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 (Manna 35: Entrusted with His Grace)
Fighting a Good Fight
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As two people get ready to be married, they are often filled with blissful thoughts of their honeymoon or their new home. They might even imagine how they will share breakfast in the mornings or take long walks in the park after dinner. The furthest thing from their minds is how they will fight together.

Unfortunately, arguments are a very real part of marriage. All couples have had their fair share of bickering, whether big or small. Even though it sounds awful, the good fight, ironically, can bring two people closer together. These fights usually start because they are desperate attempts at communicating our thoughts and feelings when we feel frustrated or misunderstood. So, whether we know it or not, the good fight is really about a husband and wife trying to understand one another better. Since it's something that cannot be avoided, the trick is to learn to fight a good fight.

Not Allowing Emotions to Rule

"Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear" (Jn 18:10). In a fit of rage, Peter decided that cutting off someone's ear would get his point across. Because we are human, our first reaction during a fight is to get mad or upset. Although we may not go so far as to physically harm another person, we often raise our voices and say hurtful things. In Peter's case, Jesus Christ was there to salvage the situation by healing the servant, who was then no worse off. But it usually isn't possible to take back our words, which can cause great damage to a relationship. When we allow our emotions to take over, we get blinded and lose track of our thoughts.

One time, a man in a truck honked at me as I was parked with my family in front of a driveway entrance. Seeing that we were in his way, I drove off. As we left, my husband, who was in the back seat with our son, glared at the other man. This man must have had a bad day, because he immediately made a u-turn and chased after us. Not wanting to get into a confrontation, I drove as fast as I could. After several blocks, the man in the truck turned around and gave up his pursuit.

At that point, I got extremely upset and began a verbal attack on my husband. I listed all of the things he had done wrong, and it took a good five minutes to get everything out of my system. My husband remained quiet during the entire time. I was so angry that I shouted, "Don't you have anything to say? What if he had had a gun?" Other than these words, I honestly can't remember much else of what I said. I just kept spewing out sentence after sentence, hoping to let my husband know how upset I was. It wasn't productive at all, because I was too mad to think straight.

Sometimes hurtful words can cause the other person to go on the offensive and create a fight that is not even about the real issue at hand. To help us control our anger, a lot of people suggest counting to ten before we say anything, and although it sounds silly, the reasons behind it make sense. That extra time allows us to take a deep breath and analyze the situation. As Christians, instead of counting, we can first try praying to God together. In addition to giving us some time to help ourselves remain calm, we will find that God will help us see things a little differently. When we choose to trust God, He will open our eyes and hearts in a way that nothing else can.

After I stopped yelling, my husband said, "I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to do." While I was screaming like a lunatic, he had the time to reflect on what had happened. Then he responded appropriately to my outburst, which helped me to calm down. We were even able to make a pact about what we would do if either one of us were caught in a similar situation in the future.

Focusing on the Real Issue

During a fight with our marriage partner, we often find ourselves listing—or at least thinking about—the other person's past mistakes. This is not a good strategy. It only sends the argument completely out of control and ends up hurting both people.

When God forgives us, our transgressions are blotted out. When the Israelites sinned, they could redeem themselves by offering sacrifices to God, and He accepted them as atonement. "For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord" (Lev 16:30). God does not remind us daily of all the mistakes we made in the past—that would make it too hard for us to restore our relationship with Him. If God can forgive us completely, why can't we do the same for others? When we drag up the past, we are telling our partners that we haven't forgotten it, or perhaps we are looking for ammunition to use against them. Unfortunately, these kinds of bullets only steer us away from having a productive fight. A good fight focuses on the real issues.

After I gave birth to my son, I found myself getting mad at my husband over his pick-up basketball games at the local park. Although I didn't say anything, after a month he asked me what was wrong, because he could sense that I was unhappy each time he left for a game. I thought about it and realized that it wasn't the fact that he was playing basketball that bothered me; rather, I just wanted him to spend more time with me and to help take care of our new child. Once we got to the real problem, my feelings of hurt and frustration disappeared. We agreed on a schedule that would be acceptable to both of us concerning his games, and we were able to spend more quality time together as a family.

If we find that the same things always trigger a fight or that the past is getting in the way, then it is time to really sit down and have a lengthy discussion with our partner about those unresolved tensions. Otherwise, they will be a constant source of problems. And once they have been talked about and worked out, we need to let them go. It's the only way to establish a trusting and loving bond.

