Early in our marriage, it seemed Steve and I spent more time fighting than talking, and with every argument, our hearts grew a little harder and the distance between us widened. More than that, we developed a pattern of behavior and a completely skewed perception of one another.
It’s amazing how quickly negative behavior patterns can take hold, and how quickly those patterns can affect our thoughts. The two are always interconnected. The more we fight with our spouse, the greater the tendency we have to see them as our enemy, and the more they become our enemy, the more negatively we view them.
The latter is the kicker, and it creates a quickly spiraling hotbed of negative thinking.
Years ago, when Steve and I were just beginning to follow God’s way of loving one another, we went to a marriage retreat. While there, one of the speakers provided a visual that’s stuck with me. He held a quarter out at arm’s length, then talked about how he barely noticed the quarter. It was but a blip in his vision. But then he began to bring the quarter closer and closer to one eye. As he did, the quarter grew bigger, more dominant in his view, and everything in his peripheral blurred.
Now, imagine that quarter is one of your spouse’s behaviors. First of all, I’m not talking about abusive or destructive behaviors like addiction. I’m talking about stuff like leaving dirty laundry on the floor, the garage door open, or perhaps even saying something callus on occasion–it happens, folks. None of us are Jesus.
Back to the quarter/behavior. The more we focus on it, thinking about it, nagging our spouse about it, the bigger that thing becomes until it dominates our view. But if we pull back and consider that behavior as but one of many other quite positive behaviors, that thing shrinks … and our tenderness grows.
This is a powerful conflict defuser, at least for the one practicing it, and when one participant in the conflict softens, the other has a much greater likelihood of doing the same.
So, step one is consciously, deliberately think of your spouse’s good.
Here’s how it plays out in my home. Conflict often arises when both of us are tired or aren’t feeling well, because, well, honestly, that’s when we begin to self-preserve, but that’s a topic for another post. Looking around at all the things left undone that I have no energy to do, I can easily get irritated at my husband for “not helping.” (Largely because I’m quick to focus on how I’m feeling but slow to recognize when he’s feeling the same.)
BUT when I pause to remember all the times he’s gone grocery shopping for me, washed our cars, mowed the lawn, washed dirty dishes … you get the idea, I’m reminded he’s really a good guy at heart. And he truly does love me. He’s just having an off day. (We all have those, right?)
Step two: walk away.
This can be crazy hard because our pride will convince us we need the last word, or will make us view the argument as competition or a challenge, as if winning the fight has any positive value at all. (Most often, to the contrary. We can win the fight and lose our marriage. It happens all the time. Almost happened to Steve and I.)
But don’t just walk away; walk away to pray–for your marriage and that God would align your heart with His. Because chances are, without God’s help, all we’ll do is stew. And become more angry, more hurt, and more committed to digging in our heels in this fight against our spouse, and we’ve already established how helpful that is. (Read sarcasm into that last phrase.) Granted, praying in the middle of a conflict is incredibly hard, but it’s also incredibly powerful. Marriage transforming powerful.
Step three: Return calm, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and with one goal in mind–unity.
If your goal is anything else, return to step one.
Obviously, following these steps won’t resolve every issue you and your spouse will face, but man will it put you on the best footing for that to occur.
And if you try all those steps (really try, and recognize you might need to cycle through them more than once, especially when dealing with more difficult issues) and you and your spouse are still at opposing ends, get help. Seek out a Christ-centered, wise, unbiased individual who can walk beside you. Because the marriage God intended is within your grasp, and it’s beautiful. Beautiful enough to work for.
Even if it means setting that ugly, prideful, selfish, wounded self aside. (Speaking to myself here, because when I get to the heart of things, it’s usually my self-centeredness that’s causing a chunk of our issues.)
Let’s talk about this! What are some things you’ve found to be helpful in defusing a conflict? Have you tried any of the steps listed above, and if so, what were the results? Share your thoughts and experiences with us, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
Oh, and before you go, I invite you to join my alter ego, Jen Pheobus, at her new blog! You can do so HERE. You can also read Jen’s first post on Christian Reads, a piece on the importance of guarding our words when life squeezes us, HERE. And make sure to like her Facebook page HERE to stay up to date on her writing journey. 🙂