By Kristen Welch
8 Principles for Having a Healthy Disagreement
Spouses who live together in honesty and transparency are going to disagree at times.
I’ve never been the kind of wife to create gourmet meals. I can successfully follow a recipe, but I wouldn’t call myself a great cook. Very early in my marriage, I could make about four dishes. Terrell and I ate a lot of chicken and green beans. I also could bake a cake, so there was that.
Somehow I perfected homemade potato soup, which quickly became my husband’s favorite meal … until the Potato Soup Fight.
Dinner started innocently enough. Terrell loved the soup, but it took a lot of time to make. With both of us working new jobs, I decided to make a double batch so we could have leftovers. We sat down to eat, and Terrell finished his first bowl. “Mind if I get more?” he asked. He had a second serving. But when he helped himself to the third bowl, I snapped. “Don’t eat it all! I made enough for leftovers, and you’re eating it all!”
After looking at me like I was crazy, my husband walked over to the trash and poured the entire bowl into the can.
Potato soup has never tasted the same.
Terrell and I celebrated 27 days of married bliss before we had that first fight. And what an eye opener it was. I married my best friend. We knew how to make each other laugh, we knew how to talk about anything, and we knew how to get along. But we had no idea how to fight.
So, our first argument — over soup — ended with me screaming like a madwoman and my husband fearing our marriage was doomed because I was raising my voice.
I come from a long line of expressive, loud people who do everything with passion — including argue. My hubby grew up in a quiet, reserved home and never once saw or heard his parents disagree. The more I yelled because Terrell wouldn’t argue with me, the more he turned inward. We were at a crossroads of anger and hurt, and we had no idea where to go from there.
Terrell and I spent several months correcting each other’s “mistakes.” (He turned the glasses in the cupboard down; I turned them up.) And yes, we argued about silly things like this constantly. Spouses who live together in honesty and transparency are going to disagree at times. It’s not if we fight, it’s when. But how do we do so in a manner that pleases God and moves us into a better relationship with each other?
Thankfully my husband and I have assembled practical tips to help forge a healthy balance of productive and meaningful disagreements. Though our arguments have changed over the years, we still must apply these principles to help resolve differences and grow as a couple. (But the glasses in the cupboards are all upturned now.)
It’s not if we fight, it’s when. And how do we do so in a manner that pleases God and moves us into a better relationship with each other?
When Tempers Flare
- Memorize James 1:19-20. “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” Recalling this verse in the midst of an argument can change everything — the tone, the context, your reaction. Stopping to remember this verse can also help you listen and stay calm.
- Clarify the problem. Make sure you understand what the argument is actually about. My first big fight with my hubby wasn’t really about soup; it was about respect, love, and communication. Restate the problem to make sure you heard what your spouse is really trying to say. Often arguments aren’t about little things like clothes piled on the floor; they are usually about deeper issues like feeling under-appreciated.
- Validate your mate. Listening is sometimes the best thing you can offer your spouse. In the heat of the moment, often the offended just wants to be heard. You can show respect and even a cool temper when you simply listen. Notice the focus is on listening, not fixing. There are appropriate times to offer solutions and appropriate times to listen only. Deciphering the two takes wisdom and discipline.
- Apply self-control. You know that thing you really, really want to spout off in anger — that name or past mistake that pops into your mind — don’t say it. Resist the urge to name call, drudge up the past, and point fingers. Applying this fruit of the Spirit seems so simple, but it can be so challenging, especially with your mate. Ask God to help you if you struggle in this area.
- Watch your delivery. Everyone responds better to kindness. It’s all too easy to say hurtful things to your spouse that you would never say to a friend. Delivery is crucial when it comes to constructive criticism, so intentionally sandwich healthy criticism between love and compliments. For example, first say, “Thank you so much for making the kids’ lunches.” Then ask, “Next time, would you mind wiping off the counters?” End with, “I really love it when you help me in the mornings. It helps start my day off right.”
- Pray without ceasing. Ask for wisdom, self-control, and peace in your heart. It goes without saying that you should be praying for and with your spouse. But are you doing it? And in the middle of conflict, in some instances, it’s totally appropriate to stop and pray. Just make sure both of you are ready to receive this. Timing is everything.
- Be part of the solution. Since the ultimate goal of resolving a disagreement is growth and harmony, lay down your pride and offer a solution that will work if the situation demands it. Often you simply need help from your mate, so don’t be afraid to ask. Some disagreements don’t need a solution, so evaluate each situation carefully.
- Don’t say a word. Often the most spiritual thing you can do is to not say anything. Sometimes it’s best to refrain from offering a comeback, giving an example, or defending your position. Being quiet can show strength. You won’t always have the answers or resolutions to disagreements, and you can make situations worse by saying too much.
Healthy disagreements that are resolved usually move your marriage forward.
Though no one enjoys working out difficult issues, the reality is that all couples argue. It’s how you fight that matters. Healthy disagreements that are resolved usually move your marriage forward. The goal should always be to honor and respect your spouse in the process of getting along. And don’t forget one of the best parts of fighting — making up.
Kristen Welch writes at her blog wearethatfamily.com and offers an honest mixture of humor and inspiration. Her first book, Don’t Make Me Come Up There! (Abingdon Press), a book for busy moms, was released last year. The Welches have three hilarious children and are proud to be Texans.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Home Life. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.