When a man and a woman take their marriage vows, committing to be with one another until death, the farthest thing from their minds is all the moments in between, when husbands and wives don’t see eye to eye. It’s no surprise that when two sinful people come together, there are going to be arguments and disagreements.
God created marriage, though, as the most sacred earthly union, a model for the very covenantal love He has for His children. “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Genesis 2:18, NKJV). God knew it was good for a husband and wife to be together in spite of our tendency to enter into conflict.
Further, the Bible speaks to the hope found in Jesus our reconciler: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He made the way for two people to work through these times of conflict, giving us the ultimate sacrifice of love that we may be forgiven and forgive one another.
Knowing that conflict is inevitable in this broken world, I want to share with you three ways to healthily manage arguments with your spouse.
1. Replace “you” with “I” as much as possible. When you find yourselves in the middle of an argument, do your best to express yourself using the word “I” instead of the word “you.” When practiced regularly this can help defuse and even end an argument. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Would you rather your spouse say, “You are always late, and I’m just tired of it”? Or would you rather hear, “I am disappointed that we are always late. It would mean a lot if we could get to places on time”? The second one is way better, right? Think about how you could apply this idea to the last argument you had with your spouse.
2. Take a time out. I have to say, this one can be hard in the heat of an argument. Often, it can be in our nature to want to get in the last word.
Walking away denies you of that. But, how many times have you regretted what was said in frustration or anger to your spouse because you didn’t walk away? By being proactive and having a plan to walk away and “cool down” before resuming the conversation, we can calm the emotional and physiological triggers that enable arguments. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
When people get upset, it’s more difficult to reason with them, which is all the more reason to take a time out. I saw a couple a while back who kept water guns on hand; their plan was, whenever an argument was escalating, they’d grab the water guns and shoot them at one another, literally defusing the fire. How about that for a cool-down!
I recommend taking at least 20 minutes, and during these minutes allow your mind to clear. Do not sit thinking about what you’re going to say at the end of those 20 minutes.
3. Resolutions and Moving Forward. “Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ” (Ephesians 4:31–32 GNT). Whether or not the conversation was heated enough to need a time out, making room for resolution is essential. Resolution does not always mean you agree on everything every time. In fact, it’s okay to have some areas where you agree to disagree. If this is an area of your life that needs agreement, though, allow each other to name one or two thoughts/behaviors that you genuinely can’t compromise on and say those to each other (or if still too upset, you can write them out). Then, have the other one name one or two thoughts/behaviors they can compromise on. For example, “I cannot be late to Sunday school another Sunday, so I will commit to waking up earlier and take on additional tasks to help us get out the door on time.” The goal is not to necessarily avoid conflict, but to avoid hurtful emotional outbreaks that, when repeated over time, damage a marriage.
My husband and I often use the analogy that our marriage is like a huge, unsinkable ship. The hull of the ship is thick, made and re-made with years of love, sacrifice, joy, hardship, and commitment to one another. When we have an argument or a disagreement that we don’t handle well from an emotional perspective, our ship gets a dent or a scratch. But we know that neither one of us will do anything to sink the ship. We’ve committed that much to the other. So when we get a dent, we work to patch it over, strengthening and adding character to the “hull” of our marriage.
Arguments and disagreements will come. Emotions between spouses are healthy and good. It’s the managing of our negative emotions that takes effort and intentionality. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that it’s worth every bit of energy we put into it.