My husband and I have been arguing about the same issue since the year 2000. (True story.)
Of course, it’s morphed a bit into avatars that fit the current season. He can be critical (his keen mind was so stinkin’ attractive in 1999—and every year since. Unless we’re arguing). I get insecure, hypersensitive (super attractive!), and people-pleasing, clawing to feel seen and affirmed.
Maybe your stress pattern—or normal pattern—isn’t the same as ours. But I have a pretty good idea what you might be arguing about. Because we’re pretty much all arguing about the same issues.
But first, a few pointers
Remember these in any conflict … no matter how many times you’ve rolled your eyes and prepared the perfect retort.
- Your spouse is not your enemy. Make sure your conflict is about the two of you against the problem, not each other.
- Your relationship is worth the effort for true peace. Even if you need space in an argument, come back and intentionally work things through.
- Conflict is an opportunity to honor God by replaying how He handled His conflict with us. How we show forgiveness, peace, and justice in our marriages is a show-and-tell about what God did for us through Jesus.
- Conflict allows us to serve each other and even grow through new perspectives. So could conflict actually improve our relationships? Exactly.
- Don’t mention “divorce” as a weapon or an out in your arguments. That supposed “rescue boat” jabs holes in the commitment that makes your marriage, and your spouse, secure. (If you’re in an abusive or otherwise desperate situation, that’s a different story.)
Then, ask yourself…
- What are we really arguing about? What value feels trampled on?
- What would it look like to see my spouse through God’s eyes in this?
- What is my contribution, however small, to this conflict (Matthew 7:5)?
- Could it be appropriate to overlook offense here? “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). If I overlook, can I really forgive—or am I just faking peace?
- Do I need to step away to get control of my emotions?
- How can I replay to my spouse how God loves me?
3 things you’re arguing about … and how to deal
1. Household chores.
Newsflash: Chances are, you already feel overwhelmed by tasks. And tasks at home affect what we can take on—like engaging with our kids or whether we can pursue that promotion or step in for a friend.
Followers of Jesus don’t commit to a 50-50 kind of marriage, fulfilling our half of the bargain if our spouse does. In marriage and life, we sign up to be servants of all (Mark 9:35). We follow Jesus’ lead in laying down our interests for each other (Philippians 2:3-8).
There also aren’t household tasks assigned to a certain gender in the Bible. As one husband reflects, “I have found my wife receives a great deal of love when I contribute to chores. Particularly the chores that she hates to do. I bite the bullet, and do the chores I don’t like to do for my wife in love. This has been a very successful way for me to shower love on my wife.”
Together, when you’re calm and not exhausted, create a working master list of all household tasks, denoting who currently does each. Consider each person’s holistic responsibilities (church leadership, caring for a special-needs sibling, a high-travel job) and their capacities—not their gender or how parents or friends divide chores.
Maybe you’re good at math and able to do finances, or one of you works from home, so it’s easier to throw in laundry. Maybe one of you can only cook cold cereal.
Then, try these tips:
- Keeping a servant’s mindset (Mark 9:35), ask each other: How do you feel about how chores are divided?
- Think: How might comparison or too high standards sabotage your satisfaction?
- Even if a task isn’t “yours,” are you maintaining quality control and communicating, “I don’t trust you?” It’s okay to ask for what you need from your spouse’s task. But no hovering.
- Relentlessly appreciate each other for even the small stuff. Show your spouse, “I see you.”
- How well do you understand the issue beneath your spouse’s frustration? What’s the value beneath the issue? “When you sleep in every Saturday and I’ve got the kids, I feel like your rest gets more priority than mine.”
Sex is a microcosm of our worlds. God’s ideal of “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) points to a vulnerability and trust not just of body, but of mind and spirit. Malfunctioning in other areas of life trickles into our sexual lives. Yet again, the presenting issue—like frequency, what’s okay, or satisfaction—is really about the value beneath. And because our souls are welded to our bodies, sexual issues can cut deeply.
(Shameless plug: FamilyLife’s online course, The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Better Married Sex, includes a 52-question assessment to help you get to the root of things.)
First, pray about your concerns (not joking). Seek to trust God even with your sex life, rooting your soul in His comfort and affection (Philippians 2:1-5) rather than in your spouse and their response.
Then, open up communication.
- Approach your spouse when they’re relaxed. Before you speak a word, let them know you’re in their corner. You might talk while snuggling or holding hands.
- Watch your nonverbals. Commit to staying chill and empathetic.
- Mutual, empathetic understanding, not fixing, is your goal right now. This is your opportunity to speak a healing message directly to their potential vulnerability and toward your unity. Aim to verbalize: I accept you 100%—and unconditionally. This isn’t me against you. Let’s heal together.
3. Schedules, priorities, and free time.
Like sex, your calendar tells a lot about what your marriage values and what’s going on under the hood.
Conflict, even unstated, is always a sign values are colliding: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Anger is typically a sign something valuable is being trampled on—even if that “justice” scale in us isn’t usually zeroed on God’s holiness (James 1:20).
Schedule-wise, your time and energy are valuable. You and your spouse’s different priorities are bumping up against each other and creating friction. So first, pray together, asking God for wisdom (James 1:5) and direction toward the good works He’s prepared for your family—no more, no less.
Then, prayerfully take inventory.
- What are the events/areas in which we’re most likely to conflict?
- What’s the underlying value to each of us in our differing priorities? (God made us a couple on purpose, finding unity amidst the ways we’re created differently.)
- How does God respond to our individual values? (Usually there’s both a pure and stealthily impure motive tucked within our values.)
- What are the right “noes” we need to say to get to the right “yeses”?
What else are you arguing about?
Hungry for more? FamilyLife’s got more where this came from.
- How to Stop Fighting about Money Problems in Marriage
- Online mini-course: How to Talk Money in Marriage Right Now: 3 Must-Have Conversations
- Online course: Financial Freedom for Couples
Just because your fights are normal doesn’t mean there’s not a better peace on the other side of them. Press into not just winning, but understanding. And on the other side, there may well be a stronger, more intimate marriage.
Copyright © 2023 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including I Do Every Day, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.