous

    J,
    I think you are doing a wonderful job with your blog. Today’s post was great, one of your best. I think the only thing I’ve ever had trouble with, ever on your blog was saying once a week sexual frequency was satisfactory. Other than that you get an A+ as far as I’m concerned!

    1. J

      Thank you so much!!!

      Also, I doubt we disagree on the frequency of sex issue after all. I looked back at that post, and my point was AT LEAST once a week in marriage. I’m all for more! More and more and more! (Just ask my hubby.) If you see that I said something else there (How Often Should You Have Sex?), let me know. 🙂

    2. Anonymous

      J,
      I just know for me two is life support levels, one I’d be in severe emotional and physical pain (& if I’m being perfectly honest irritable,short tempered, and little crazy!) no matter how much I tried, effort put in or prayers prayed.

  7. Mary Rose

    I appreciate your blog. The first time I saw “hotholyhumorous”, I cracked up. Thank you for this particular feature! Your blog & The Alabaster Jar guided me to prayer and gave me many answers while in the midst of divorce. Your humor helped me to laugh during a horrible time of my life. Your advice through God’s love helped me to learn to “love my husband with respect”.

    I am a wife in learning to share my concerns with my husband. My husband and I just reconciled at the beginning of Feb ’13. God and the resources He led me to helped to bring my marriage back together. But now I am scared we will fall back to the way we were. What do we do now to keep from going back there? I can’t seem to get him to participate? He is showing me love through action, but not talking.

    1. J

      Thank you, Mary Rose.

      The best advice I can offer on improving any marriage is to take one issue, one day, one moment at a time. Infuse godly principles of showing kindness, respect, love, etc. into that moment. Identify and clarify what you need and what he needs. Ask more questions than you make demands (e.g., “How often do you want to have sex?” vs. “We need to have sex more!”) to invite discussion rather than disagreement. Pray–not just in a quiet time with you and God (which is a good idea)–but right before you approach your husband with an issue, asking for wisdom, patience, and understanding.

      In your case, it sounds like you need to let him know that his actions of love are important. But you would feel even more loved if he could express it verbally. It may feel contrived to him at first, but all new habits do.

      Best wishes!

  8. Sheila

    Way to go, J! I love how you brought Scripture into it. You handled it in a very loving way; I think I would have been tempted to bash my bashers in a post like this. So way to take the high road!

  9. Anonymous

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!

    You are obviously a very wise and mature woman (no, I don’t mean old … just very smart). Found your blog just this year and have very much enjoyed it.

    Praise the Lord that you’ve learned to deal with hurtful and unhelpful comments. Many of us struggle with that and I’m grateful that you’ve shared your insights.

  10. Sannera

    Dear J,
    thank you so much for this post. It spoke right into a part of my life God has been working on for quite a while now.
    I just found your blog and I’m already in awe.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and thanks for your honesty!
    Love from Berlin, Germany.
    Sandra

    1. J

      I’m so pleased to see readers from all over. Thanks, Sandra (Sannera?). Blessings to you in Germany! May God continue to work in your life.

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