Do you and your spouse fight fair? If a couple desires to have a healthy marriage, they must learn how to fight fair. Discover three ways to express disagreement and resolve conflict. If conflicts are handled correctly, they can potentially build a stronger marriage.

Monty & Jeannine Mora

11/3/20234 min read

man and woman sitting posing for photo
man and woman sitting posing for photo

How To Fight Fair

What do all these words have in common? Shouting, hiding, shaming, pouting, avoiding, taunting, interrupting, nit-picking, and arguing - they're all unhealthy ways to respond to conflict. Every couple, at some point in their relationship will encounter a moment of conflict and disagreement. How you navigate conflict will determine the strength of your marriage.

If a couple wants to have a healthy marriage, they must learn how to fight fair. This means developing healthy ways to express disagreements and resolve conflict. If conflicts are handled correctly, they can actually build a stronger marriage and deepen intimacy.

While attending a marriage conference last year, we remember a quote by the speakers, Tim and Joy Downs and it really resonated with us. They said, “Marriage is the only institution in the world where you can win every battle but lose the war.”

A Conflict Myth

There’s a myth that young couples subscribe to and it goes like this: “If we love each other, we won’t fight; and if we do fight, this means that there’s something wrong with us.” Subscribing to this myth is not a healthy way to view your marriage because we are imperfect people. We know when you get two imperfect people together, there will be conflict. Please know that conflict is a common hurdle for every marriage. As a couple, renew your perspective and see your conflict as a gift of opportunity for you and your spouse to grow. See your conflict as an opportunity to be selfless. See your conflict as an opportunity to forgive.

So, you might be asking, "Where does a healthy marriage begin?" A healthy marriage begins with a healthy YOU. What we see is that the persons past experiences in how they viewed conflict in their home growing up, finds its way into the marriage (good or bad). As a result, they employ the same conflict tactics with their spouse. Here's how a famous bible verse explains conflict.

James 4:1 - “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you, is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”

James says that quarrels and fights come from those passions that rage inside of us. We disagree about passions such as perceptions, desires, ideas, or values.

Three Pathways To Resolving Conflict

1. The pathway of over-looking an offense

Proverbs 19:11 - “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.”

Now there’s a difference between avoiding and overlooking. Avoidance is when you refuse to address a problem and you sweep it "under the rug." This rarely works!

Overlooking an offense is about building genuine peace in the relationship. Couples have asked, "When can a spouse overlook an offense, and when is it not possible?" Some behaviors can be overlooked and reduce the conflict. For example is when the dishes aren’t loaded in the dishwasher correctly, or if the lawn wasn’t cut at the right height. These are menial things which can be overlooked.

There are moments when you can’t overlook an offense. Here is where you look for patterns of sin, danger, destructive behavior, or when something is harming the marriage. This is when you need to loving call it out and address it. If you cannot resolve it on your own, you might need to seek out some marriage coaching or professional counseling.

2. The pathway of over-exaggerating an offense

Exaggerating an offense makes something larger than it is, or it's taking something to an excessive degree. Over-exaggeration fuels the conflict. Couples who over-exaggerate will use words such as “never” and “always.“ "You never think of me”; “You always forget our anniversary”; “Our marriage will never get better”. These phrases are unjustified and only add fuel to the conflict.

Here is a quick tip you can use when resolving conflict. Pull out two index cards and write the words NEVER and ALWAYS on each of them, then place those two index cards on the table as you discuss the disagreement. They will serve as a reminder to refrain from using these two words. Instead, you might want to use substitute words such as, "rarely", "sometimes", and "often."

Over-exaggerating places your spouse in a defensive mode and can antagonize them to a greater degree. This inhibits a couple from focusing on the actual problem and injuring the relationship in a deeper way. The goal is to focus on the problem at hand and gain a healthy perspective of the issue, free from exaggerations. Praying for wisdom to have a balanced view of the issues on the table can be extremely valuable.

3. The pathway of over-coming an offense

The goal in every conflict is for the couple find a way to overcome the challenge together. Here is where we want to flip the script. Instead of seeing your spouse as an enemy in the opposite corner of the ring, invite your spouse to your corner and learn to fight together against the enemies in your marriage. You do this knowing that God is in your corner and He’s your loving coach. There’s synergy when a couple learns to battle together. THIS IS HOW YOU FIGHT FAIR!

Seeking and Granting Forgiveness

Healthy couples understand the value of seeking and granting forgiveness. As you seek forgiveness from your spouse, be sure to name your offense and own responsibility. Learn apology language such as “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I messed up.” I love how one marriage couple put it: Name IT, Own IT, Say IT, and Change IT.

Granting forgiveness is the second step. This involves freeing your spouse from the debt of their offense. Don't seek to take revenge or become resentful. Instead, give them grace, forgive them, and seek to move forward and not backward.

Ruth Graham says, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Here are six quick tips for fighting fair

  1. Start your sentences with “I” instead of “You” — “I feel uneasy when we’re late to events” is easier to hear than “You always make us late to events.”

  2. Keep your fighting away from your kids — especially if your conflict does not involve them.

  3. Keep away from attacking your spouses character — don’t verbalize negative labels to each other (e.g., “You’re so ignorant”).

  4. If you need to call a timeout, say it — but agree on when you’ll come back to discuss.

  5. Avoid “bunny trails” of past mistakes - stay focused on the current situation.

  6. Let your spouse talk without interruptions - this shows respect and honor.

A Reminder

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