Using Meaningful Words

When we fight, we tend to use harsh words because we think that our partner will pay more attention to what we're saying. That's why fights in a marriage almost always turn into shouting matches—because we equate volume with clarity. The truth is, the more we say hurtful things, the more our partner will tune us out.

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov 15:1). In a good fight, by softening our voices and expressing ourselves using specific phrases, such as "This is what is bothering me" and "This is what I need from you," we can get our message across ten times clearer. In addition, we can let the other person know that we are trying to understand them by saying, "I think this is what you are saying to me" and "I can sense that you are upset." When said in the right context and correct volume, the proper words can open up a great communication channel.

A good fight will also sometimes involve being the bigger person and saying the right words to change the entire atmosphere. Once during a fight my husband blurted out to me, "Why do we argue? You always win." That caught me so off guard that I could only burst into laughter. After I managed to control myself, our anger had subsided and we managed to calmly discuss what we had been fighting over. It's not always easy to be the bigger person, because it is human nature to try to get in the last word. But when we humble ourselves, we may be surprised at the results.

Apologizing for Getting Angry

Proverbs says, "Do not strive with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm" (Prov 3:30). This verse seems to suggest that fighting is acceptable as long as there is good reason. But there isn't always a justification for the way we fight or the things we say. No matter who began the dispute, if either partner loses his or her temper, then that person needs to apologize. By doing so, we are acknowledging that we were at fault to some degree, because no one person is completely right or wrong.

There is a lot of power in the words "I'm sorry" when they are said sincerely—and quickly. "Do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Eph 4:26). Any fight should be resolved right away, because there is just no reason why two people cannot talk things out. That is one of the vows we make when we agree to spend the rest of our life with someone else: to stick it out through the good and the bad. For that promise to work, we need to communicate. If we get mad and slam the door on each other, the feelings won't go away. They will only build up over time, and one day we will end up really hurting each other.

We will also discover that regular communication can decrease the number of fights we have in our marriage, because we can better understand our partner's needs and wants. Although this sounds like an easy solution, it is hard to carry out. We get so caught up in work, in church, or in our children that we don't always set aside enough quality time to spend with each other. But we need to make an effort to take time out each week to talk about whatever is on our minds. Schedule it in, if that's what it takes. Good old-fashioned talking, face to face, can be refreshing and beneficial to your relationship.

Understanding We Are Unique Individuals

My husband has a habit of leaving his dirty socks on the bedroom floor after he changes. I don't argue with him about this habit, because it's not that difficult for me to pick them up and throw them into the hamper along with my own clothes. But more important, I know that I have some quirks that he has to live with, too. For instance, I like predictability, and I get frustrated very easily when he springs something on me at the last minute.

Some things about us are difficult to change. Yet when we are in the middle of a fight, we expect our partner to think the same way we do. No doubt we have all said things like, "Why can't you see things my way?" or "What's wrong with you?" More likely than not, there's nothing wrong with our partner. In fact, we are just as guilty ourselves of not seeing things from the other person's perspective. What it boils down to is that we need to make compromises in a relationship. Unfortunately, we tend to want to take more than we give out.

God knows full well that no two people are alike, because He created us that way. He didn't do this to encourage us to fight about our differences, but rather to allow us to complement one another in the various aspects of our lives. "Let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph 5:33). So rather than sweating over the small stuff, we need to think about what the other person brings to the relationship that is unique and lovable. After all, that's why God joined us together as one.

Fights in a marriage may be inevitable, but they don't have to be painful and ugly affairs. When we recognize that the good fight is a means through which a couple communicates, then we can turn our attention away from just getting our point across, and focus instead on what we are really trying to say. But arguments, no matter how great or small, can have a lasting effect on two people. Since arguing is part and parcel with the relationship, rather than having meaningless shouting matches, we should focus on creating productive meetings of the minds. A good fight eliminates the unnecessary accusations and discusses the real issues, using meaningful words. A good fight strips away the anger and involves two words: "I'm sorry." A good fight brings two people closer together.

"Love & Marriage" seeks to address and provide biblical advice on a wide range of questions and issues related to dating, singlehood, and marriage. If you have any comments or suggestions for this column, please write to love.marriage@tjc.org.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church