fight fair

Monday, March 14th, 2011 | Q&A, Uncategorized


You can live in a fantasy world, where you think you will never disagree. Why? Because “We just love each other so much.” Well, guess what? That is just not reality. The only way a marriage will never have confrontation is if your spouse always gives in and never challenges anything you do. If this is you, prepare yourself: this is a sign of a very unhealthy marriage.

Since disagreement and confrontations will inevitably come up in your marriage, a great idea is to set some guidelines that will help you through those times and come out as a stronger couple and partnership.

The way you approach a disagreement will largely depend on 2 things:

The Way You Were Raised
When I was younger, I thought all issues in the world were resolved the way my dad confronted them. We would sit down and unemotionally go over whatever the problem was until it was resolved. This method was quite foreign to my wife’s family experience. If I saw something in Carol that I thought was important to confront, it was best for me to package it into a short and concise statement, and then leave it with her. Trying to talk it through on the spot (like I would have with my father) only made the matters worse. We both came to realize very early in our marriage that neither of our family experiences was going to be the model that worked for us.

How was your family experience different from your partner’s? Did you come from a broken home where issues didn’t get resolved? No matter how you were brought up, you can find something that works for your marriage. It is never fun to be confronted, but since it is going to happen, ask your partner the method they would most prefer.

Your Personality Type
There are some people that love to confront and others that try to avoid it. If you are a confronter, pause for a moment and ask yourself if the issue is worth raising. What is your motivation? Is your purpose to help your spouse become a better person, or do you just want them to change to be more like you? 

On the other hand, if you’re avoiding confrontation, is that simply because you’re afraid of it? Would your relationship stand on healthier ground if you were to discuss the issue? If you avoid confrontation, you are not doing your marriage any favours. Your spouse will often never know what bothers you unless you tell him or her. By just stewing about something instead of dealing with it, the problem only grows. 

Timing is everything.
Here are a few ideas to help you pick the right time:

Don’t start talking about a contentious issue as you are going out. You will ruin your evening if you don’t have enough time to resolve things, and you’ll dwell on the issue the entire time.

Don’t let a problem be the first thing you raise after getting together after work. Let those first moments be kept for showing each other how excited you are see each other.

Never pick a time when there are others around. It will be awkward for them and embarrassing for your spouse. 

If you are not ready to deal with something, tell your spouse that you would like to give it a bit of time to think. If you are going to push it off for a while, tell your partner how much time you need. You can’t avoid issues forever and expect a happy marriage.

One last thing: Never attack the person.

There are words to avoid, which if used, will prolong your agony and leave battle scars. Avoid phrases like, “You always” and “You never.” They are rarely true and will provide something else to argue about.

Avoid words that attack the person and not the problem. By saying, “You are a slob,” you’re attacking the person, but by saying “Your actions are messy,” you address the problem. Similarly,  “You’re such a crab” attacks the person, but “You seem to be complaining a lot,” addresses the problem.

If you are prone to getting angry, practise talking slower and at a lower pitch. The goal is not to out-shout your spouse, but to help him or her see things from another perspective, or find some middle ground that you can both live with.

When a resolution is found, apologies may be needed (depending on what has transpired) before you can move on. I heard a story of a husband coming to his wife saying,“I’m sorry.” Her response came with a wagging of her finger: “I’ve seen sorry, and this isn’t it.” Make sure your apology is sincere and heart-felt. If you have wronged your spouse, an “I’m sorry” doesn’t always cut it. You will need to use the words, “Will you forgive me?” It is humbling to say this, but necessary to put it behind you.

After all is said and apologies are made, let the fun part begin. Disagreements are so much easier to take if you know that making up will follow. Since disagreements will come, and maybe some heated verbal exchanges as well, take comfort that you are not alone and working through these issues will only make your marriage stronger.


Source: Parrott, Less III and Leslie Parrott. “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry.” Zondervan, 1995.

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